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Ramsey embracing another position change

Jalen Ramsey had 80 tackles, 12 pass break-up and three forced fumbles last season. Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/MCT

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- At the time of the diagnosis, he was not yet a hot-shot recruit but a short teenager hoping for a growth spurt that would make him one.

The doctor delivered the difficult news: Jalen Ramsey would need microfracture surgery on his right knee, ending his high school sophomore season before it even began. He cried, heartbroken.

The doctor told Ramsey and his father, Lamont, that he had only done microfracture surgery on one athlete who went on to become a professional (in basketball). He also said he had never done surgery on someone so young, with more growing to do. When they walked out of the doctor's office, Lamont turned to Jalen and said, "You can be his first to grow up and play pro football."

Jalen Ramsey is closing in on that dream.

One of the top returning defensive backs in the country, Ramsey is moving back to his original position, cornerback, this season after playing all over the Florida State defense in 2014. It is a move he has embraced because he believes he can take away one side of the field with his cover skills. If he is as good as everybody expects, Ramsey will join a long list of Seminoles in the NFL.

But getting here required an arduous rehabilitation after his knee surgery. For an athlete with a tenacious, competitive spirit, the rehab actually suited Ramsey.

"Our main thing was keeping him positive," Lamont recalled in a recent phone conversation. "It was supposed to be a 12-month rehab and recuperation. He healed in eight months. His attitude has always been, 'I can do this, I can do that.' We had to pull him back a lot of times. He wasn't supposed to be running, but we'd catch him throwing the football in air, and then running and catching it by himself."

Microfracture surgery has taken on a negative connotation because of its risks, but there are several athletes who have returned to form after rehab.

Ramsey was better than ever.

When he came back as a junior, he had grown from 5-foot-3 to over 6 feet tall. The knee pain that plagued him during his freshman year was completely gone.

Ramsey was so good, so fast that he went from a relative unknown out of Brentwood, Tennessee, to an elite national recruit over the course of several months. Not only did he star at cornerback, he won state titles in the decathlon, triple jump, 200 meters and 400 meters.

"I didn't let it get in my brain that I would never play again," Ramsey said. "I worked so hard during my rehab, and my junior year is when I exploded onto the scene. And that's when I started to think in my head, 'I fully believe in myself. I will make this happen.'" When he arrived at Florida State, Ramsey earned the starting cornerback job as a true freshman, the first player to do that since Deion Sanders in 1985.

He asked to move to the "star," a hybrid linebacker/safety position, last year to replace Lamarcus Joyner, believing he could make a bigger impact on the defense. Ramsey was all over the field, earning first-team All-ACC honors with 80 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 12 pass breakups, 3 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions.

But once cornerbacks Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams declared for the draft, Ramsey figured the coaches would ask him to move back to his original position. Defensive coordinator Charles Kelly approached him with the idea about a month after the season ended.

Ramsey was receptive. A year playing safety means he will approach playing cornerback differently. He will be more aggressive, but he also has a better understanding of what everybody in the secondary should be doing.

"I don't feel that anyone can do what I can do, starting from my freshman year at corner, moving to star," Ramsey said. "There are other great corners and safeties and nickelbacks but I don't think anybody can do what I can do. I feel I'm a football player who is a great athlete. I feel I'm the best defensive athlete in the country, so I don't think anyone can do better than I can do at my craft."

That confidence is sometimes confused for cockiness. But that confidence is part of what sets him apart. Combine that with his competitiveness, and Ramsey is often on a different level than his competitors.

"It's one of the things that set Jameis [Winston] apart," coach Jimbo Fisher said. "Jameis came out to practice the other day, and he was arguing with Jalen, and they were arguing like they were still practicing and it got practice all juiced up. That's what separates the good and great players.

"They always said Michael Jordan, every practice he had was like the NBA championship. They always asked him the question, 'What do you different in the last five minutes of the game?' His comment was, 'I don't change, everybody else does.' I'm the same and I'm the same in practice. Jalen practices that way, so he created the habits that every play is the national championship."

His results on the track are just as telling.

With absolutely no practice, Ramsey ran the third leg on the 400-meter relay team that won the ACC outdoor title last year. This past February, Ramsey was the surprise winner in the long jump at the ACC indoor championships, eight weeks after the College Football Playoff semifinal in the Rose Bowl. He became the first football player to win the ACC indoor long jump title since Manny Lawson did it for NC State in 2004.

Ramsey set a personal record at the NCAA indoor championships a few weeks later, jumping 26 feet, 1 inch to finish fourth.

"We were at practice before the meet, and I walked out in the sand. I took the rake and I drew a line in the sand and I walked him back to the takeoff board and said, 'See that line? Can you jump that far?'" Florida State jumps coach Dennis Nobles said. "He looked at it. He looked around. He perceived the spatial awareness and said, 'Yeah. I can jump that far.' I put that line at 8 meters. He missed by 3 [centimeters]." Ramsey plans to go for the ACC outdoor title in May, returning to the track once football practice ends with the spring game Saturday. He won't be the favorite to win, but that doesn't mean anything.

"When the switch is on, it's on -- and it's on a lot," Nobles said. "The bigger the stage or the more important the competition, the better he does. I wouldn't bet against him, let's put it that way."

Ramsey has proven that over and over since leaving the doctor's office all those years ago.