January 16, 2014

Jalen Ramsey makes a big impact for FSU as true freshman

Jalen Ramsey opened his collegiate career with comparisons to Deion Sanders - they were unavoidable as the first true freshman cornerback to start a season opener at FSU since Sanders himself.

And Ramsey didn't mind a bit.

"I felt comfortable in my abilities," Ramsey said. "It took a little time making mistakes and the defense and things like that but everybody did. I really got to showcase my ability a lot. He (Jeremy Pruitt) kind of threw me into the fire early a lot."

The fire apparently was no problem for Ramsey. He started at cornerback, picked off Pittsburgh's Tom Savage on the Panthers' second drive of the game and returning it to the Pittsburgh 24. That interception set up a game-tying touchdown for FSU and swung the momentum of the game. It was a heck of a start, if overshadowed a bit by Jameis Winston on the other side of the ball.

Ramsey didn't look back, and FSU couldn't keep him off the field the rest of the season.

"We had some injuries early on and moved (Karlos Williams) to offense," outgoing FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt said. "Not only have they (Ramsey and fellow freshman Nate Andrews) come in and filled in right away, but they've been really good players for us. You couldn't tell watching them out there that they're rookies."

Originally, Ramsey beat out more experienced defensive backs P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby - who was still recovering from surgery.

Ramsey started the first few games of the season alongside senior and converted safety Lamarcus Joyner. But when FSU lost safety Tyler Hunter for the year to neck injury, it wasn't Joyner who FSU moved to fill the spot - it was Ramsey.

Ramsey ended up starting every game this season for FSU, finishing with 49 tackles, an interception, a sack, and a fumble recovery. That he was able to fit in right away for the best defensive backfield in the country did not shock him.

Ramsey was highly rated coming in, as a five-star prospect out of Brentwood, Tenn. He was ranked the best recruit out of Tennessee, the No. 3 cornerback in the country and the No. 10 recruit overall. And his recruitment came down to the wire.

Ramsey picked FSU over USC, to whom he was committed for much of his early recruitment and was viewed as the leader almost up to signing day. Ramsey attributed the flip at the time - and still does - to a hard sell from outgoing FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. But even so, the decision wasn't an easy one, Ramsey said.

"I'm Blessed," Ramsey said. "God put me in this opportunity I guess. I don't know what in my mind made me switch that night Just a lot of praying. My parents wouldn't help me. They said I'm a grown man now."

Regardless of how tough the initial call was, Ramsey quickly bought in for the Seminoles. He showed up early to FSU's campus in the spring of 2013 to work out and get a head start on learning Pruitt's scheme.

"When (Pruitt) recruited me, he told me that everybody was going to have to learn the defense," Ramsey said. "Really all they had on me was spring and there were a few injuries in spring so I knew coming out would help me and got my spring workouts for a week and a half down there."

Once in school full-time, Ramsey drew rave reviews from other players. Joyner, a player well-known for physicality, praised Ramsey's play. And before the title game, FSU coaches and players said Ramsey might be a better player on the edge as a cornerback than as a safety. Ramsey said he was open to the switch and enjoyed being on an island as a cornerback.

"I'm a bigger guy a longer guy I like to put my hands on the receivers. Nothing against receivers nowadays but most of them are not physical receivers they don't like to get touched. I like getting physical with them. I feel I'm long I have range and I can run with anybody."

After Pruitt's surprising departure for Georgia, Ramsey posted on Instagram a photo of FSU's defensive backs after the national title win.

"It don't matter who's coaching us!" Ramsey said. "Just better hope we don't play him."

And while Ramsey continues to play well, the comparisons to Deion Sanders and others will continue to come. He said he doesn't like to be compared to other players, but knows what people will say, given the names with which he's already associated.

"I feel like there will never be another Deion Sanders," Ramsey said. "But I feel like hopefully one day I can make people say, there'll never be another Jalen Ramsey."

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