Florida State fans knew coming into the 2015 season that the young players would have to step up if the Seminoles wanted to see success. Former 5-star recruits like defensive end Josh Sweat and safety Derwin James were at the forefront of this group, with both securing starting positions by the end of the regular season.
Sweat’s arrival was even more surprising considering the extent of the knee injury he had suffered during his senior year of high school. Many did not expect him to even contribute, let alone start.
Yet, Sweat did more than just start — he helped transform a defensive line that had been disappointingly lackluster the previous year. He’s still a bit unpolished (like most freshmen) but there is no denying the power and speed that he brought to the defensive end position. Often times, it is said that a player’s impact is not fully captured in the statistics. The scary part is that for Sweat, this still holds true, yet he still has fairly impressive numbers to back it up.
For reference, Sweat’s final stat line was this: 38 total tackles (19 assisted, 19 solo), 3.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception, 3 pass break-ups, 3 fumble recoveries.
There’s no question that Sweat had one of the best freshmen seasons for a Florida State defensive lineman in a long time. But exactly how long?
Frankly, Sweat may have had the best season for a Florida State true freshman defensive end in over two decades.
Some will immediately object and point out that there have been redshirt freshman like Darnell Dockett and Peter Boulware with similarly good (or even better) freshman seasons. But the difference a year can make in training and perfecting technique is huge.
Sweat came in, proved himself to the coaches, and got inserted to starting defensive end over a few upperclassmen. Perhaps the statement above is misleading since there are rarely true freshmen that start immediately at the position, but that in of itself should show how amazing it was for Sweat to do what he did.
There are a few names in the past few years that can get thrown out as examples. Names like Bjoern Werner (20 tackles, 3.5 sacks) and Mario Edwards Jr. (17 tackles, 1.5 sacks) contributed their freshman years recently, but no true freshman linemen since Jimbo Fisher’s arrival has had an impact like Sweat’s. The story gets a little more complicated the further back one goes.
Some names like Reinard Wilson and Jamal Reynolds might pop up, but these players had more success in their later years. Their freshman numbers for combined tackles, tackles for loss, and passes defended are not as good as Sweat’s. Peter Boulware, Corey Simon, and Andre Wadsworth all redshirted their first years, greatly limiting the amount of competition Sweat can be compared to.
In fact, there’s really only one linemen in the past few decades who had a true freshman season better than Sweat’s and that would be FSU great Ron Simmons.
Simmons was a 4-year starter from 1977-1980 and was widely regarded as the best FSU player ever up until at least Deion Sanders. His freshman season seems mythical: 128 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, and 13 forced fumbles. There’s almost no way that year will ever be surpassed, so for now Simmons holds the designation as greatest true freshman defensive lineman in FSU history.
But the fact that one has to reach all the way back to 1977 is a testament to how rare it is for someone like Sweat to come along. It’s fair to say that the only reason he hasn’t gotten more hype is because Derwin James (who might even be more impressive) is on the same team.
His career has just begun, but Sweat has already put his name in Florida State history. Fans and spectators alike should appreciate what hopes to be an injury-free and prosperous career. Oh yeah, Sweat still has one more game to play as a freshman.