We are three scrimmages into fall practice this preseason and you would be hard-pressed to find two healthy and active contributors on defense that have stood out more than Derek Nicholson and Letroy Guion. Derek Nicholson went down early last season with a serious ACL injury that appears to be fully behind him now. "[I have] no issues with it," Derek said, "Its like it never happened. I trained extremely hard to prepare myself where I didn't have to wear a knee brace and [having that brace] gives me that much more confidence in it." Additionally, Derek recently changed his number and the return from injury and this number change might have been somewhat related. When I asked Derek why he chose to change back to his high school number he said, "Fresh start…new year…new campaign. I came here with 55 and played a couple seasons with it and got injured. I'm a little superstitious but not extremely superstitious. I wanted to go back to my high school number and have a fresh start. Feels good…feels great, looks great…so I'm comfortable with it and glad I made the decision."
Letroy Guion is also no stranger to injury having battled ankle problems for a good portion of his Florida State career thus far. However, the sleeper prospect-turned playmaker from Starke, FL says, "I feel 100%. I had an ankle problem a few days ago but it wasn't anything serious I was just giving it a rest so I can come out in scrimmages and do my best. It feels great. I feel like I'm in shape. I feel like I'm strong. I feel like I can come off the ball quicker than ever and it all builds up into making plays."
As you would expect from tough competitors like Nicholson and Guion, they have high expectations and are thoroughly assessing themselves as individual players and the team as far as progress. I asked Derek whether he thought the team was season ready and he said, "Not quite…we have a good foundation to build off of. We have the next two scrimmages and for about two weeks before we play Clemson. I have a decent start and a good foundation. I need to get better at a few things and a few aspects but that's why we practice and that's why we have fall camp to prepare to be dominant. I'm not just trying to be a good linebacker; I'm trying to be a great linebacker and trying to be a leader and playmaker. I want to be the best linebacker in the country. That's everyone's goal if you're a linebacker and you don't want to be the best just get off the field. I want to be the best in the league, the ACC, and the country. I want to win another ACC championship. I want our unit to be the number 1 defense in the nation and I want to be in the national championship game and have an opportunity to win a national championship." I have high expectations of this team. I have high expectations of our defense. I have high expectations of myself." Such a thorough assessment and fierce ambition signifies that Derek is ready to be a leader and lead the league. Letroy Guion also has lofty goals and is ready to put forth the effort to put FSU back on top. To our conversation he added, "I have high expectations. I hope we go out there this year and leave it all on the field and that we get wins out of it. I feel like I've done enough [to secure the starting job] but I still have to work a lot harder. Coach is going to put the best guy in the game to make a play. I want to get 11 or 12 sacks this year; that's my goal and I'm gonna try my best to do it. By the end of the upcoming season I want to bench 405, I'm benching 365 now and I feel like if I can get up to 405 I'd be unstoppable next season."
While there will be prayers going out from friends and family of these young men that they can stay healthy, there should be prayers from the opponents of these two standouts. With the kind of intensity these guys are bringing, there will be havoc spread all over the field and opposing offenses may be left in the wake of a Florida State reawakening this season that starts with the defense, which has always been the cornerstone of FSU football. I only wish the bleachers came with seatbelts (for the kids) because no matter what happens this season is going to be a wild ride.