Pryor has earned his touches

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Lonnie Pryor and Devonta Freeman had done this before, found each other through the chaos that follows a touchdown for their own unique, personal celebration.

What was different Saturday, what made this one so special for Pryor, was that he was the man with the ball in his hand. It was Pryor who ran the 18 yards into the end zone, his second of three touchdowns against Murray State, while Freeman delivered the final devastating block on a cornerback to spring his teammate for the easy score.

It was a role reversal of sorts for the Florida State fullback who has spent three seasons doing the dirty work on offense, toiling in the shadows and paving his teammates' paths to glory.

But Saturday was Pryor's moment in the spotlight, and it felt good.

"After that first game, giving me the ball just made me understand I can help the team out in so many different ways," Pryor said.

It's not that he didn't understand his own ability or didn't think he could contribute beyond the grunt work he'd dispatched with so little fanfare for years. He knew it, and Jimbo Fisher knew it. But for three years, that belief had gone unspoken, and Pryor's role largely remained discreet.

"It's unfortunate, but sometimes you ignore the most the people you love the most because you take it for granted, and you know what you have," Fisher said. "He's there every day."

Once a promising recruit as a tailback, Pryor spent his senior season at Okeechobee (Fla.) High School making weekly pilgrimages to Florida State, meeting with Fisher and building a bond with the coach and his family.

So when he arrived at Florida State in 2009, and Fisher suggested he move from tailback to fullback, Pryor swallowed his pride and did what his coach asked.

"My whole dream was to come here and be the next 1,000-yard rusher," said Pryor, who ran for nearly 2,300 yards as a senior in high school. "When it first happened, I wasn't too happy about it … but Jimbo is a great coach, he's taught many great players, and I know he would never lead me in the wrong direction."

For two years, Pryor was a bruiser in the backfield, a key offensive cog who got an occasional dash of the spotlight. In his freshman and sophomore seasons, Pryor accumulated nearly 500 yards of offense and 12 touchdowns.

It wasn't pretty, but it was Pryor's niche, and he felt good about it.

Last season, however, things were different. Pryor's weight ballooned at his coach's request, and his production dropped precipitously.

Pryor had bulked up as a blocker, but he was a slower and less agile. He finished the season with just 135 yards and three scores. Worse, Florida State finished with four losses, and Pryor felt he'd done nothing to help his team avoid disaster.

The frustration lingered throughout a long offseason, pushed him to lose the weight he'd gained and led him to the door of Fisher's office with a request.

"I just hate losing, and when we lost those games I felt like I couldn't do anything about it," Pryor said. "I felt like, 'All right, it's my last year, I should have the respect to go up there and talk to him and let him know how I feel.' "

The meeting included Fisher, Pryor and running backs coach Eddie Gran. The conversation was simple, but sincere. Pryor wanted the ball, wanted a chance to show that he could contribute, wanted to be something more than a cog in the machine but a productive piece of a championship team.

Pryor is not unique among Florida State players wanting more touches and more opportunity. But for three years, he'd paid his dues, and that earned him credibility. In fact, Fisher had been waiting to have the talk to for a while.

"To me, he didn't ever have to say anything," Fisher said.

Pryor was slimmer, sleeker, faster. He looked far more like the offensive demon he'd been in high school than the battering ram he'd become in 2011. Florida State's running game had struggled a year ago, particularly in short yardage, and Pryor offered an alternative.

Pryor asked for the job, but Fisher already knew it belonged to him.

"I never said, 'Give me the ball,' " Pryor said. "I just wanted him to know I can help out -- if you need something, I'm there. He always talks about who can be his Michael Jordan, and I'm like, 'I can be your Michael Jordan.' "

Pryor scored three times Saturday, exceeding his total from the previous year in just three quarters of action against Murray State. It was a promise delivered.

Fisher insist Pryor's role will continue to develop, and Pryor's ready for whatever job he's handed.

He wants to be Michael Jordan, but of course, he is not. He's the sixth man and the shooting guard, the last guy on the bench and the water boy on the sideline. He does it all, and yet he's never sure he's done enough.

"He's a total team guy first," Fisher said. "Always has been."