Rhodes shrugs off early accolades
NFL prospect at CB focuses instead on rebuilding injured knee's strength
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- He's projected as a first-round pick in next year's NFL draft should he decide to leave Florida State a year early. He's on the watch list for the Bednarik Award and the Nagurski Trophy. He's one of the top contenders to take home the Thorpe Award as the nation's top cornerback, too.
And yet, Xavier Rhodes insists all of this would come as a surprise to him if he could simply avoid the calls from boastful family and friends.
But the text messages arrive and the phone calls continue, and the hype is usually tough to avoid.
Still, Rhodes plays it cool.
"I'm just like, 'Really? Thank you,' " he said. "Then I hang up and go back to working."
It's a mind game for Rhodes.
Progress isn't built on a foundation of success, but rather a fear of failure. What happened last year, last week or last play -- that's gone. What's next is what matters.
"I believe once that gets into your mind that you're rated so high, you tend to work less," Rhodes said. "I try to work like I'm just an average player trying to find a way to get on top."
Rhodes is far from an average player, but this fall has presented him with a unique set of challenges.
Off the field, there's the knee injury. It came during Florida State's win over Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl, and it kept Rhodes sidelined throughout the spring. It also meant he wouldn't be able to participate in the NFL combine, which essentially sacked any chance he might enter the draft as a redshirt sophomore.
The knee has improved, but it's not yet healed. Rhodes wears a sizable brace, and he's made frequent asides during practice to have trainers adjust its fit as he tries to get comfortable and run with the same grace and tenacity he did before.
"He's not 100 percent right now," coach Jimbo Fisher said. "But he's moving better, moving around, getting back and playing good."
Rhodes insists the injury isn't bothering him. It's not sore at all, he said.
But the strength still isn't there, and after a grueling day on the practice field, he's tired.
He doesn't show it though. That wouldn't fit with his other new challenge this fall.
With the departure of senior Greg Reid, a three-year starter at field corner opposite Rhodes, there's suddenly a dearth of experience at the position.
Rhodes and Reid were established stars. Now, a handful of inexperienced youngsters are aiming to step in, and Rhodes is their lone mentor.
"He's doing a great job in leadership," Fisher said. "Not just (on the field), but in the meeting room, off the field."
It's a role Rhodes is happy to embrace.
There's plenty of talent among the young cornerbacks, he said, but the key to their success in his mind is a dose of confidence, a bit of the same swagger Rhodes takes pride in bringing to the field.
"It's all about confidence, and if they go out there with enough confidence -- I can make this play, and nobody can beat me -- I believe they'll be fine," he said.
For Rhodes, confidence has never been in short supply.
Rhodes' production dipped in 2011 -- from 58 tackles down to 43, and just one interception -- but Fisher chalks up much of the decline to the opposition's hesitancy to throw Rhodes' way.
Like all those preseason accolades, the numbers don't mean much to Rhodes either. He believes he'll be better, that he'll carry his weight in the secondary as one of the nation's best cover corners.
He may not care about what awards he's up for now, but at the end of the year he expects to have a trophy in hand.
"The team goal is to win the ACC and national title," he said. "I would love to have those rings on my fingers. But for me, it's winning the Thorpe."