Florida State defensive tackle Andre Fluellen may spend game days shedding blockers, but the rest of the week has him, in a strange position change, playing the blocker.
And trust us: He's one tough guy to move.
Hey, Andre. You're on the preseason watch lists for the Outland Trophy as the top interior lineman and the Bednarik Award as the nation's outstanding defensive player. And Sporting News rates you the fifth-best tackle around. And virtually everyone puts you among the elite defensive players in the ACC.
You don't say?
"I try not to look at all of that stuff because it's easy to say, 'I don't want to get a big head,' but it can easily happen," said Fluellen, 22, a fifth-year senior. "I know I'm not the most talented. I'm not the biggest. I'm not the strongest guy out on the field. But I refuse to let any other person outwork me. That's how I am. That's my motto. I figure if somebody's outworking me, they're going to play better than me."
You won't hear him say it, or even hint at it, but that's a rare occurrence.
"He's hands down the best tackle I went against last season," Miami senior offensive guard Derrick Morse said Sunday at the start of the ACC football media sessions. "Oh, definitely."
Good thing for the Seminoles. They rely on Fluellen's competitiveness (he wants to win at everything, including a sit-up routine against his brother's girlfriend), relentlessness (he worked so diligently in the offseason that he reduced his body fat percent from 21 to 16) and a quiet but unmistakable steadiness (he goes at it the same way each and every snap, each and every practice, each and every game).
"Andre's been one of the most consistent players I've had, and I've had some great ones," defensive tackles coach Odell Haggins said recently. "I coach hard, but I've never had to jump on Andre. I'm not saying he's perfect, but he's self-motivated, and when you have someone like that, your job is easy."
Fluellen explored bolting early for the NFL but wasn't comfortable with his projection as a third- or fourth-round draft pick. His status, however, might have been significantly higher were it not for happenstance.
Injuries to nose guards Paul Griffin and Emmanuel Dunbar meant Fluellen had to fill in, and that position is one in which size is more of an asset than quickness, which is his forte. It's not that the 6-4, 280-pound Fluellen didn't do well as FSU's nose guard for nearly 12 full games. He did, finishing with 28 tackles (seventh on the team) and eight tackles for a loss (tied for fourth).
But imagine what he could have done had he played his natural spot. Imagine what he could have done had injuries not forced coaches to start nine other largely inexperienced Seminoles at the three other defensive line positions.
Try a few less double-teams.
Try a few more plays off so he could stay fresh.
Fluellen saw the possibilities and returned for another year. But his decision had something to do with not wanting his final season to be one of the worst in the Bobby Bowden era.
"When you leave Florida State, it's really all about the legacy you leave," he said. "And the last season is the one that everybody's going to remember you for."
He wants a finale worth remembering, a la defensive tackles Travis Johnson and former Chamberlain High star Brodrick Bunkley, both of whom parlayed breakout senior seasons into first-round draft position.
So, Fluellen has worked to improve his strength and refine his technique. (He moved to within one class to finish his degree in English and journalism.) After spring practice, he was named the team's most valuable defensive player and the most dominant player.
Then came the award talk, something that's tough to get around.
Something he has deftly blocked out.
"He's really not looking for that," said his roommate and brother, Charles, a second-year graduate student at Florida A&M. "What he's looking for is to do the best he can to help his team this year. He's done some good things (in his career), but he doesn't really think he's accomplished anything yet. He stays humble and doesn't fall into that trap. The humbleness keeps him hungry."
Brian Landman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3347. Visit his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/seminoles.