My earliest memory of watching FSU was when I was around five years old, sitting in the living room with my mom and my stepdad. The first thing that caught my attention was the spear. What I remember is being completely in awe as I watched Chief Osceola ride out on a horse towards midfield to the steady beat of drums. The crowd got louder and louder the closer he got, and then all at once, his horse lifted its front legs as Chief Osceola planted the spear right in the center of the logo. Then you could see the camera shake from all the noise in the stadium. It had nothing to do with football, but it just left this huge impression on me. It was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen.
And that’s when I knew.
I didn’t worry about whether my loyalty to FSU would eventually fade. That’s because before I was ever offered a scholarship or before I even played a down of organized football, I was committed to Florida State — 100% solid.
Before he even stepped foot on Florida State’s campus Derwin James was being hailed as the real deal, which tends to happen when you’re a multi-position athletic freak that’s been committed to the same school for three years.
Hailed as a prospect with “all the makings of an NFL player,” James had hype surrounding him from the day that he committed to the Seminoles, his freshman year at a junior day event, For three years he stayed committed to Florida State, even as he rose up in rankings and became the No. 1 safety and No. 5 player in the 2015 recruiting class, a testament both to his love of the school growing up and the loyalty he felt towards it for being the first school to offer him a scholarship.
“It completely blew my mind to be honest,” wrote James in The Player’s Tribune. It seemed like a dream. I was only 14 years old. Nobody had started recruiting me yet. I didn’t even know I was on the radar. I wasn’t a junior. I wasn’t even a freshman yet.”
The hype paid off, with James making an instant impact his freshman year. He logged only two tackles in the Seminoles’ first games in 2015, and then finished with 85, along with two forced fumbles, two sacks and five tackles for loss. Just as a cherry on top, he also had this legendary embarrassment of Florida offensive lineman Mason Halter:
Entering into 2016, James was being looked at as a Thorpe Award contender, with Tomahawk Nation saying then that he was FSU’s best shot at the award since Terrell Buckley.
Unfortunately, that hype was sidelined after two games when he went down with a knee injury, taking away one of the greatest weapons from a Florida State team that would go on to win the Orange Bowl with a 10-3 (5-3 ACC) record.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and so as 2017 approached, James started to be mentioned as the yearly “defensive player who could maybe sorta win the Heisman or at least be a finalist,” and was labeled the “new prototype” for defenders moving forward, possessing enough intelligence, talent and athletic ability to play any position on the field.
Though Florida State’s struggles on the field dampened those high hopes pretty quickly James still made a name for himself throughout the year, lining up at multiple spots (including kick returner!) to register 84 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, and just for good measure, a blocked kick vs. Syracuse that ensured a Seminoles’ victory.
He entered the 2017 NFL Draft as one of the most highly-regarded prospects, but slipped just outside of the top 15, going No. 17 to the Los Angeles Chargers where he, in his rookie year, he registered 75 tackles, 3.5 sacks and three interceptions en route to a Pro Bowl.
“In a league defined by offense, James has been able to change games from every level of Bradley’s scheme,” wrote Robert Mays for The Ringer. “While high-powered, diverse offensive systems force most defenses to be reactionary, James has allowed the Chargers to dictate the action.”
Due to a variety of factors, Derwin James never received the All-American accolades many of his peers on this list have, or got the chance to truly compete for a national championship.
But based on his talent, his output, his future potential and his status as somebody who truly embodied Florida State, James’ spot at 69 is well deserved.