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Seminoles get kinder, gentler Kendra

Florida State tough guy comes to camp with a new position, and a new attitude.

Florida State's Dan Kendra has been known for his powerful, larger-than-life statements.

He's always personified the muscle-bound daredevil; a cross between the Incredible Hulk and Rambo, if you will. Kendra, who agreed to pose for a picture in a tattered jersey and painted green like the comic book hero a couple of years ago, once burst blood vessels in his eyes setting a school record in the weight room. And even before his position change from quarterback to fullback last year, he relished the chance to plow over a would-be tackler.

He's not only earned a black belt in tae kwon do, but has contemplated a career as a Navy SEAL and is a self-described "over-the-edge kind of person." Remember, he injured himself when a homemade concoction exploded in has face last summer.

But during Sunday's media session, Kendra shattered that image with a powerful and startlingly emotional confession that he has experienced a life-changing epiphany.

After watching a television special on July 28, Signs From God: Science Tests Faith, he said he has discovered an inner strength that has absolved the anguish he endured since a major knee injury in the spring of 1998.

"I was just laying in my bed and it was killing me," said Kendra as tears streamed down his cheeks. "I had put everything, all my effort into my body. My lifting, my strength, my eating. Football was my god. Achieving success, achieving money was my god. All the things that really rot away and go away. Now, I've found the truth about what life's all about."

He said he has learned God asks for one's faith, not for leaving a mark in some record book.

When Kendra spurned Penn State to sign with FSU in February 1995, he was hailed as the nation's top quarterback. He was strong and uncommonly fast and mobile. Still, like his predecessors, he served a three-year apprenticeship and seemed poised to be the starter in 1998.

He had shown flashes of brilliance, especially in his lone start against Wake Forest in 1996. He completed 20 of 39 passes for 241 yards and three touchdowns in a 44-7 rout. But it was his scrambling, taking on tacklers instead of running out of bounds, that elevated him to fan favorite.

"There's nothing the crowd loves more than the sound of somebody getting crushed," he said.

But in the spring game before his junior year, that noise emanated from his body. In a collision with linebacker Bradley Jennings, Kendra tore his anterior cruciate ligament, the main stabilizer of the knee, and needed reconstructive surgery. Insistent that he knew his body better than anyone, he impatiently eschewed the methodical rehabilitation plan of the FSU training staff.

"I wanted to get the thing rolling," he admitted.

Instead, he needed another operation to remove loose cartilage in April and didn't participate in the spring practices, further frustrating him as he tried to prepare for his senior season.

"It was like my body deceived me; like my god deceived me," he said, adding that he put on an optimistic and upbeat face, but didn't enjoy talking to or seeing his family; he couldn't mask his feelings from them. "I was just lost."

Then a couple weeks ago, with his knee swollen from a cyst, he watched the TV special and found a new perspective on life.

"It's almost like if somebody came up to you and asked, Dan, how would you like to have all your worries and your fears lifted from you for the rest of your life? You would pay so much for that. And it just happened. Right away. It lifted all my worries."

Until Sunday, he hadn't spoken about this publicly. He hadn't even told his teammates or coaches, many of whom hold deep religious beliefs.

"If he's had some of awakening, I'm glad," coach Bobby Bowden said. "But I didn't know that."

To Kendra, it was a personal gift that he wanted to keep private. Nor did he want to invite the rolling-of-the-eyes from cynics. But he slowly and unexpectedly opened up, at first straining to keep his voice from cracking, then unabashedly crying.

"It's really hard to explain, but I went from being terrible to feeling great within a half an hour," Kendra said. "That's why I can say it's so real. I don't know anything else in the world that can change your feeling like that. My knee was still (hurt). The cyst was still big. But it didn't matter anymore. I can have my legs ripped off tomorrow and I can still be the same (happy) individual because my soul and my heart will never be damaged."

As for his knee, it's not yet 100 percent, so coaches are limiting Kendra to one practice a day. But he is expected to compete with William McCray for the starting job and brings a plethora of options to FSU's offense.

Can you imagine him taking a direct snap and throwing the ball 60 yards to Peter Warrick? Or him using his strength and size (261 pounds) to plow over a cornerback on a third and short?

The Seminoles sure can.

"He could be a very big factor," Bowden said. "One thing you have to realize, William McCray is the first-team fullback and he will be hard to beat out. Now if Danny is completely healthy and we can get him on that practice field, he still could be something special."