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Mount Rushmore Mondays: Which four FSU cornerbacks belong?

Determining the Mount Rushmore of FSU greats, position by position.

University of Michigan vs Florida State University Set Number: X41934 TK1 R7 F30

It’s finally here.

To help the offseason pass a bit faster Tomahawk Nation has been putting together a position-by-position Mount Rushmore, chosen by our readers, to determine the top four Seminoles by weighing everything from stats to accomplishments to historical significance.

This week, we’re continuing the series by looking at cornerbacks. We know some of y’all have been looking forward to the defensive backs, and we have too. While some of these names played at multiple positions, we’re categorizing guys at corner or safety based on where they spent the most time and made their greatest contributions at FSU.

A reminder of the process — today, we’ll post a poll for the Tomahawk Nation community to choose their top four Seminoles for that week’s position group from our group of nominees. If you feel so inclined, you’ll have the opportunity to throw in any write-ins that didn’t make the initial cut.

On Tuesday, various TN contributors will make their cases in a roundtable format and then finally, we’ll share the final poll results on Wednesday to determine that position’s Mount Rushmore.

Check out a brief description under each player to read more about their accomplishments (alongside selections from our previous series revolving around the top 100 players in FSU history and the top 100 plays), then vote for your top four at the bottom and let us know the reasoning behind your choices in the comments.

Let the debate begin!

Clifton Abraham

The late ‘80s were a time of excess. And just as shoulder pads were abundant both off and on the gridiron, so did that excess translate to Florida State football, as “more” became the rule. As the Seminoles’ dynasty began, prodigal winning became all the rage in Tallahassee, and at no position did the ’Noles establish their dominance more than that of cornerback. This was, like, totally the beginning of DBU.

The rundown of FSU DBs to earn consensus All-America honors began in the late 80s and is remarkable:

  • Deion Sanders (1987, 1988)
  • LeRoy Butler (1989)
  • Terrell Buckley (1991)
  • Corey Sawyer (1993)

That impressive run leads us to 1994 consensus All-American cornerback, Clifton Abraham. The Seminoles plucked Abraham from Dallas’ D.W. Carter High School in 1990, when he made his way to Tallahassee and redshirted with — obviously — plenty of talent to learn behind. He saw action in 1991, and blocked a punt (that’s foreshadowing).

In his redshirt-sophomore campaign of 1992, Abraham got the start at corner opposite the All-American Sawyer, creating a truly formidable tandem. But Abraham continued to make his own name, tallying a career-best three INTs. He also returned a blocked punt for a score against Tulane, a game in which he contributed a pick six, too.

1993 saw Abraham’s real rise, as he joined Sawyer as an All-ACC first-teamer and wasted little time announcing to the nation that while he may have played the role of understudy, he was far from an afterthought.

Witness the diminutive Abraham’s starring role in the legendary goal-line stand the Seminoles authored against Kansas to begin their title campaign. This is playing way bigger than 5’9” (as well as knowing how to get behind those aforementioned big-ass ‘80s shoulder pads).

Abraham also scored on a blocked punt in the opener against the Jayhawks, along with another two games later against Clemson. The 57-0 beatdown of a ranked Clemson team featured a goal-line stand too, one during which Abraham actually played with his hand in the ground on the edge:

Continuing to play well in the biggest games, Abraham had a career-high 10 tackles, in a win over Miami. And he capped the ’93 campaign by registering five tackles, including a career-best two for loss, against Nebraska in a national-title clinching victory for FSU. Abraham also earned ACC All-Academic Team honors.

With Sawyer gone for the pros after 1993, the 1994 season saw Abraham’s running mate in the defensive backfield shift from one great Cory to another. Cory Fuller stepped in as his cornerback counterpart but this was now Abraham’s secondary, and he did not disappoint in leading it.

Against Wake Forest, Abraham scored on yet another blocked punt, and his four career scores off blocked punts remain etched in Seminole lore. After a lockdown season, Abraham was once again named a first-team All-ACCer, as well as a consensus All-American, following first-team nods from the AP, the UPI, Walter Camp, Football News, the American Football Coaches Association, Kodak, and The Sporting News. He also garnered an honorable mention from Scripps Howard.

Abraham was a fifth-round selection of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1995 NFL Draft. In 2008, he was inducted into the Florida State Hall of Fame.

Terrell Buckley

We could write 10,000 words and still not accurately capture the scope of Terrell Buckley’s greatness. He wasn’t just a great player— he added to the lore, legends, and myths of the greatest dynasty this sport has ever seen.

He was a multi-sport star in high school, and one in college. He’s one of the greatest athletes to come out of Mississippi. He played football and baseball his freshman year at Florida State in 1989. He was good, and he knew it. He was ninth in the country in punt returns and was one of the few Seminole freshmen to see the field that year. He had three interceptions and five pass breakups. He also wasted no time engraving his mark on the program, including the time he orchestrated what became known as the Foolah from Pascagoula play:

Buckley played football, baseball, and ran track as a sophomore in 1990, making 43 tackles and adding six more interceptions for 219 total return yards and two touchdowns. He would also average 14.6 yards per punt return on 24 returns and returned two for scores. Yes, Buckley scored four touchdowns that year (24 points) all by himself. That’s more than LSU, South Carolina, Georgia Southern, and Memphis State scored against FSU that year combined. Buckley had almost 600 total all-purpose yards and was named a second team All-American by the Associated Press, Football News, and The Sporting News.

By the time Buckley reached his junior year in 1991, where he again lettered in both football and track and field, he was one of the country’s best defensive backs. Buckley intercepted 12 passes that year, still the single-season record at FSU, including that time he went into the Big House in front of 106,145 people and straight-up stole from Desmond Howard and quarterback Elvis Grbac:

At the time, the 51 points FSU put up that day were the most ever by an opponent at Michigan Stadium and third highest ever against Michigan, and the most against Michigan since 1958. While Buckley’s pick-six became one of the most iconic plays in FSU lore, he didn’t destroy the Wolverines all by himself. What he did do by himself is break Monk Bonasorte’s single-season school record for interceptions, set in 1979. It brought him up to 21 total career interceptions, also breaking Bonasorte’s career school record. Buckley also became the school’s all-time leader in interception return yards, with 501. That also set a new NCAA record at the time, breaking the previous one set in the 1970s.

T-Buck tied school records for touchdowns from interception returns with four, and punt returns, with three. He was named a Unanimous All-American, one of just fifteen in FSU history, as no less than nine publications all named him a first team All-American. He finished 7th for the Heisman Trophy and was the inaugural winner of the Jack Tatum Trophy for the best collegiate defensive back. Last but not least, Buckley was awarded the preeminent Jim Thorpe Award, also given annually to the country’s best defensive back. Whew. Was that all? Oh right, he had 700 total all-purpose yards that year, giving him 1,642 for his career. He had 1,000 yards just in punt returns, at a 12.2 yard clip.

With nothing left to prove, Buckley left school early to enter the NFL. It was the right move; he was drafted with the fifth overall pick by the Green Bay Packers in 1992. He played thirteen seasons in the NFL, recording at least one interception in each one. His list of accolades include becoming the youngest player ever to return a punt for a touchdown, leading the league in interception return yards, and recording over 500 tackles and 50 interceptions. He also won a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots in the 2001 season, beating the “Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams.

Buckley was inducted into the FSU Hall of Fame in 2003 and later returned to the school and earned his degree. He also got his start in coaching with FSU in 2007, staying on through 2011. He had stints in his home state as the cornerbacks coach for Mississippi State Bulldogs and Ole Miss Rebels before being named head coach for the new XFL’s Orlando Guardians.

Bobby Butler

In 1976, Bobby Bowden took over at the helm for Florida State football. Inheriting a team that had gone a combined 4-29 over the previous three seasons, Bowden authored a 5-6 campaign in ’76. Over the next 33 years that he ran the FSU program, he never again had a losing season.

A big reason for the quick turnaround was another B.B.: Bobby Butler. A defensive back from Delray Beach, Florida, Butler was a four-year contributor for the Seminoles, playing in at least 9 games per season from 1977-1980. FSU improved immediately upon Butler’s arrival, going 10-2 in ’77 and finishing ranked in the AP Poll (14th) for the first time in program history.

Butler helped the ’Noles shutout Cincinnati, Syracuse, LSU, and Louisville (twice) while patrolling the defensive backfield, and his 11 career interceptions are still tied for 11th all-time at FSU. Butler was also an important special teams piece: his five blocked punts remain the most in ’Noles history.

Butler’s biggest year was 1979, a huge breakthrough year for Florida State. His six picks led the Seminoles to an undefeated regular season. Their only blemish came in a bowl loss to Oklahoma, but a No. 6 final AP ranking was the highest in program history to that point. Butler was an All-South Independent second-team choice in ’79, and improved to the first team the following year. He also earned an AP All-American honorable mention in ’79, and climbed to a third-teamer in 1980, when he was a first-team All-American for the Newspaper Enterprises Association.

Back to that quick turnaround accomplished by Bowden: during Butler’s tenure in Tallahassee, the ’Noles were 39-8 and appeared in two Orange Bowls. In 1981, the Atlanta Falcons selected Butler in the first round of the NFL Draft. He had a 12-year pro career, the entirety of it spent in ATL.

Curt Campbell

Most folks don’t know the name Curt Campbell, as he played for FSU from 1949-1952. We’re going to try to remedy that, because Campbell was perhaps only surpassed by Lee Corso (who we’ll discuss in a bit) as far as program-defining defensive backs go in FSU’s early years.

Campbell was a four-year letterman for FSU as well as a do-it-all athlete, not uncommon in those days. He spent time at running back, wide receiver, and kick returner. However, it was his play at cornerback that shaped his legacy.

Campbell was a two-time AP Little All-American in 1951 (honorable mention) and 1952 in large part thanks to his knack for making plays on defense. He finished the 1951 season with eight interceptions, an impressive number that remains tied for the second-most in a season in program history. Think about that- despite playing in an era when teams predominantly ran the ball, Campbell racked up as many or more picks in a season than any other FSU defensive back not named Buckley.

He finished his career with 12 interceptions, tied for the sixth-most in FSU history. At a school that has just as strong a claim to the “DBU” title as any, that output is a testament to Campbell’s garnet and gold accomplishments.

Tony Carter

138 tackles, 27 PBUs, nine interceptions (three returned for touchdowns), two fumble recoveries, and a blocked extra point returned for a safety (first time in FSU history). Not a bad career for any college player, no less one who stood 5’9” and barely cracked 170 pounds. But then again, Tony Carter always played bigger than he stood.

After redshirting the 2004 season, Carter was pressed into action earlier than anticipated, following Antonio Cromartie’s season-ending ACL injury. Carter ended up starting all 13 games as a redshirt-freshman, finishing with 41 tackles, one interception, one sack, and a career-best 12 pass deflections. Carter earned All-ACC 2nd Team and 2nd Team Freshman All-American honors from The Sporting News. It would also be the only season that he wouldn’t score at least one touchdown.

Carter’s 2006 campaign started with two missed games due to a knee injury, but he’d bounce back to start the final 11 games of the season. He ranked second on the team with two interceptions, both of which Carter returned for touchdowns. Carter also added a blocked field goal return for a touchdown and a blocked PAT return for two points. His 20 points scored ranked seventh on the team. He finished the season with 27 tackles and was named the Most Valuable Defensive Player of the team’s Emerald Bowl victory over UCLA, which included this game-sealing pick six.

As a junior in 2007, Carter again started all 13 games at cornerback, finishing with 45 tackles on the season, good for a career high. He also snagged a career-best four interceptions, while tying the team lead with six pass breakups. For his efforts, he was named to the All-ACC First Team.

In 2008, as a senior, Carter yet again started all 13 games, ending his Florida State career with a 33-game starting streak. He finished the season with 25 tackles and two interceptions and earned first-team All-ACC honors once again. Carter started a remarkable 50 games for Mickey Andrews’ defensive unit, and his timely playmaking and quiet leadership was crucial towards salvaging several winning seasons during the Lost Decade.

Tay Cody

Cody was one of FSU’s many fantastic pulls from South Georgia, as the ’Noles plucked him from Blakely, GA, just east of the Alabama line. He redshirted during his first year on campus in 1996, learning Mickey Andrews’ defense and putting on 15 pounds of good weight in preparation for the ’97 campaign.

When Cody did hit the field for the 1997 season, he didn’t disappoint, immediately seizing a starting role that he would rarely relinquish throughout the rest of his career in garnet and gold. He picked off three passes as a redshirt-frosh and was awarded with a first-team Freshman All-American nod from The Sporting News.

Cody continued to improve from there— as did the Seminoles. He helped the ’Noles to the national title game in ’98, while garnering second-team All-ACC honors. Cody factored in prominently to FSU’s undefeated national championship run in 1999, when he earned an All-ACC honorable mention selection; but his inclusion at this lofty spot on such an illustrious list of Florida State legends is due largely to his amazing season the next year.

In 2000, Cody registered one of the best seasons ever turned in by a Seminole DB. He doubled his interception total, picking off six balls, one for a score against NC State and Phillip Rivers, despite opposing offenses seeking to avoid him. Those half-dozen INTs in 2000 have Cody tied for the eight most in a single campaign in FSU history. Cody really closed out his ’Nole career in style, picking off six passes in the final five games of his career— including two against Florida in a 30-7 beatdown of the Gators.

But Cody was more than just a ballhawk. Because of his anticipation and impressive upper-body strength, he was also a fierce tackler. His all-around game culminated in consensus All-America recognition after the 2000 season, as the first-team All-ACC choice was also a first-team All-American for The Sporting News, College Football News, and the American Football Coaches Association. Cody also earned second-team All-America recognition from Football News and the AP; and he was an ACC Champion in every year he played at Florida State.

Across his FSU career, Cody tallied a dozen picks, tied for sixth in program history. Accordingly, Cody was a third-round choice of the San Diego Chargers in the 2001 NFL Draft. In 2015, he was inducted into the Florida State Hall of Fame.

Lee Corso

Sunshine Scooter, Lightning Lee: the speedy, athletic player from Jackson High School in Miami came to be known as many names through his time at FSU. In the end, none of them resonate the same way his actual name does in the world of college football.

Before he was a fixture on the show that helped define college football to generations of fans, Lee Corso was a freshman on the 1953 Florida State football team, having come to Tallahassee as one of the most sought-after athletes in the state of Florida. Lining up at quarterback on offense and cornerback on defense, Corso would toss for a modest 142 yards and rush for 207 more while recording a pick six and blocked kick on defense.

In 1954, however, the Scooter came into full force (also the year he roomed with Burt Reynolds, draw your own conclusions). Corso switched from pass thrower to pass catcher, racking up 240 yards receiving and 273 rushing alongside 252 special teams yards. Yet it was on the defensive side of the ball where he truly shined, recording six interceptions and two blocked kicks.

After a strong senior campaign, Corso was given an Honorable Mention at All-American by the Associated Press. He also played well as an outfielder for the Seminoles baseball squad all four years, and even played basketball for a season. A Seminole for all seasons, indeed!

By the time his career with the Seminoles finished, amounting to a 23-18 record, Corso was Florida State’s career leader in interceptions with 14 total. This was a mark he’d retain for twenty years until it was broken by Monk Bonosarte (and later, Terrell Buckley). He is still tied for third all-time with some guy named Deion.

He’d get into coaching relatively fast, starting as quarterbacks coach at Maryland before advancing to become head coach at Louisville, and then Indiana, ending his career with a one-year run at Northern Illinois in 1984, his final coaching record finishing at 73-85-6.

In 1987, he joined some show called College GameDay, becoming the heart of the television program that would go on to become synonymous with college football Saturdays in America. May we hear him repeat this prediction in early 2024…

Bryant McFadden

Sometimes a guy may not have the stats to compare favorably with others, but you just know watching him— that’s a bad dude. In the early 2000s, that dude was Bryant McFadden.

McFadden attended Hollywood Hills High School, where he was a two-sport star in football and track. He was a two-time All-State selection in football and was named the Broward County Player of the Year as a senior.

McFadden was a nice recruiting victory for Bobby Bowden’s squad and redshirted during the 2000 season. He went on to play in 48 games (starting 22 of them) for the Seminoles, working his way from a rotational player to a reliable and intimidating starter. He was a two-time All-ACC selection and was named to the All-American team in 2004.

McFadden was a key rotational piece in a defensive backfield that featured numerous unheralded stars and solid players in his first two seasons in Tallahassee. Despite not starting a single game in his R-Fr and R-So seasons, McFadden still made an impact, picking off three passes in 2002 and putting ACC offensive coordinators on notice.

McFadden ascended to a starting role in 10 of 13 games in 2003, where he anchored the left side of the field for the Seminoles. Though targeted less often than his peers, McFadden still set career-highs in solo tackles and forced fumbles (four in four straight games), while also nearing double-digit pass breakups.

2004 saw McFadden team up with a brash sophomore named Antonio Cromartie to form one of the most talented cornerback duos in the nation. While Cromartie out-intercepted McFadden four to one, it was McFadden who delivered the better season. He finished with career-highs in tackles and TFLs while also breaking up a career-best 11 pass attempts. McFadden’s efforts in his senior season earned him All-ACC 2nd team honors.

McFadden was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second round of the 2005 NFL Draft. He played for the Steelers from 2005 to 2008, winning two Super Bowls with the team in Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII. He then played for the Arizona Cardinals from 2009 to 2010. McFadden returned to the Steelers in 2011 and played for the team until 2013. He then signed with the Atlanta Falcons in 2014 and played for the team until 2015.

Greg Reid

Greg Reid was a flat-out playmaker. He wasn’t the biggest or the most physically-imposing Seminole. Hell, he might not have truly cracked 5’7” without cleats. But when FSU needed a spark, Reid was often the catalyst.

We can talk about Greg Reid’s accomplishments at FSU, like how he racked up 65 tackles as a sophomore cornerback and how he led the country in punt return average in 2009. Or we can talk about his devastating hit on Marcus Lattimore in the the 2010 Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

Let’s talk about his hit on Lattimore first.

The title of this video is “marcus lattimore gets knock the f out” because Lattimore did indeed get “knocked the f out.” The most amazing this about this hit by Reid? It was totally legal.

Even in today’s era of college football, where it can feel like targeting penalties are more common than touchdowns, the hit by Reid would be legal. He leads with his shoulder and has a clean hit on the ball. Textbook by the dude who won the Defensive MVP award for the bowl game after forcing two fumbles, breaking up four passes, and earning 71 return yards.

Okay, now we’ll go back to the beginning. After a senior season at Lowndes High School in which he rushed for over 1,200 yards, scored 18 touchdowns, and had nine interceptions, Reid was named the fourth-best cornerback in the nation and the top overall prospect in Georgia. He earned All-American honors from Parade and SuperPrep. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution named him “Georgia Player of the Year” and he was also the class five-A “Georgia Player of the Decade”. Reid was a significant recruiting victory for FSU, who flipped the five-star away from the Florida Gators. It didn’t take long for the victory to pay dividends.

Reid recorded an interception against the hated Miami Hurricanes in his very first game as a Seminole, as well as 100 yards on three kick returns. He announced himself to the college football world in his third game, returning an interception 63 yards for a score in a 54-28 beat down. He’d later house a 68-yard punt return against Wake Forest and play the hero against Maryland (mentioned in the first paragraph), both highlights of a season-long special teams effort that saw him rack up a combined 1,051 yards between kick and punt returns. There would very likely be no 2010 Gator Bowl swan song for Bobby Bowden without Greg Reid.

Reid’s sophomore season was even more special. In the season opener against Sanford, he returned his only caught punt 74 yards for a score. The next week against the Oklahoma Sooners, he had a career-best 10 tackles. He picked off two passes against Virginia, racked up 161 return yards against Miami, and gained 195 more return yards against North Carolina before that beautiful bowl performance against Steve Spurrier’s roosters. Reid set career highs in tackles (65), interceptions (three), PBUs (14), forced fumbles (three), and combined return yardage (1,056).

Reid’s junior campaign saw him deal with injuries and some off-field concerns, leading to a dip in statistical production. He saved his best game for the rivals from South Florida, netting a season-high five tackles along with 140 combined yards on four returns, including a punt return for touchdown. Reid earned All-ACC Honorable Mention recognition all three of his seasons.

Reid was ultimately dismissed from Florida State for a violation of team rules before the 2012 season and played briefly for Valdosta State in Georgia. During his professional career, Reid has bounced around with NFL tryouts, Arena Football, and Canadian football.

Although Reid was dismissed from FSU before the Seminoles returned to national relevance, his hard-hitting tendencies and athleticism helped set the benchmark for the Seminoles’ defensive backs in future years. His ability to make magic happen in the return game was essential for several FSU victories, and his tenacity set a tone for the beginning of the Jimbo Fisher era.

Xavier Rhodes

FSU fans would be forgiven for not remembering that this skinny kid from Miami Norland High School product was once the seventh-lowest rated recruit in Florida State’s 2009 class. He was a three-star receiver ranked as the 88th receiver in the country, and the 101st player in the State of Florida, according to the 247Sports composite.

It wasn’t for a lack of talent. Xavier Rhodes was a two-sport star in high school, playing football and running track. His senior year, he led Miami Norland in rushing and receiving. He also qualified for the state track finals after running 10.70 seconds in the 100-meter dash.

When he arrived at FSU for the 2009 season at 6’2” and a lanky 195 pounds, then-FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher saw his length, strength, and speed — and all the potential that came with it. Fisher made a decision to switch Rhodes to the other side of the ball. He’d play cornerback. So, Rhodes redshirted. It would likely be at least two years before FSU would see any return on that kind of investment, right?

Nope. It took Rhodes all of, well, immediately, to be good.

Rhodes was named a consensus freshman All-American following his redshirt freshman 2010 campaign. He was awarded first team freshman All-American honors by College Football News and the Football Writers Association of America. He did it on the back of a season with 58 tackles (49 unassisted and 3.5 for loss), two sacks, four interceptions, and 12 pass breakups from the boundary cornerback spot. He was named the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year. He constantly made big plays, intercepting the Clemson Tigers in the end zone in a 16-13 win and recovering a fumble against the Florida Gators.

The quality of Rhodes’ play didn’t diminish in the coming years, but as opposing coaches and players realized how dangerous he was, his numbers declined. His tackles dropped from 58 to 43 in 2011, and then to 39 in 2012. He recorded just four pass breakups in 2011, then rebounded to seven in 2012, also picking off another four passes.

As a consequence, Rhodes became criminally underrated by the awards circuit. He did finish as a semi-finalist for the Thorpe Award, given every year to the nation’s best defensive back, after his junior year. He was the only ACC player to receive that honor. He was also named a first team All-ACC player.

That year, in his last 12 games in the Garnet and Gold, Rhodes was targeted 47 times and allowed just 13 completions for 88 yards. The FSU defense lead the country in yards per play allowed and were in the top six in pass defense and pass efficiency defense. He earned back-to-back Mr. Dependable Skill Awards at the annual team banquet in his last two seasons.

He finished his career at FSU with 140 total tackles (seven for a loss), eight interceptions and 23 pass breakups. He was selected by the Minnesota Vikings with the 25th overall pick in 2013 NFL Draft.

Patrick Robinson

During his senior season at Gulliver Prep in Miami, Patrick Robinson appeared ready to become a Seminole before surprisingly committing to the Florida Gators. That choice was short-lived, as Robinson flipped to FSU on National Signing Day. It proved to be an excellent decision that paid dividends for both parties, as Robinson was a bright spot in the latter half of the Lost Decade.

Robinson saw the field in 10 games during his freshman campaign, even blocking a kick and an extra point attempt, while also lettering in track. He became a fixture on the defense the following season, playing in all 12 games but starting five of the last seven. He accumulated 28 tackles, six pass breakups, and a career-best six INTs, including five games in a row with a pick (a new school record). That six-interception season is still tied for 8th all-time at FSU. Robinson was given an All-ACC honorable mention for his efforts.

Robinson’s junior season saw him battle injuries as well as wide receivers, causing him to miss three games. Though targeted less following his stellar sophomore season, he still managed 26 tackles, four PBUs, and another interception, and also returned four kicks for an average of 28 yards per.

Robinson returned for the 2009 campaign as a seasoned leader in the secondary and legitimate NFL prospect. He turned in a season ending in All-ACC 2nd team honors, tallying 52 tackles, a career-best 11 pass breakups, and two forced fumbles.

The defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints chose Robinson with the final pick in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Between 2010-2017, Robinson accumulated 302 tackles, 77 pass breakups, and 14 interceptions, one of which he returned 99 yards for a touchdown.

Samari Rolle

Hailing from Miami and notably the last player to don the #2 jersey in garnet and gold, Samari Rolle developed into a speedy and reliable cover corner under DC Mickey Andrews during his time in Tallahassee.

In his two years as a starter for the Seminoles, FSU went 22-2 and a perfect 16-0 in conference play. Rolle was a key contributor and leader of the defensive backfield in the middle of Bobby Bowden’s legendary run at FSU in the ‘90s that saw the Seminoles emerge as a consistent national powerhouse.

After spot duty as a freshman, then sophomore and junior seasons in which he either started or served as a key rotational player, Rolle rose to prominence in his senior season when he set career-highs in tackles (43), pass breakups (13), and interceptions (7).

Rolle earned First Team All-ACC and 3rd Team All-American honors during his senior season. He notched two-interception games twice in his senior campaign, coming against Wake Forest in an 58-7 stomping and against the Miami Hurricanes in a resounding 47-0 thrashing.

For his career, Rolle racked up 111 tackles, 27 pass breakups, 12 interceptions, and two forced fumbles. Four of those 12 interceptions came against his hometown Hurricanes.

After exhausting his eligibility, Rolle was drafted by the Oilers/Tennessee Titans in the second round (46th overall) in the 1998 NFL Draft. Rolle helped the Titans earn a trip to Super Bowl XXXIV, in which they lost to the Kurt Warner and the Greatest Show on Turf. He was also selected to the 2000 Pro Bowl and named First Team All-Pro following a season in which he recorded seven interceptions. Rolle played for both Tennessee and the Baltimore Ravens before retiring in 2010.

Asante Samuel, Jr.

Asante Samuel, Jr. came from outstanding bloodlines, his father a star defender in the NFL. Junior would also become a star, though unfortunately it came during a rough stretch of FSU football. One of the few bright spots in the ill-fated Taggart Era, Samuel made a considerable impact during his time in Tallahassee.

Arguably the crown jewel of his recruiting class, Samuel immediately stepped into a rotational role in his freshman season, working his way up to becoming a starter in three of the final four games of 2018. Samuel notched nine PBUs to go along with 17 tackles. Taggart’s first season saw the Seminoles flounder to their first losing record in over three decades, and it was clear that the program needed leaders in the worst way,

In 2019, Samuel answered that call and ascended to a starting role that he wouldn’t relinquish again in Tallahassee. Starting all 12 games, Samuel made his mark with career-bests of 48 tackles and 14 pass breakups. A bright spot in an otherwise forgettable campaign, he earned All-ACC 3rd team honors despite FSU firing Taggart after nine games and limping to a 6-7 finish under Interim Head Coach Odell Haggins.

The 2020 season brought a new coaching staff under first year head coach Mike Norvell. It also saw offensive coordinators target Samuel less often, but he still managed a career-best three interceptions to go along with 31 tackles, another six PBUs, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. He had a phenomenal first game against Georgia Tech with two interceptions in the first half, though FSU would go on to lose the game.

The COVID-shortened season ended for FSU after nine games and a dismal 3-6 record, but Samuel’s efforts and impact earned him All-ACC 1st team honors. He declared early for the NFL Draft and was selected in the 2nd round by the Los Angeles Chargers.

Teaming up for the past two seasons in the defensive backfield with FSU legend Derwin James, Samuel has already started 27 of 29 games, recording 100 tackles, 22 pass breakups, four interceptions, and a fumble recovery. In the 2022 Wild Card Round of the playoffs, Samuel recorded three interceptions in the first half in the team’s 31-30 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Deion Sanders

You may have thought that achieving the status of consensus All-American was about as good as it got in college football. But there’s another level: unanimous All-American. See, to attain the high honor of consensus All-American, a player has to earn first-team recognition from a certain number of specific national media outlets.

But to be a unanimous All-American? You have to sweep the recognitions, across the board. All first-team acknowledgments, no exceptions. And that brings us to the only Seminole who achieved unanimous All-America status twice. The greatest cornerback in the history of football, Deion Sanders. No exceptions.

Sanders arrived from Fort Myers at FSU in 1985, seeing the field mostly as a reserve defender during his first year while balancing football and track with life away from home. He broke up four passes, but his freshman highpoint came against Tulsa, when he returned an interception 100 yards for his first FSU touchdown. Of course, that’s still the longest pick-six in program history.

Bobby Bowden also got the ball in Sanders’ hands by making him the team’s primary punt returner. His inclusion on special teams really paid off, beginning with that Tulsa game, when he returned five punts for an average of 17.2 YPR. In the regular season finale at Florida, Sanders returned one punt 34 yards and also scored on a 58-yard blocked punt return. He averaged 19 yards per return over five tries against the Gators in that game.

1986 saw Sanders add Seminole baseball to his already busy schedule, which prompts the very important interjection that while he’d become known for the seeming ease with which he patrolled the gridiron, it wasn’t all just natural talent. Spread across three sports and school, Sanders was well known as one of the hardest working players in FSU football practices. Hour upon hour of toiling in the north Florida heat: there wouldn’t have been a Prime Time without some serious grind time.

And ’86 is when the fruits of those labors really began to show up on the national stage. He came up with 61 tackles, four interceptions, eight pass breakups, as well as two forced fumbles and one recovery. All while continuing to field punts at nearly 10 yards per return. Sanders averaged double-digit punt-return yardage against half the teams he faced, exceeding the 24-YPR mark against Miami and South Carolina.

And this illustrates just how good Sanders was for the ’Noles as a sophomore: well before he was the greatest, he was already outstanding, garnering first-team All-America honors from The Sporting News, along with earning a third-team nod from the AP and an honorable mention from the UPI. He was also a sophomore All-American per Football News, and a first-team All-South Independent selection.

By 1987, Sanders was no longer a surprise to opposing offenses— but it didn’t matter, because he just kept getting better. After FSU’s disappointing 1986 season saw the Seminoles finish 7-4-1, Sanders helped begin the ’Nole dynasty in ’87.

With quarterbacks well aware of his immense talent and staying away from his side of the field, Sanders still amassed four more picks while breaking up nine passes and forcing a fumble. He also returned a punt for a touchdown against Tulane. Remember, DB recognition is often about not having your name called, and Sanders had opponents playing scared, plain and simple. And if they went at him, well then they were just playing stupid— and with fire.

That’s why he was named a unanimous All-American after the Seminoles’ 11-1 season. While obviously repeating as an All-South Independent choice, he was voted a first-team All-American selection by the AP, the UPI, the Football Writers Association of America, the American Football Coaches Association, The Sporting News, Football News, Walter Camp, Kodak, and Scripps Howard.

Case in point: in the season’s third game, Sanders called his shot to the Clemson bench in Death Valley prior to returning a punt. And in Ruthian fashion, he delivered, taking it back 76 yards in front of a stunned crowd. This punt return is still the 10th longest in FSU history— but well north of that in Seminole lore:

Maybe even dumber than punting to Sanders, teams still occasionally tried to throw at him, even though he’d firmly entrenched himself as the nation’s premier defensive back. He authored a career-high five interceptions and took two back for scores (tied for the most in the country that season), but none of his INTs were bigger than his final play in an FSU uniform, a pick against Auburn that sealed a Sugar Bowl victory for the Seminoles and capped yet another 11-1 season. This play really demonstrates how adept Sanders became at baiting QBs into making what may have looked like safe throws.

That postseason pick was hardly something new from Sanders, who earned his Prime Time nickname by performing on the biggest stages: he intercepted a pass in all four of the bowl games he played— and Florida State won them all.

Again after the 1988 campaign, Sanders was recognized as a unanimous All-American, as the AP, UPI, FWAA, AFCA, The Sporting News, Football News, Walter Camp, and Kodak again named him a first-team choice. In the most unnecessary follow-up ever, he was a first-team All-South Independent first-team honoree, too. Sanders also became FSU’s first winner of the Thorpe Award, given annually to the country’s top DB, and he led the nation with both 503 total punt-return yards and an astounding average of 15.4 yards per attempt.

Sanders remains tied for third in career INTs at Florida State with 14, and his four career pick-sixes are tied for the most in FSU history. Some might think that he’d have chilled a bit on the punt returns, given their inherent risk and the obviously lucrative future in front of him at DB. But that’s the kind of blowback Sanders always gets from those who only really tend to remember his persona and dancing.

But substance and style are far from mutually exclusive. Sanders was a dogged competitor who didn’t forego an opportunity to get an advantage over an opponent. His punt returns actually increased from his freshman to senior year at FSU— as did his average return each season. His 126 career punt returns still top the Seminole record books, as do his 1,429 punt-return yards and three punt-return TDs (tied). Some perspective: if Sanders’ career punt-return yards were a single-season rushing total, they’d be third in Florida State history, behind only Dalvin Cook’s 2016 and 2015 campaigns.

Sanders was selected almost as quickly as his 4.27 40-yard dash time at the combine in the 1989 NFL Draft, coming off the board fifth after being chosen by the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons were not disappointed. Playing football and baseball (he’d already been drafted by the New York Yankees in 1988), Sanders was a Pro-Bowl selection for Atlanta in 1992 and 1993, by which point he was also playing his pro baseball in the ATL, for the Braves.

He then moved on to play football for the San Francisco 49ers in 1994, where he again made the Pro Bowl and led the 49ers to a Super Bowl XXIX title. The next season, he headed to Dallas, and promptly won Super Bowl XXX. He was a Pro-Bowl honoree of the Cowboys from 1996-1999.

All told, Sanders made the Pro Bowl seven times. The only ’Noles with more selections are Walter Jones (9) and Derrick Brooks (11). Sanders was inducted the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011, the same year that saw him enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame as well. As you might expect, Sanders made the Florida State Hall of Fame well earlier, in 1994. His No. 2 is retired at FSU.

Corey Sawyer

Hailing from the southernmost city in the continental U.S. (that’s Key West for those of you who played paper football in geography class), Corey Sawyer arrived at FSU in 1990, a member of the same recruiting class as another name on this list, Clifton Abraham. Like his classmate, Sawyer would redshirt his first year, before seeing limited action the following year, while learning from FSU legend Terrell Buckley. However, when Buckley turned pro early, the Seminoles sought another brash, ball-hawking corner to shut down half the field. Enter Mr. Sawyer.

In the third game of the 1992 season, a road tilt in Raleigh against a North Carolina State Wolfpack team that finished the year in the top 15, Sawyer— now a redshirt sophomore— earned his first start at LCB. Late in the 1st half, with the Seminoles trailing 3-0 and the Wolfpack looking to go up 10, Sawyer made an acrobatic play for his first career interception. He clearly liked the taste of picking off QBs because once he started, he couldn’t stop. Sawyer nabbed two more INTs that day, both coming in the 4th quarter to ice a 34-13 win. The three interceptions are tied for second most in FSU history during a single game.

Following his breakout performance, Sawyer added interceptions in each of the next two games, against Wake Forest and Miami, respectively. And, in typical Seminole fashion, Sawyer wasn’t solely turning into a lock-down corner; he was a special teams weapon as well, totaling 165 yards on nine punt returns during that two game stretch. Little did fans know, he was just getting warmed up. The very next week, Sawyer broke open a game against the North Carolina Tar Heels and the ACC’s leading punter when he housed one from 74 yards.

By the end of the season, Sawyer totaled seven interceptions (still tied for 5th all time) and 488 yards on punt returns at nearly 15 yards per pop. But perhaps what he was becoming most known for was his propensity for making the spectacular interception look routine. In fact, he had so many diving interceptions that season that despite snatching seven, he had a grand total of zero return yards! That’s right, zero. Despite that, or perhaps because of his unique ability, Sawyer earned second team All-American status following the 1992 season.

In 1993, Sawyer picked up where he left off— shutting down his side of the field while continuing to make diving interceptions. As crazy as it sounds, he wouldn’t get his first interception return yard until November, in what would be his third-to-last game as a Seminole. In total that season, Sawyer grabbed six more interceptions when QBs were foolish enough to throw his way.

At the conclusion of the 1993 season, Sawyer was a national champion and a consensus first team All-American. As for interceptions, he finished 13 in his career. That puts him in 5th place at Florida State all-time, despite playing just 26 games. During his final two seasons, Sawyer led a Seminoles secondary allowing fewer than 190 yards per game through the air, while holding opposing QBs to under 48% completion percentage.

Sawyer went on to be selected in the 4th round of the 1994 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals, where he spent the next five seasons playing cornerback and returning kicks. Sawyer would play his final season in the NFL with the New York Jets in 1999 before a few seasons in other professional leagues.

JT Thomas

James “J.T.” Thomas is one of the greatest players to come through Florida State. Hailing from Macon, Georgia, Thomas was FSU’s first black football player to see the field during a varsity game, winning a starting cornerback spot in his sophomore year (freshman were ineligible to play). After being challenged in front of the team the day before the game by none other than Bill Parcells, Thomas blocked two back-to-back field goals in his first ever game in 1970, securing a victory against Louisville.

Later that season Thomas tied the school record for most interceptions in a game with three. He finished that year named as a first-team Sophomore All-American by Football News. The following year he was an honorable mention All-American. As a senior in 1972 Thomas was named a consensus first-team All-American.

Thomas was a true playmaker and a fan favorite. Every time he rushed a punt or a field goal the fans would stand in anticipation of something great. Thomas never disappointed. He didn’t just break down barriers — he changed the program forever. Florida State is the one true DBU, but that legacy didn’t start with Deion Sanders. It wasn’t Terrell Buckley, or LeRoy Butler, or even Bobby Butler. It was J.T. Thomas.

The 6’2 196 pound Thomas was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 24th overall pick of the 1973 NFL draft. The Steelers paired Thomas with fellow cornerback and Hall of Famer Mel Blount, in a pairing that was later named the sixth-best of all time by Together, they helped make up the immortal “Steel Curtain” defense that terrorized opponents in the 1970s. In his second season Thomas picked up five interceptions on his way to winning a Super Bowl. Then the following year he won another one just for good measure. The year after that Thomas was named to the Pro Bowl.

In 1978 Thomas sat out the season with Boeck’s sarcoid, a blood disorder, while the Steelers won a third Super Bowl. But Thomas returned the following year and, oh yeah, won another Super Bowl. He also got inducted to the FSU Hall of Fame that year. Thomas retired in 1982 with 20 interceptions, two touchdowns, four rings, and a legacy that will live forever.

Who are the top four cornerbacks in FSU history?

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Quarterbacks: Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke, Jameis Winston, Jordan Travis

Running Backs: Warrick Dunn, Dalvin Cook, Greg Allen, Amp Lee

Wide Receivers: Peter Warrick, Fred Biletnikoff, Rashad Greene, Ron Sellers

Tight Ends: Nick O’Leary, Pat Carter, Lonnie Johnson, Melvin Pearsall

Offensive Tackles: Walter Jones, Alex Barron, Pat Tomberlin, Cam Erving

Interior Offensive Linemen: Rodney Hudson, Jamie Dukes, Bryan Stork, Clay Shiver

Defensive Ends: Peter Boulware, Andre Wadsworth, Reinard Wilson, Derrick Alexander

Defensive Tackles: Ron Simmons, Darnell Dockett, Corey Simon, Timmy Jernigan

Linebackers: Derrick Brooks, Marvin Jones, Sam Cowart, Paul McGowan