TALLAHASSEE, Fla. Xavier Rhodes and Jimbo Fisher laugh about it now. But at the time? Rhodes was anything but happy.
A standout at wide receiver and tailback at Miamis Norland High, Rhodes was 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds. He loved to play offense and felt that he would be a receiver at Florida State.
They asked me if I wanted to play receiver or corner, Rhodes said. I said, Ive never played corner. They fooled me. It was my fault. I should have just said I wanted to play receiver. But now as you can see Im a great corner.
Rhodes says this with a smile. He knows that Fisher was right. Of course, Rhodes knows it now. But three years ago? He was upset.
Fisher saw that Rhodes would be a good receiver. He also thought that Rhodes could be an NFL-caliber corner.
I thought he had a great future there, Fisher said. He was mad at me for a year. We laugh about it now.
At the time, there was nothing to laugh about. Rhodes gave it a chance in practice, but the progress was slow. He admitted that he didnt want to accept the role. But he worked with graduate assistant coach Terrell Buckley, a first-round draft pick out of Florida State in 1992 who played 14 years in the NFL with six teams.
It was Buckley who was able to get through to Rhodes, to mentally and physically help him make the transition. Buckley told him that he had to work hard and learn his technique, but that one day he would realize that his value was far greater as a corner.
I grew to love it, Rhodes said. Once I grew to love it, thats when I got better. He helped me out a lot. He got me mentally ready. That was the first step. I wasnt mentally ready yet because I was still stuck on playing receiver.
Buckley was himself, a very young assistant coach. But he had spent 14 years in the NFL and knew talent. He was patient with Rhodes. And he saw the ability in Rhodes.
What I saw was ball skills and great footwork, Buckley said. And then later on I saw a big man that gets out of his breaks like a little guy. And then you say, This guy can be something special.
Rhodes was raw and was battling in practice. He would line up and face Florida States best receivers, but he would often lose the one-on-one matchups. And the trash talk would fly. Receiver Bert Reed, the most talkative of the bunch, let Rhodes have it one day in practice in 2009.
Bert Reed was killing me in practice, Rhodes said. He wasnt quiet about it. Knowing me, being a real competitor, I kept going against him. I said, Bert, Im going to get you. The last time, Bert said, Get out. I need a real corner. When he said that, it hit me in my heart. So I took that very seriously.
In about a month, I came back, Bert lined up, I jammed the crap out of Bert. Bert didnt even get an inch off the line. And everybody else that came up, I jammed them. Ever since then, I gained confidence.
He had 58 tackles and four interceptions in 2010 as a freshman, and Rhodes was named the ACCs Defensive Rookie of the Year. Rhodes has been tested less and less as the years go on. Going into Thursday nights game at Virginia Tech, the junior has 25 tackles, six pass break-ups and two interceptions this season.
Rhodes is part of a Florida State pass defense that is fourth in the nation, allowing just 154 yards per game. The ACC has been a passing league in 2012, but no opposing receiver has surpassed even the 90-yard mark against the Seminoles (8-1, 5-1 ACC).
One of the reasons is Rhodes, who often matches up against the opponents top receiver. On Thursday, he will line up across from one of the Hokies top receivers either Marcus Davis (36 catches, 686 yards, four TDs) or Corey Fuller (29 catches, 547 yards, four TDs).
Buckley, who is now in his first season as the defensive backs coach at Akron, will be watching Rhodes on Thursday night on TV.
I think hes the best corner in college football today, Buckley said. He can play man-to-man, he has the speed to run down guys. Thats the complete package.
Its funny now for Rhodes to think back to where he once was a wide receiver one day and the next a corner. He never saw it, but coaches like Fisher and Buckley certainly recognized the potential.
Its kind of crazy, Rhodes said. I never looked at myself, looked in the future and would ever think I would play any kind of defense. I was always a person that loved to catch the ball and run.