TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Deion Sanders’ No. 2 is retired at Florida State, his number never to be seen on the field at Doak Campbell Stadium. That eases some of the pressure on Seminoles sophomore defensive back Jalen Ramsey, jokingly referred to as “Prime Time” in the Noles’ locker room. LeBron James wearing No. 23, this is not.
Ramsey appreciates the comparisons even if he doesn’t understand or embrace them. Any elite FSU defensive back will be measured against Sanders, the last true freshman cornerback to start at Florida State until Ramsey. He doesn’t want to stand against Sanders, though, but rather next to him, specifically in the Seminoles’ locker room.
“People joke about [being Sanders] and I’m like chill out. I want to be my own legacy, be Jalen Ramsey,” he said. “I want to have one of those highlighted jerseys in the locker room one day.”
Florida State announced locker room renovations in March, among them silhouette statues with lit numbers of all the Seminoles whose jerseys are retired. Sanders’ No. 2 is one of them, and Ramsey hopes his new No. 8 (he wore No. 13 as a freshman) is soon held in similar regard.
Although he was named a Football Writers Association of America Freshman All-American in 2013, this upcoming season is when the 6-foot-1, 198-pound Ramsey could become a household name to of even the mildest college football fan. As a freshman, he bounced between cornerback and safety as the secondary dealt with injuries. Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher will move Ramsey all over the field once again, but he could settle in mostly at nickelback, which, and Fisher could not have planned this better, is called the “star” position in his defense.
Lamarcus Joyner lived up to the position’s billing in 2013, finishing with 69 tackles, two interceptions, six passes defended, a team-high 5.5 sacks and was second with three hurries.
“I love that spot,” Ramsey said. “[Defensive coordinator Charles] Kelly basically lets me play. I had to learn a few techniques, but he just lets me play. He knows I’m physical, he lets me get in the box, read run/pass and react quick, guard slot receivers.”
Kelly is taking over for Jeremy Pruitt as defensive coordinator, but as an internal hire, hardly anything has changed in the Noles’ scheme. Pruitt took advantage of Joyner’s momentum-swinging ability as a blitzer last season, and Kelly will do the same with Ramsey this fall.
Ramsey isn’t shy when it comes to rushing the passer either and lights up when asked about blitzing. Few things raise Ramsey’s heart rate like mixing it up with running backs and offensive linemen, and he said heart and willpower -- immeasurable on the 5-8, 184-pound Joyner -- are what make a great blitzer.
It is nice to have a defensive back with the attitude to tussle with players twice his size, but Fisher is shrewd enough to know a player with the rare physical tools Ramsey possesses is the reason he’s poised to be the Noles’ ace blitzer.
“He’s so athletic, has burst, he can change [direction] , he can bend, he can run by you, if you square him he has moves like a back to get around you,” Fisher said, “but he’s also physical enough to take on a back or run on the edge.”
In essence, Ramsey and Sanders are not all that similar as defensive backs. Sanders was a shut-down man-to-man cornerback, and Ramsey is the defense’s jackknife with the responsibilities of a player in all three levels of the defense.
By the end of fall, however, Ramsey wishes for at least one parallel between Prime Time and himself.
“We’re trying to get this third Jim Thorpe Award at Florida State,” he said. “That’s the Heisman for the DBs.”