'It's my turn' ... DE McLendon ready to make mark for FSU defense
It's not just the number that's different for Derrick McLendon.
The fourth-year defensive end looks noticeably quicker and faster this spring than he's ever looked in a Florida State uniform. The switch from No. 55 to No. 9 has apparently helped flip a switch for the Decatur, Ga., native.
It's still spring practice. Games don't start for another five months. But McLendon looks like he could be a vital part of the Florida State defense this fall.
He certainly believes he will be. In fact, he doesn't expect to just start. He expects to be a star.
"I'm extremely fast right now," McLendon said after Thursday's practice. "Honestly, I feel like I'm the best defensive end coming out this year."
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If he just becomes one of the two best defensive ends on the Florida State roster, that would be a huge stride for McLendon, who has yet to make a significant impact since he arrived in Tallahassee.
He is still listed as a redshirt sophomore, but he was a part of the 2019 signing class. He has played in 25 games in his career and has registered 24 career tackles.
Last year was by far his most productive season for the Seminoles. He had 16 tackles, 4.5 stops for loss and 3.5 sacks.
McLendon showed glimpses as a pass-rusher, but he has never fully found a consistent role on the Florida State defense.
Part of that is because of the position room itself.
In 2020, he was behind two veterans in Janarius Robrinson and Joshua Kaindoh. And then last year, he was behind two talented transfers in Keir Thomas and Jermaine Johnson, who very well could be a top-10 or top-15 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.
"Getting my opportunity," McLendon said. "Getting my chance to show what I have. Just waiting my turn. J-Rob and Kaindoh two years ago got drafted. Jermaine and Keir are going to get drafted this season. Just understanding that it is my time."
The Georgia product said he remained as patient as possible the last two years and tried to use his time with those NFL-caliber defensive ends to soak up as much as he could.
"At the time, I wasn't an NFL talent," McLendon said. "So, just getting the knowledge that both sets of guys gave to me and displaying it right now is what I'm trying to do this spring. And what I am doing."
As one might be able to tell, McLendon doesn't lack for confidence. And judging from his performance this spring, it's not false confidence.
He has been difficult for Florida State's offensive tackles to block consistently. He is currently listed at 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, and he has had a number of flash plays for the Florida State defense, where he has used that size and added quickness to get into the backfield in a hurry.
McLendon said he worked out in the offseason back home in Georgia whenever he could. But he added that strength and conditioning coach Josh Storms has been an enormous factor in the way he's playing and moving right now.
"Coach Storms has truly been a miracle worker," McLendon said with a smile. "You guys see my body. You guys see my body of work that I'm displaying this spring. Coach Storms has been that guy."
McLendon hopes to be that guy this fall. Albany transfer Jared Verse has been one of the stars of the defense so far this spring, but No. 9 hasn't been too far behind in production and flash plays.
And McLendon said he likes Verse because he's a "high-energy guy" just like him.
"We feed off each other's energy," McLendon said.
While it would be very difficult for that duo to combine to have the production that Thomas and Johnson did last fall, McLendon is certainly going to do his best to make sure the Florida State defensive end position is still one of the best in the conference.
Heck, if he has it his way, the best in the country.
That is, after all, what he's been waiting for these past three years.
"Every day I'm just coming out to be better, focusing on just coming and being a pro," McLendon said. "It's my turn."
Talk about this story with other Florida State football fans in the Tribal Council