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August 31, 2011

Buckley will cement FSU legacy on Saturday

As freshman Derrick Brooks settled into the Florida State locker room for the first time in 1991, he would soon realize that the coaches picked his locker with a purpose.

A quiet high school blue-chipper with plenty to learn, Brooks was saddled next to a guy who was accomplished. This guy knew how to deal with pressure and expectations. He knew how and when to joke with the media. He was a risk-taker on the field and oozed confidence off it, too - at least enough to keep a list of the newest contracts signed by NFL cornerbacks and stuff it in his locker as motivation.

This guy was also pretty good. His name was Terrell Buckley.

"I picked up a few nuances from him my freshman year. I had a year to listen to all of that rhetoric," Brooks said with a laugh. "T-Buck was a game-changer, just a different style of player. You've got guys that make plays and you have guys that change games. He was a player that always changed the game. Whether it was punt returns, interceptions for touchdowns, he did it all. And that's, to me, what separates him."

Buckley certainly changed games, collecting 21 interceptions in three seasons at FSU while helping the Seminoles to a 31-6 record from 1989-1991. Brooks would watch his locker mate pick off 12 passes on the way to winning the Thorpe Award as a junior in 1991, a season that propelled Buckley to become the No. 5 overall pick in the 1992 NFL Draft and help construct a 15-year NFL career.

And 20 years later, the two will become locker mates once again. One of the most decorated cornerbacks to ever play at Florida State, Buckley will have his No. 27 jersey retired at halftime of the season opener against ULM on Saturday. He joins eight other FSU greats with the distinction including Brooks, whose No. 10 was retired last season.

"It humbles you. It also makes you very excited. I couldn't wait to call my family, my friends and my high school coach that it finally happened," said Buckley, who currently heads up the Seminoles' Life Skills Program. He said a host of family, former teammates and former coaches are coming back to help celebrate this honor on Saturday.

"Sometimes I have to pinch myself and realize that it's not a dream," he said. "That this is actually happening, which is a great feeling. To be able to come back and pass this type of stuff on to the guys here is very fulfilling and exciting."

While Buckley's jersey will be retired, per program policy, the No. 27 will not go out of circulation. Sophomore cornerback Xavier Rhodes currently wears No. 27.

But the number resonates in Florida State's lore for plays like the "Foolah from Pascagoula" 69-yard punt return against Syracuse in 1989. Buckley said his two most memorable plays are a punt return touchdown against Tulane and an interception he made against Syracuse as he crawled over the back of future NFL star Qadry Ismail in 1991.

"There's a guy putting a little highlight tape together for this ceremony and I've seen some clips of it. I'm going to make sure the (current players) see it to let them know that this isn't my first rodeo," Buckley joked.

"I'm very happy for him. He's one of the all-time great college football players," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "He affected the game at corner ... he's been as much as the top three or four guys in the history. His play was aggressive as a punt returner and he's been a great influence and competitor from that standpoint. I'm surprised it took this long. He's one of the greatest players not only in Florida State history but in college football history."

Brooks, who lined up as a safety in 1991 before moving to linebacker and sparking a decorated career of his own, credits Buckley and their side-by-side locker friendship for much of his maturation as a college player.

"It was good to have him there next to me. He really instilled confidence in me," Brooks said. "I was struggling at that time (playing safety) just getting used to being coached by (defensive coordinator) Mickey Andrews, whose philosophy was to get the best out of you by pushing you and saying things you didn't like. But Terrell was always there for me with confidence. It was real good for me to just know, hey, here's an All-American, the best defensive back on our team, every single day he would come in and make sure I was confident about who I was and what I did and to make sure I wouldn't lose it."

And through his success at Florida State, a career that has him sewn within the fabric of the program, Buckley never imagined he'd earn this type of honor.

But perhaps this is what happens when you're accomplished, you handle pressure and expectations, you're a risk-taker and you bring a little confidence to the position. To Brooks, this honor was only a matter of time.

"No, my goal when I came in - I wanted to earn the respect of my teammates," Buckley said. "If you earn the respect of your teammates, everything else would happen. Teammates and opponents, that was my goal. It just so happened that it turned out to be pretty good."



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