Neither Fabien Lovett nor Jammie Robinson needed to return to Florida State for the 2022 season.
After both had impressive seasons last year, they could have decided to embark on their professional careers. The fact that neither of them signed with FSU out of high school, but instead transferred in could have added fuel to that.
They didn't take that route, however.
Instead, they were two of FSU's three player representatives at ACC Kickoff in Charlotte last week. In their own ways, both are expected to play critical roles on the field and as leaders for the Seminoles this season.
To hear Lovett say it, he wants to reap the rewards of his hard work over his last few seasons at FSU and be a part of the Seminoles' next step back towards prominence.
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"I want to be able to say I came in and we made the turnaround, our class was the reason there was a big turnaround..." Lovett said.
"It's the turnaround year. It's what we've been working for. We've been working all this time and now I feel like it's going to finally pay off. The past few years, it was a feel-it-out, build-it stage, lay the foundation. Now, we've got to stack on top of the foundation.
"This is a big year for this team, this is a big year for this program. This is a big year in general for all of us. I feel like it's going to be a great year for us."
Defense shows growth
In 2021, FSU's defense grew tremendously over the course of the season.
Early on, the Seminoles were far too susceptible to coverage busts and missed tackles, allowing 5.53 yards per play over the first six games.
The defensive production improved drastically against the tougher back half of the schedule. FSU's defense allowed just 4.81 yards per play over the final six games.
The Seminoles' defense finished the 2021 season 37th in ESPN's SP+ rankings, well above the FSU offense, which ranked 58th.
Despite losing the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in Jermaine Johnson and another All-ACC edge rusher in Keir Thomas, there's a belief that FSU's defense could be even better this season.
"I'm very confident. I feel like honestly we're going to have a better year this year than last year just based off the guys we have coming back and a lot of things we already know," Lovett said.
"We've been in the process and the playbook, the program for two or three years so (we know it) like the back of our hand."
The preseason SP+ rankings back this confidence up.
FSU's defense is projected to be the 15th best in the country entering the 2022 season and the third best in the ACC behind only Clemson and NC State.
The fact that FSU brings back a great deal of experience almost everywhere on the defense fuels this positive belief.
"It's different. Everybody is flying around, the calls are easy because we're still running the same system," Robinson said.
"There are little tweaks in the game that you have to change so the offense won't pick up on what you're doing, but everything is pretty much the same. We're confident, playing fast and locked in."
It may help their confidence that Lovett and Robinson play in two of the deepest and most impressive position groups on the FSU roster.
Depth key to defensive tackle position
With Lovett and Robert Cooper manning the interior of the defensive line as a pair of fifth-year college football players, FSU's defensive tackle unit may be the Seminoles' biggest strength this season. Especially when also considering the depth that emerged behind them last season.
"I don't think anyone can run between us. You put a guard, a center and a guard against me and Coop, two vs. three, we'll win every time. I bet money on it. I don't care who it is, I bet money on it that me and Coop will win..." Lovett said.
"Great confidence in Malcolm (Ray), Jarrett (Jackson) and Josh Farmer because they're doing the work just like I am. That's all it's about."
At safety, FSU returns Robinson, who was a first-team All-ACC player in his first season with the Seminoles, and Akeem Dent, a former highly-rated recruit who finally realized his potential down the stretch of the 2021 season.
Robinson led the team and was tied for the ACC lead with four interceptions and the Seminoles had 14 interceptions as a team, third most in the ACC. 13 of those 14 came from defensive backs.
"It's going to be real dangerous. We're just going to follow the blueprint that the coaches got for us, and we're going to execute every play," Robinson said.
"The coaches call on me to be that leader. I'm not born to be a leader. I'm a leader in the sense that I lead by example. Sometimes I say something and when I say something is when I really need to say something. You've got those other leaders that are vocal. I'm not a vocal leader. I like to lead by example. I feel like we're all coming together, we're preaching that oneness."
While Robinson and Lovett were both personally motivated to return to FSU for the 2022 season, it didn't hurt matters that this has been the first offseason since the introduction of name, image and likeness legislation last July.
Both veterans were named early ambassadors for Rising Spear, the primary FSU NIL collective, and that ability for them to generate money they previously couldn't definitely made that decision a bit easier.
Especially for someone like Lovett who has a young son back in Mississippi that he has to think of when making his decisions.
"I feel like NIL helps, it benefits a lot of guys out. A lot of guys are in situations like me where you have a child that you have to provide for. I need (that money) because at the end of the day, those checks the college gives us are not enough to live on when you have a kid at home, you have to send money home," Lovett said.
"Things happen, my son goes to the doctor, he has surgeries, a lot of stuff happens. I need to be there for him. I need money to be able to get on the road to go see him. I feel like NIL has played a great part. Rising Spear, shoutout to them because I'm partnered with them. They're great people, we have a great relationship. They have a great thing going."
Reach Curt Weiler at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @CurtMWeiler.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Lovett, Robinson returned to anchor FSU defense, bolster draft stock in 2022