Jan. 3, 2013
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Lonnie Pryor came to Florida State to play tailback and, after four seasons of being the team's utility man at fullback for the Seminoles, he left as one.
Technically, Pryor lined up in the fullback position during FSU's 31-10 Orange Bowl victory over Northern Illinois. But you'd be hard pressed to find anyone on the Huskies' defense that exited that game thinking No. 24 in a garnet jersey was anything other than speedy tailback the way he carried the football out of the 'Noles' two-back "pony" formation.
It would also be difficult to find anyone inside the FSU football program that wasn't over-the-moon thrilled with the way Pryor capped off his career.
The same infectious smile that Pryor brought with him from Okechobee to Tallahassee in 2009 was on the faces of all his teammates at the tail ends of touchdown runs of 60 and 37 yards, respectively, and by game's end when Pryor was named the MVP thanks to a career-high 134 yards rushing.
"First thing I told Lonnie was he deserved this," said EJ Manuel, who had his own special night after becoming just the second quarterback in FBS history to win a fourth bowl game. "Lonnie has been a hardworking guy, never complains … I'm just so happy for him and I'm proud of him because he stayed steadfast, he never wavered, he never had any second thoughts about going somewhere else because he was out of his original position from high school, so he deserved this, man.
"I'm just extremely happy for him."
Nobody would have blamed Pryor if he had elected to leave the team he had loved since childhood when Jimbo Fisher decided to move him into the fullback position shortly after he arrived in Florida's capital city. It would have been understandable if that unmistakable ear-to-ear smile had become less noticeable over the course of four seasons while Ty Jones, Jermaine Thomas, Chris Thompson, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder, Jr. took the majority of the handoffs from the quarterback.
But that's not Pryor. He was team-first when he was the star of the box score every Friday night in high school and he was team-first every Saturday the past four years when he was blocking for his fellow 'backs.
"Lonnie is the epitome of what a team is a bout," Fisher said. "I mean, he can make big plays, but if he doesn't, he doesn't complain. He'll block, he'll catch, he'll run. He'll sit on the sideline and cheer. … And Lonnie did that, everything that's ever asked of him since he's been at Florida State. And to me, maybe not numbers wise,but he's one of the greatest players ever to play at Florida State."
Pryor certainly had one of the greatest single performances of any FSU player in the 'Noles' first BCS bowl victory since January of 2000.
Fittingly -- perhaps even storybook in its own way -- the same player that did the dirty work for four years, the little things like blocking and supporting teammates that don't show up on the stat sheet, was responsible for some of the biggest plays on the biggest stage any 'Noles player on the roster had ever competed on.
"I always came here to play running back, always wanted to be the next Warrick Dunn, break 1,000 yards and this, my last year, to go out with a bang like that, this is a blessing. It feels good. I never expect that. I always pictured myself doing stuff in this game, and I never saw the game I had tonight.
"But this has been a blessing, and I just truly thank my team for putting me in the position I am today."
And now he's in position to take that playmaking ability, team-first attitude and ear-to-ear smile to the NFL.
Pryor left Florida Thursday afternoon for Arizona where he will train for the next few months leading up to the 2013 NFL Draft in April. Pro scouts will see that he only rushed 123 times for 718 yards in his four years at FSU but his game film will show versatility that any NFL team could benefit from adding to its roster.
Those same scouts, general managers and coaches will then meet the 6-foot, 229-pounder and they'll fall in love with his attitude and that smile the same way FSU's players, coaches and fans did.
"Statistics don't tell about players," Fisher said. "The way you affect your teammates, the way you affect the game and everything you do does that, and that's what Lonnie Pryor did.
"He's a winner."
Pryor never complained that he didn't get to become a 1,000-yard rusher like Dunn but now he will -- deservedly -- get to become a professional football player like him.