At halftime of Florida State’s Garnet and Gold spring game, the school gave out its Hinesman Award, which is presented each year to the “most dominant’’ player of spring camp.
That might seem inconsequential. After all, the Hinesman is not the Heisman.
Then you examine the recent Hinesman winners — defensive back Jalen Ramsey, quarterback Jameis Winston and offensive lineman Rodney Hudson — and it gets your attention. These are premium draft picks and solid NFL starters.
The Hinesman has proven to be a precursor to big success.
So it’s worth paying attention to FSU’s senior defensive hybrid Jacob Pugh (6-foot-4, 229 pounds), who is mostly a Buck linebacker, but also a bit of a defensive end. Either way, he can be a pass-rushing terror if he’s on his game. And he most definitely has been on his game recently.
Pugh could be FSU’s breakout player in 2017.
“I’ve been extremely happy with him,’’ FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said during spring workouts. “He can do a lot of things. Big body. Can cover. Can rush. Can play the run. Physical.’’
Pugh’s improvement has been incremental as he battled the learning curve, along with some injuries.
As a freshman, he had 12 tackles and zero sacks.
Last season, he accumulated 43 tackles, six tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks.
“He probably had the best spring of anybody we have,’’ Fisher said. “A third- or fourth-year guy that has been around, had some success (sometimes), realizes that if I do everything right … everything is lined up (for a breakthrough). It’s urgency. I’m anxious to see how he can play and keep this thing going because he has a chance to have a tremendous career.’’
Pugh showed some flashes at the end of last season, including the Orange Bowl victory against Michigan, when he had 6 tackles and a sack.
In the spring game, Pugh had 3 tackles, a sack, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry. Pugh, also named the game’s defensive Most Valuable Player, said he was surprised by his honors because his motivation was to simply play hard and have fun with his teammates.
Fisher wasn’t surprised.
“He’s doing every little thing right,’’ Fisher said.
There are many keys to FSU’s success. The Seminoles must generate a consistent running back with Dalvin Cook off to the NFL. The defense must play with more consistency and the pass rush needs to compensate for the NFL departure of All-American defensive end DeMarcus Walker.
Sophomore quarterback Deondre Francois, already showing beyond-his-years leadership qualities, must take the next step. He’s already popping up on some preseason Heisman Trophy lists.
Then there’s Pugh. He won’t win the Heisman. But he’s still turning heads. He already has captured the Hinesman.
At FSU, as history has proven, that counts for something.
“It’s funny, when you play your best, (that’s) when you start doing everything right and you don’t worry about the results,’’ Fisher said. “You’re not worried about what’s going on. (You’re) just trying to do what’s right every day.
“When you do that, and you have the ability he has, you start becoming a dominant, productive player like he has been. And that’s what he did all spring.’’