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Rotation keeps LBs fresh

During many series Saturday at Notre Dame, Florida State fans were treated to a preview of what seems to be a sure hit:

At linebacker, in various combinations, were sophomores A.J. Nicholson and Sam McGrew, redshirt freshman Buster Davis, junior Ray Piquion and freshman Ernie Sims.

"One of the things that has made the Florida State defense what it's been, really throughout (coordinator) Mickey Andrews' tenure, is that they play a lot of people," first-year linebackers coach Kevin Steele said. "Particularly Mickey in the secondary. We've tried to adapt that with the linebacker position to make sure we keep feeding the system."

In 2001 and 2002, the Seminoles relied too much on their starters, who fatigued in some games. Remember the loss to Miami last season?

Senior Michael Boulware leads the team with 68 tackles and, at that pace, would finish the regular season with 90, 37 fewer than last season. Lamont Green was the last Seminole to lead the team in tackles with fewer than 102. He had 73 in 1998, a season in which FSU finished 11-2 and played for the national title against Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl.

The Seminoles rotated freely then, spreading the wealth of tackles.

And that's a good thing.

"The only way for those guys to be ready to play when it's time to play, when it's all on the line, is if they've had reps before," Steele said of the younger players. "When you look out there, A.J.'s playing very well. Ernie's made some unbelievable plays for a rookie. All those guys are playing well."

LAST TRIP HOME: For Boulware, senior tailback Greg Jones and junior offensive tackle Alex Barron, Saturday's game at Clemson is their last trip to their home state.

"I'm really looking forward to it," said Jones, who happened to be wearing Clemson shorts.

"This is going to be my Miami," Boulware said. "It's not as big as Miami, but it's one of my biggest games."

TURNAROUND SEASON: After several mistake-prone performances in the opening two weekends, sophomore defender Teresa Rivera found herself out of the soccer team's starting lineup. FSU had begun 1-4 and allowed 10 goals.

"It was rough," said Rivera, the Gatorade Player of the Year in Florida as a prep senior from Stoneman Douglas in Parkland. "I wasn't playing to my full potential. We were trying new things (schemes) and I wasn't focusing. It was frustrating."

Her family and friends provided support and coach Patrick Baker this inspiring message:

"Be ready."

A season-ending broken ankle to star senior Kristin Boyce during a win Oct. 14 at Clemson gave Rivera another chance to start, and in the last four games of the regular season FSU allowed one goal, to No. 1-ranked North Carolina on Friday in Chapel Hill.

"She's been tremendous for us," Baker said. "She's a whole different player right now. She's got her swagger back and that's great to see. You can tell she's confident and she's much more comfortable and not beating herself up after every little mistake. It's a credit to her."

Rivera's play is one reason the Seminoles enter today's ACC Tournament as the No. 2 seed, their best finish in the perennially powerful league. They open at noon against No. 7-seeded Wake Forest, and if they win they would play the Clemson-Maryland winner at 5 p.m. Friday. The finale is 1:30 p.m. Sunday.

TOP-NOTCH: Bob Braman was named ACC men's cross country coach of the year after leading the squad to a second-place finish, its highest since it joined the conference in 1991. "I always look at it as a team award because it reflects on them. We've moved up and we've done a good job," the fourth-year coach said.

_ Brian Landman covers Florida State athletics. He can be reached at (813) 226-3347 or by e-mail at landmansptimes.com

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