As he slowly recovered from arthroscopic knee surgery, Florida State senior DT Justin Mincey could have opted to use a medical redshirt and return for a fifth and final season in 2010.
"I thought about it a lot," he said. "A whole lot. Every day, I was just praying about the situation and I let God take over and he pointed me in the right direction."
His time was now, not later.
Mincey played for the first time last week at North Carolina and his statistics (one tackle) belied his impact for the Seminoles (3-4, 1-3 ACC), who host North Carolina State on Saturday.
"I felt real good," he said.
"He was a little rough, naturally because he hadn't practiced in six or eight weeks, maybe more," defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said. "But he came back and had a good week's work last week and did very well for the first game. We need him to play big like that and he did."
No one's suggesting any one player can or will transform a defense that is uncharacteristically porous and prone to giving up big plays.
But Mincey's return looms large:
• He's far more experienced than most defensive tackles pressed into duty given a rash of injuries (sophomore Moses McCray, freshman Jacobbi McDaniel and redshirt freshman Everett Dawkins). Mincey had appeared in 28 games, including starts in impressive wins against Virginia Tech, Maryland and Wisconsin last year.
• At 6 feet 5 and 272 pounds, he's the most physically imposing DT on the depth chart, and the converted defensive end has uncommon quickness. He almost demands a double team and that can help everyone else along the defensive front.
"They'll have to respect Justin Mincey," former FSU DE Neefy Moffett said. "He's one of the best pass rushers I've ever seen. Justin brings ability and also a great motor. He's a get-after-type guy and everyone's going to feed off of that."
Mincey seemed poised for a breakout year after a strong spring, culminating with a dominating performance in the Garnet & Gold Game (five tackles, 2.5 for a loss and a forced fumble), but injured his left knee in early August. He said the ACL wasn't damaged, but just about every other ligament was.
He finally started practicing in earnest leading up to the Oct. 10 game against Georgia Tech.
"If you sit back and worry about, 'Oh, I've got to do this and I've got to do that,' it'll take a toll on you and eat you up," he said. "I just play every game like it's the beginning of the season right now."
A sign of things to come?: During the last 26 minutes of the UNC game, the Seminoles held the Tar Heels to three points on five possessions, forced their lone turnover (an interception by senior S Jamie Robinson at the FSU 3-yard line), and sacked QB T.J. Yates twice (including one by senior DE Markus White on the game's final play).
"There were some encouraging things, there no doubt," Andrews said.
Not to diminish the effort, but the Tar Heels' offense came in as one of the ACC's worst. So, was the second half really the start of something for the D?
Coach Bobby Bowden is guardedly optimistic.
"I thought that against BYU," he said, referring to the second half in a 54-28 win at the then No. 7-ranked team a month ago. "So, I'm not ready to say yet."
Freshman impact: Freshman TB Chris Thompson, who has soared to No. 2 on the depth chart in recent weeks, had more carries against UNC than starter Jermaine Thomas, finishing with 18 yards six attempts.
Said offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher: "He did make a couple nice runs in there and blocked (and) picked up blitzes well … and was a consistent player in the game."
Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3347. Read his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/seminoles.