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Freshmen keep confidence in check

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It was just a few days into camp, and despite a nagging hamstring injury, freshman receiver Marvin Bracy was feeling good.

He'd ran just a handful of routes during practice, but he'd spent plenty of time with his nose buried in a playbook, and the extra study time had inspired some confidence.

So after practice, Bracy found himself boasting just a bit to teammates Karlos Williams and Telvin Smith.

"I'm ready," Bracy told them. "I know all the plays."

Williams offered a sly grin, knowing he'd heard this all before. In fact, the words weren't much different than the ones he'd confidently trumpeted just a year earlier.

"I just turned to Telvin and said, 'Tell him how I was,' " Williams said.

A hard-hitting safety with explosive speed, Williams was among the most coveted recruits in the country when he committed to Florida State, and he expected a big role once he arrived.

Turns out, winning a job wasn't so simple.

"I never thought about adjustments I had to make, who I had to cover in this move or that motion," Williams said. "It's definitely hard knowing you're a top guy coming in and not being where you want to be."

Williams' playing time didn't materialize in 2011, but the hype remains as the Seminoles get set to open the 2012 season amid enormous expectations.

The sophomore safety is one of several FSU players whose buzz among fans far outweighs their contributions on the field thus far.

After the offensive line sunk Florida State's chances at an ACC title last year, the salvation in 2012 comes in the form of a converted defensive lineman.

Cameron Erving has never taken a snap on the offensive side of the ball in a college game, but a strong effort during spring practice and rave reviews from coaches and teammates have already landed him the title of the next big thing.

"I like hearing it, but you have to tune it out when it's time to play ball," Erving said. "I'm trying to do is stay humble and be the best player I can."

Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin offers a similar take on the importance of humility in the face of enormous hype, but his sights for the 2012 season are set just a bit higher.

At 6-foot-6, Benjamin makes for an inviting target in the passing game, with quarterback EJ Manuel predicting a bevy of game-changing plays from Benjamin, who was redshirted a year ago.

"I want to be that Michael Jordan for the team, that big playmaker," Benjamin said. "I definitely want to be an All-American."

That type of enthusiasm from a player still waiting for his first career catch isn't necessarily a bad thing, safety Lamarcus Joyner said.

For many young players, himself included, the hype from the fans can prove a good source of motivation, if handled properly.

If players aren't prepared for that spotlight, however, the buzz can quickly become a distraction.

"It's almost like people force you into trying to chase that and live up to their expectations," Joyner said.

For that reason, coach Jimbo Fisher cautions his players to avoid reading too many stories from the media trumpeting their potential or check in on the message boards where fans predict big things to come.

Still, the hype can be difficult to avoid.

"It crosses your mind, being that guy everybody looks forward to seeing on the field," Williams said. "But you've got to know personally if you're ready to play."

That was a realization that came slowly for Williams.

He spent the bulk of last season on special teams, and it wasn't until the waning weeks of the season that he finally began to get a feel for the speed of the game.

Williams fielded a kick against Miami, and began his trek upfield. Suddenly he could see his blockers, and he knew where to run. He felt would-be tacklers a step earlier, and he knew when it was time to add an extra burst.

The result was little more than an 18-yard return, but it offered Williams an understanding of how far he needed to come before he was really ready to reach his potential.

"You can be mentally ready, physically ready, but are you really game ready?" Williams said. "Are you mature enough to know your assignment? If the defense moves, do you know what to do, who to block? Do you know what route to run, when to cut it off, when to stop, when to sit it down?"

These were the questions he posed to Bracy, lessons Williams had already learned from experience.

Deflated, Bracy soaked it all in.

"He said, 'I never thought of it like that,' " Williams recalled. "It's a learning experience."