TALLAHASSEE -- In the past 30 years just two true freshmen have started at cornerback for Florida State — Deion Sanders and Jalen Ramsey.
Sanders started four games in 1985, Ramsey already has started the Seminoles’ first two games this season.
“Give him a break before we put him in Deion’s category,” coach Jimbo Fisher joked. “[He has] speed, size, athleticism, but also very mature, very hard-working and very intelligent and he has a drive inside to be good.”
“Football means a lot to him,” said Ramsey’s mother, Margie Tidwell. “He has an older brother and cousins that play football, so he was out there at a very young age playing sports.”
Those who know Ramsey best describe him as confident but not brash. Regardless, when he arrived in Tallahassee this summer he told his new coaches and teammates his intentions to start from day one.
“He came in saying it, and we all said, ‘OK ...’ ” recounts Fisher. Several months later, Fisher is a believer: “He’s very mature beyond his years and I think that’s what allowed him to be able to [start]. He’s done a tremendous job.”
Said Jamie Redmon, a 17-year coaching veteran who mentored Ramsey at Brentwood High School: “He’s the best I’ve ever coached. I think he’s going to play on Sundays.”
According to Redmon, fans are seeing only the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to Ramsey’s athleticism, too.
“He’s a phenomenal track athlete also,” he said. “We asked him to run track because we needed help, so he does the whole decathlete deal — he wins it his first year. High jumped like 6 feet 8 inches, long jumped 24 [to] 25 feet. He could be probably an Olympic long jumper if [Florida State] really wanted him to be one.”
“He was a wide receiver and running back also while he was in high school,” added Ramsey’s father, Lamont. “Actually, he was ranked pretty high as a wide receiver coming out of high school, too.”
Ramsey garnered a five-star prospect rating last year as a high school senior. Though he had committed to Southern Cal, turmoil at USC and a late push by Florida State’s new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt were enough to flip Ramsey just days before National Signing Day.
He signed with the Seminoles in the 11th hour.
While his late addition to Florida State’s recruiting class flew Ramsey beneath the radars of all but the most committed of Seminole fans, Ramsey and those close to him were not surprised when he was named the starter prior to Week 1.
“His biggest thing [heading into Florida State] was, ‘Even if I don’t start I’m going to push them so much that they’re going to have to make a hard decision,’ ” said Lamont Ramsey.
He did more than push. Ramsey hurdled up the Seminoles depth chart, gaining more reps with the first-team defense by the day and eventually earning the first start of his college career before Florida State’s first game at Pittsburgh on Sept. 2.
“I talked to him about two hours before the game,” Lamont Ramsey said. “He said, ‘I’m starting,’ and he was excited. He said, ‘I’m a little nervous but I’m just going to go ball out.’ ’’
On the Panthers’ second drive of the game, quarterback Tom Savage dropped back and attempted a pass down the left-hash mark. Ramsey broke on it immediately, snagged his first career interception at the Florida State 45 and returned it 31 yards to set up a Seminoles touchdown.
It was a moment Ramsey had been preparing for all of his life.
“There’s no words that can explain it,” said Tidwell with pride. “I know how hard he has worked and I know how hard he continues to work and sacrifice. When other kids were doing things in high school, going out and doing things, he sacrificed a lot just to make sure he was on top of his game.
“I don’t think he takes any of that for granted.”