Tarvarus McFadden earned his chance to impress from the start.
But one of the lasting images of Florida State’s promising sophomore through the first month of the season was receivers eluding his grasp on their way to the end zone.
His teammates had faith McFadden’s first year as a starter would not end in disaster.
“The first couple games were rough for him,” senior defensive back Marquez White said. “But we all saw the plays that he was getting beat on, and he was this close from making a game-changing play.”
McFadden, a graduate of American Heritage School, is back in his hometown this week.
And on Friday night, when the Seminoles take on Michigan in the Capital One Orange Bowl, McFadden will be back in the stadium where his season — and Florida State’s — made a very, very positive turn.
McFadden made a momentum-swinging interception (much like White referred to) at Hard Rock Stadium this past October in a game against the University of Miami.
“It’s going to be great [finishing the season at home],” McFadden said. “I had an up-and-down season, but I’m starting to get into my own and feel myself coming into these last few games that we’ve been playing in. I’m just excited to play on Friday, coming at home, that makes it even better.”
The interception in front of his friends and family came with FSU trailing 13-3 early in the second half and helped FSU rebound for a 20-19 victory. It proved to be a turning point for the Seminoles as well.
McFadden finished the season with eight interceptions, and is tied with West Virginia’s Rasul Douglas for the most among FBS players entering this week. He also leads the team in pass breakups with five and overall passes defended with 13.
McFadden (6-2, 198 pounds), an elite defensive back who was rated in the top five in the country when FSU recruited him from Heritage, earned the Jack Tatum Award — given annually to the nation’s top defensive back — for his efforts.
“I think it was more just trusting that he could believe in himself that he could make those plays, and now he is,” White said. “I think he’s the best corner in the nation just being able to play the ball at his size. He can run, play the run, play the pass. He’s a huge part of our defense.”
McFadden showed some of his potential quickly after winning the starting job following the departure of Jalen Ramsey to the NFL.
But plays such as the 75-yard touchdown pass allowed on the game’s opening play against South Florida hurt McFadden’s confidence.
In addition to White, who called him “his little brother on the team,” McFadden watched film with FSU defensive coordinator Charles Kelly and listened to advice from his former position coach at American Heritage — former Dolphins cornerback Pat Surtain, who now is the head coach at the school.
“Coach Pat is one of my mentors, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him,” McFadden said. “He’s one of the best cornerbacks in history and he went through tough times in his career so he just kept telling me to keep working and keep my head up.”
McFadden regained his confidence and more importantly developed the consistency he was lacking as the season moved on and he gained more experience.
“Being able to play corner, you’ve got to have confidence,” White said. “A lot of corners you don’t see that confidence and their season goes downhill. We stuck with it, and I feel like he grew up a lot this season, and he’s become a leader on this defense.”