Football is a fascinating study in paradox. Offenses, Sunday-pew still, at a shout careen wildly down-field. Men in genuflect rise to greet a stranger and to grapple strangely. On any play, the ball is delivered backward before it can go forward.
But at its simplest, football is a game of advancing. Of conquering territory. It’s imperialism at its noblest, as at the end of the day the field is relinquished to the next pair of opponents and nature to rain down upon.
The simplest space to take? That right in front of the ball. Rules of engagement tell combatants that the center must first humbly hand the ball to a friend, but the grass he faces is yet greener.
Unfortunately for our friend, large, unrelenting, and surprisingly nimble persons seek to stop such a simple advance. FSU friends are slated to face a tough set of them this fall. Here’s ten of them, without order or mercy.
Christian Wilkins (Clemson)
The good news is that FSU should only face Christian Wilkins this year and next. A 6’4, 310-pound true sophomore and a former 5-star recruit, he is a preseason second-team All-ACC selection by Athlon and Lindy’s. He finished 2015 with 84 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks in 453 snaps over 15 games. Those are tremendous numbers for a DT, and even crazier considering he only started one game. Wilkins is slated to get some burn at the 5-tech DE spot this year, too (think Eddie Goldman’s old position).
Carlos Watkins (Clemson)
A third CW to fear (serious, The CW is awful), Watkins is a 6’3, 305-pound redshirt senior. He finished 2015 with 109 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in 908 snaps over 38 games having started 15 games. On any other Saturday, this is is a young man worth rooting for.
Albert Huggins (Clemson)
Albert could make any list simply because his nickname is Huggy Bear. Huggins is 6’3, 305 pounds, and a true sophomore. He played reserve time last year as a true freshman on a tremendously talented and experienced defensive line. And if we’ve learned anything from Nnadi’s play against GT in 2014 is that playing DT as a true frosh usually indicates you’re pretty dadgum good already. In a scrimmage earlier this August, Huggins was credited with a safety after tackling a running back in the endzone.
Dexter Lawrence (Clemson)
So I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but there’s a theme here. And that theme is that Clemson has a ferocious 2-deep set of DTs primed for 2016. Dexter Lawrence is 6’5, 340, a former 5-star recruit, and won’t turn 19 until November/December 2016. An early-enrollee, I heard that they had to limit him in bowl practices because he was hurting offensive players. Um. What?
Caleb Brantley (Florida)
Will Muschamp has his faults as a head coach. But recruiting defensive talent to Florida was not one of them. A high 4-star recruit, 6’3 & 300-pound Caleb Brantley is a redshirt Junior who has battled injuries at UF, but has also amassed 10.5 TFLs in his two seasons of play. Fall practice reports him blowing up UF OL, but that merely puts Brantley in Derwin James territory. Oh, so that’s pretty good.
Gerald Willis III (Miami)
6’3 and 285, Gerald Willis III has had a tough start to his collegiate career. Now a redshirt sophomore after sitting out in 2015, Willis is hoping to put on display in South Florida his 2014 #2-ranked recruit DT ability. Willis had started at UF, but has fought his way down South to join former teammate and all-world name-candidate Standish Dobard at the _.
DeAngelo Brown (Louisville)
At 6’1 306, Brown is a redshirt senior who has been named to the preseason All-ACC team. He finished 2016 with 6.5 TFLs (2 sacks) and 18% body fat. A bowling ball of muscle and havoc, Brown hang-cleans 325 which is close to elite in body-building circles.
BJ Hill (N.C. State)
6’4, 300-pound Junior. Finished 2015 with 8 stuffs and 11 TFLs. Played running back and defensive end in high school. A low 3-star SDE coming out, Hill put on 60+ pounds since High School to grow into a big playmaker in the middle. A good example of the type of 3* recruit to take: Multi-position athlete with the frame and work ethic to grow.
Truman Gutapfel (Boston College)
Best original name on the list (with Huggy Bear winning best nickname, of course). Gutapfel finished 2015 with 5.5 stuffs and 7.5 TFLs. At 6’3 and 281, Gutapfel is the lightest lineman on this list; so he must be PDQ. Quick interior lineman can give even the best interior lineman head-aches (think VT DTs vs. Bryan Stork in ‘12, or the ever-infuriating Nikita Whitlock from Wake Forest). Gutapfel also had over 100 wins as a wrestler in high school, and man I saw a dumb QB go after a wrestler half his size in high school and that QB got it HANDED to him. Economics major, and probably smarter than you.
Chris Slayton (Syracuse)
An Orange to finish our list, Syracuse redshirt-sophomore DT Chris “Chris” Slayton finished 2015 with 5 stuffs. At 6'4 288, Slayton is playing at almost 30 more pounds than he was coming out of high school as a high 3-star recruit. Like Christian Wilkins, Slayton is athletic enough to get burn at DE and is currently doing so in practice.
Breeland Speaks (Ole Miss)
6’3 310, sophomore. Per his OM bio:
Played in every game with two starts as a defensive tackle ... Totaled 32 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, a sack, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery on the season ... Helped Ole Miss rank top three among SEC teams in tackles for loss (8.1/game - 7th in NCAA), interceptions (15 - t23rd in NCAA) and takeaways (23 - t38th in NCAA)
A hopeful replacement for Robert Nkemdiche, I expect Speaks to be heard come Labor Day.
Nazair Jones (North Carolina)
Bonus round! The interior talent drop-off since the John Blake era ended is apparent at UNC, but RS Jr. Nazair Jones can play. Did the rest of the ACC miss on a mega-recruit? Hardly. Jones (6’5, 295) has put on more than 45 pounds since arriving as a 3-star 250-pound strong-side defensive end recruit. Like Chris Slayton listed above, this path to defensive tackle is a strong program alternative to winning the battle for blue-chips’ recruitments. Though modest stats last year (40 tackles, 4 TFLs), Jones did make an acrobatic bat-and-catch interception against Clemson in the ACCCG last December. Jones turns 22 in December, and gives UNC a solid player up the middle this year.