Florida State University Seminoles
Lowndes County High School
The national champions featured nine players that received various All-American honors, along with featuring college football's Heisman Trophy, Rimington Trophy, Lous Groza Place-Kicking Award and Jacobs Blocking Trophy winners during their record-breaking 2013 campaign. Yet, if you ask any of those award winners, any of the coaches, and even any of their opponents, who the real leader of the FSU team is, the chorus will sing out praises for the efforts from undersized linebacker Telvin Smith.
At first glance of the middle linebacker, you would think that Smith was a defensive back or receiver, and not a "Tazmanian Devil" who plays with a "search and destroy" mission. If you ask Smith what makes him "tick" once he puts on the Seminoles' uniform and he will quickly say two words; "burning desire." It is that burning desire to prove doubters wrong that fueled the senior during his only opportunity to be a full-time starter.
That fire in his belly is what Smith says has him "destined for greatness." Certainly not lacking in confidence or bravado, Smith was able to back up that bold statement with his performance as a first-year starter in 2013. During their title march, the 218-pound middle linebacker led the team in tackles (90) and tied for second with 9.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage.
While his ball-hawking skills, leaping ability and excellence in pass coverage have most teams also viewing Smith as a potential strong safety candidate, he certainly added to his resume in that category last season. He intercepted three passes, returning two for touchdowns, tying a record that he now shares with Florida State legends, Deion Sanders (1988), Terrell Buckley (1990 and 1991) and Derrick Brooks (1993).
Much like Brooks, Smith knows that his unconventional size at his position will cause more than a few doubters to emerge, but he looks at the long careers that Brooks and London Fletcher enjoyed as perfect examples that size does not matter as much as a "burning desire."
Smith had plenty to celebrate during his senior season, his first as a starter but not his first as an impact player. Smith was moved from a backup in the middle to a starter on the weak side, allowing Florida State to take advantage of his athleticism. He responded as the Seminoles' leading tackler. Throughout the 2013 schedule, Smith could be found in the quarterback's face or chasing a receiver on any given play.
"He's such a natural instinctive football player," head coach Jimbo Fisher said. But Fisher knew that already. Smith is athletic and lean. He can cover sideline-to-sideline and hits with force. Fisher once said he plays "with his head on fire."
Not even the former coaching staff knew what they would get in this "little package" when they signed the then 190-pound linebacker out of Lowndes High School back in 2009. He held a three-star ranking from Scout.com. He recorded 97 tackles that included 16 stops-for-loss and two interceptions while leading his team to the state Class AAAAA championship as a junior.
The following season, Smith was again an All-State selection, posting 109 tackles (84 solos) with a pair of interceptions for the Vikings as a senior. He graduated with a 2.5 grade point average, but before he joined the Florida State program, he played in the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association North/South All-Star Classic.
Smith showed patience after signing with Florida State. Even though he played in all 14 games and was listed as a reserve weak-side outside linebacker at 200 pounds, he would make a lasting impression on special teams, earning that unit's Special Teams Player of the Year honor after posting eighteen tackles (13 solos), adding a sack in brief action on defense.
As a sophomore, Smith moved into the backup middle linebacker spot, first, behind Nigel Bradham and then Nick Williams. He virtually split time with both, starting once in 12 appearances as a sophomore, finishing with 42 tackles, three sacks and 8.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage in 2011.
The next season saw Williams and Smith split middle linebacker chores, but Smith did not start any of the 14 games he appeared in. Providing great impact in limited snaps, he went on to finish third on the team with 64 tackles and 9.5 stops-for-loss. "My biggest thing is I knew my time was going to come," Smith said while patiently waiting for his starting opportunity as a junior. "I made the best of every chance I got. I know everything happens for a reason. I know I'm destined for greatness."
During the 2013 spring drills, new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt moved Smith to the outside, a more natural spot for his 6-foot-3, 218-pound frame. "Now you get to see him as that guy and he's embracing that role," cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said. Playing all three linebacker spots was his eventual destiny as a senior, but at least Smith got the starting opportunity he craves, coming out with the first unit for all 14 games.
Smith is certainly not short on confidence. Whether coming off the bench or playing a leadership role, Smith is always yapping. He considers himself a "motivating talker." He says he doesn't talk much to the opposition but when he does "I make sure I back it up." Most of his jabbering is aimed at his teammates.
"Telvin is always talking, excited to be out there," Joyner said. "You need a guy like that on the field." That confidence has Smith thinking about the next level. As a backup he was barely on the draft radar, entering the year as projected low-round pick. But his stock continued to rise as he played a much more prominent role, despite any questions about his size, which is closer to a NFL safety than a linebacker.
But don't tell that to Smith. "I take offense when people (say I should) play safety," he said. "People may say I'm undersized. If you want the passion and the heart and drive I play with on the field, I'm a linebacker. That's where I will play at the next level."
The All-American honorable mention would close out his career with 90 tackles as a senior, including two sacks and 9.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage, in addition to scoring twice on three interceptions. That performance would earn him a spot alongside the other "big boys" as a member of the 2014 Senior Bowl roster.
Smith started 15-of-54 games at Florida State, including his final 14 contests, as he recorded 214 tackles (139 solos) with seven sacks for minus-57 yards, 29.0 stops for losses of 136 yards and six quarterback pressures…Recovered four fumbles and caused two others…Had 10 pass deflections and returned four interceptions for 160 yards…His 79-yard interception return vs. Idaho in 2013 was the 15th-longest return in school history…His two interception returns for touchdowns in 2013 tied the school season-record he now shares with Deion Sanders (1988), Terrell Buckley (1990 and 1991) and Derrick Brooks (1993).