Lamarcus Joyner’s Most Important Position
By BJ Bennett
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Cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, who doubles as an elite return specialist, is a veteran leader for FSU. His success on and off the field has helped set an example for younger Seminoles.
Florida State enters this fall with usually-high expectations, but also with question marks galore. A school-record eleven NFL Draft picks must be replaced, a redshirt freshman is set to step in under center and a new defensive coordinator has taken over for one of the SEC's first-year head coaches. Defending a conference championship is a relatively new phenomenon for a program that once found such feats passe. As the Seminoles shift back into the spotlight, all while changing the proverbial lines, they will turn to a player transitioning to a new position to lead the way.
Technically, for Florida State senior Lamarcus Joyner, his new spot on the field is actually an old one. After earning first-team All ACC honors at safety as a junior and second-team All-ACC honors as a sophomore, Joyner is back to where he was projected out of high school and played in 14 games as a true freshman: cornerback.
As a standout at power St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Joyner was lauded as one of the top handful of prospects in the country. He was rated as the number one corner in the nation by both ESPN and Rivals and was selected to play in the Under Armour All-American Game. On National Signing Day 2010, Joyner joined Derrick Brooks, Antonio Cromartie and David Warren as just the fourth USA Today National Defensive Player of the Year in history to sign with the Seminoles. Joyner was the headliner of then first-year head coach Jimbo Fisher's inaugural recruiting class.
Initially, Joyner settled in as a cover corner in Tallahassee. He totaled 23 tackles his freshman year, recording an interception roughly 15 miles from where he went to high school in Florida State's 45-17 drubbing of archrival Miami. Though his freshman debut, one where the Seminoles advanced to the ACC Championship Game, was a successful one, Florida State coaches moved Joyner to safety prior to his sophomore season.
The switch proved to be a seamless one. Joyner brought both timing and toughness to the back of the FSU defense, showing an ability to impact games a variety of different ways. Florida State's pass defense improved from allowing 225 yards per game in 2010 to just 192.3 yards per game in 2011, good for tops in the ACC. Joyner, himself, saved his best performance his sophomore season for last. Facing Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl, Joyner tallied seven tackles and intercepted his team-leading fourth pass in a four-point Florida State win. That 18-14 triumph proved to be the final defeat for the Fighting Irish until last season's BCS Championship Game.
Last fall Joyner took his game, and his team, to an entirely new level. He set the tone for a Seminole defense that led all of college football in passing yards allowed per game (161.9) and opponent quarterback rating (95.4). Joyner helped lead Florida State to a 12-2 finish, claim their first ACC Championship since 2005 and win their first Orange Bowl, 31-10 over Northern Illinois, since 1993. He finished last season having played in every single game of his Seminole career, having started 27 games straight.
After considering leaving early for the NFL, Joyner decided to return for a final chapter, a final season at Florida State.
"Coach Fisher and I aren't finished with what we started here. He said from day one I was going to be one of those guys that was going to help turn this program around. We've started down the right path so far but we're still not finished," he explained back in January. "This wasn't a decision I could make just for myself but for my family in order to help them down the road, which is why I'm going to stay at Florida State for my last season."
As Joyner prepares for that final year in college, he is doing so at the position where his Seminole career got started. The move by Joyner, who may be valued higher as a cornerback by NFL scouts, gives Florida State great versatility in the defensive backfield. In he, Terrence Brooks, Ronald Darby, Tyler Hunter, Nick Waisome, Karlos Williams and company, the Seminoles will again have one of the most talented secondary units in the game. Joyner will spearhead it all.
"He can jam, he can run and you'll see him there," Fisher acknowledged of Joyner at corner. "You can see him in those nickel and dime situations inside. I think he'll be a great blitzer and great slot cover guy because he's extremely quick and powerful and I think that's something that he can do at the next level. I think it's what best for the team but that's what he truly is."
Despite sliding over from safety to corner, Joyner is getting considerable pre-season All-American attention this summer. A banner senior year could fortify his legacy as a program great. Joyner, who doubles as an elite return specialist, is a veteran leader for Florida State. His success on and off the field has helped set an example for younger Seminoles. Joyner was recently named to the watch list for the Lott IMPACT Award, an honor recognizing integrity, maturity, performance, academics, community and tenacity.
With such top-to-bottom team turnover, players like Joyner have been charged with maintaining the status quo. It's now his team, a Florida State squad that once again has a title to defend. Though Joyner continues to switch positions, his role could not be more clearly defined.