This is the first time we've been able to speak with Florida State freshman defensive tackle Justin Shanks this year, because Florida State does not allow freshmen to speak with the media. After the Orange Bowl, however, all players were fair game.
Shanks came in as a consensus four-star defensive tackle out of Prattville (Al.) High School, and was widely considered one of the ten best at his position nationally. He was listed by Florida State at 6'2 and 340 pounds, and is about as wide as former 'Nole great and NFLer Corey Simon.
But things did not start off as smoothly as he had planned. Shanks was just one of eight (yes, eight) former four or five-star players on the interior line. He was was not in great shape, struggled to get through entire practices at a high level, and was soon redshirted.
A redshirt is not something any star recruit wants to take.
"When I first got redshirted, I took it hard," Shanks said. "But talking with some of the guys like Amp B (Anthony McCloud) and E-Dawk (Everett Dawkins) who did it, they said it was a big help. And I'm a team player. I'm a Seminole. I want to do whatever I can to help the team, and give the offense a good look in practice."
In fact, Shanks was named scout team player of the week several times.
"It really touched me after the Clemson game. [FSU's starting center Bryan] Stork came up to me and said I was better than the defensive lineman [for Clemson] he went against," Shanks said. "It meant a lot coming from a veteran, ya know? It meant a lot to help the team and give 'em a good look and I felt like I was a big part of the win, too."
In early September, he posted this to his Facebook:
Everyday I'm on the field, its a blessing to be around such great guys. Everyday is a blessing to get a free education! And I'm takin advantage of every opportunity & not taking things for granted!
"And it helped me a lot. It helped me get my weight down, and helped me get caught up to the speed of the [college] game. I enjoyed it. I didn't waste a year when I wasn't ready."
But he might not have enjoyed it so much without FSU's support staff.
When Jimbo Fisher took over, he talked of changing Florida State's infrastructure and support systems for its players. That meant nutrition, lifting, psychological and physical health, as well as academics. Some of the results were immediately evident. Players went to class with greater regularity, there were far fewer academic casualties, and they became much bigger and stronger.
And I think what happened with Shanks also fits in that category.
On September 26, Shanks posted the following on his Facebook:
Spending the night in the hospital, at least they got a big bed for me!
A series of comments followed, inquiring what was wrong, to which Shanks responded:
im good, they doing a sleep study on me
At the time, I thought to myself, "man, I bet he has sleep apnea. That would make a lot of sense given of his struggles with conditioning and sluggishness." I wanted to ask Shanks about this, but couldn't, due to Florida State's freshman policy. Instead, I filed it away and asked him Tuesday.
"Man, it helped a lot. So much," Shanks said. "I have sleep apnea. So now I have the [CPAP] machine. I can feel it during the day. I'm not tired."
"I can see it in my grades. I have enough rest now for my quizzes and tests. And I can do my papers, and it just makes a big difference not being so tired."
One week after the study, Shanks made a 92 on his math test.
Two weeks after, Shanks posted the following:
Registering for spring schedule! Need a 3.0 to get into business! I got this!
With the newfound energy, Shanks put in extra work athletically as well.
@beast_modenwr yeaa man, days we didn't have to workout, got up early and went and did extra on my own at 6am on tred mill, and run hills.— JBEAR (@92_shanks) January 9, 2013
The extra work paid off, and Shanks got into much better football shape.
"Woo (chuckling), I came in at 360 (pounds). In high school I played at 325, now I'm down to 315," Shanks said when asked how much weight he had lost. "I have to get my numbers to where they were in high school. I used to squat 700 and bench 475, so I need to get back to where I was [with better technique now that he is in college]."
Shanks couldn't be happier about the upcoming spring practice.
Seniors Everett Dawkins and Anthony McCloud have graduated and are moving on to the NFL. Shanks knows he'll have a shot to play significant snaps in 2013. And it starts with spring ball. He's excited to have his mom, a breast cancer survivor of four years, see him play for the Seminoles in 2013.
"I'm not worried about a starting job," Shanks said. "I'm just looking to get in the rotation. We have Tim [Jernigan], Nile [Lawrence-Stample], Jacobbi [McDaniel], Derrick [Mitchell], Demonte [McAllister] and Eddie [Goldman, a fellow freshman and Shanks' roommate]. With us rotating, it's fresh legs. I'm just looking to work hard and get better and be ready when it's my turn. I'm not trying to get a big head or anything, or get mad or upset, just trying to work hard."
After the bowl, Shanks posted this to his Facebook:
Man Wat a night! Wat a season! Proud to be part of a hell of senior class man, great mentors! They'll be truly missed! Now the red shirt year is over with for me! Few weeks off then back on the grind for off season! Gotta work my tail of in the spring to work my way in the rotation. No dreaming, just trying to execute my goals!#NolesNation
Shanks really enjoys being a part of the Florida State family, and those inside the program genuinely like and root for him because, in their words, he's a good kid.
It'll be interesting to see what he can do with his second year in Tallahassee.