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May 11, 2012Tweet Follow @InsideTheGators
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Florida State had changed its mind.
The school that offered Damien Jacobs a scholarship in 2010, and the school he committed to before failing to qualify academically, was no longer interested in the 6-foot-3, 310-pound defensive tackle when his recruiting process reopened after two years at East Mississippi Community College.
Joe Riley, Jacobs' mentor and head coach at Houma (La.) H.L. Bourgeois, said Jacobs' had already moved on from the Seminoles anyways.
"That relationship that was built with them in high school was kind of faulted, so he was like 'Coach, I don't think I want to go back there anyway,'" Riley said.
Riley told him there was no reason to pick a school he wasn't comfortable with. First that meant a commitment to Tennessee until Florida and tight ends coach Derek Lewis stepped into the picture. Lewis had recruited Jacobs when he was an assistant coach at the University of Minnesota and Jacobs was in high school.
Jacobs was drawn to Florida initially because of Lewis, then because of his meetings with the likes of head coach Will Muschamp, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and defensive line coach Bryant Young.
"Those are some classy guys," Riley said. "Throughout the whole process, a few schools did some negative recruiting toward some other schools, but Coach Muschamp and his staff never did that. They always sold what the benefits were of coming to Florida. They never bashed another program."
Knowing that defensive line depth was scarce and the opportunity for early playing time was there, Jacobs chose the Gators.
Enrolling in January, he knew spring practice would be especially important for him. At junior college, he didn't always have to go full speed. East Mississippi featured such a talent-heavy squad that games were rarely close or meaningful for the eventual national champions.
When spring practice opened to the public for two days, Jacobs was repeatedly beat in one-on-one drills and looked noticeably behind the curve. Muschamp and Quinn addressed it by saying he had technical things to work on but provided great potential with his strength and speed.
"He knows his faults and he knows his weaknesses," Riley said. "This is the SEC and he realizes he has to bring it every snap of every game. He's well aware of that. Obviously he needs to work on a few things."
Despite some struggles, Jacobs stayed positive. Spring was a time for development.
Jacobs is the first H.L. Bourgeois player to sign with a BCS-caliber school since the 1970s. Like most kids in Louisiana, he grew up cheering for the LSU Tigers and dreaming of playing in Tiger Stadium. LSU didn't recruit him - not out of high school and not out of junior college. The Tigers felt he was more suited to play offensive line.
"He's going to be out to prove all these critics wrong, especially LSU and Florida State," Riley said.
To do that, Riley wants to see him improve his hand techniques and become more flexible. Also the track coach at H.L. Bourgeois, Riley has Jacobs running and jumping hurdles every time he returns home.
Regardless, Riley has seen Jacobs mature over the years from the "rock star" who forgot that grades mattered in college recruiting to the more humble college junior he knows today. When he takes Florida Field for his first regular season game this fall, Riley understands how big of a moment it will be for all involved, Houma included.
He believes Jacobs will have an immediate impact.
"That's a dream come true as a coach: when a kid relishes the opportunities that he has," Riley said. "When I first saw him in eighth grade I told he had what it takes to be a Division I football player. I'm tickled to death. He's done something not too many guys do around here."
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