TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- At more than 320 pounds, Anthony McCloud generally makes an impression. He's a hard man to ignore. On the field, however, that size has the opposite effect.
McCloud and fellow senior defensive tackle Everett Dawkins rarely toil in the spotlight. Their job, in its simplest form, is to take up space and to provide a road block for the opposition at the line of scrimmage.
"Our job always is a messy job," McCloud said. "And with messy jobs, you don't hear about the trash man getting noticed for taking all the trash out. But imagine if it didn't happen."
McCloud and Dawkins relish the dirty work. They've combined to start 61 games at Florida State, and while they toil in the shadows while high profile defensive ends like Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine hog the spotlight, there's a distinct pleasure earned from working in the trenches without the fanfare.
"We know our job. We've been doing it for a long time," Dawkins said. "Somebody has to do the dirty work."
Jazz aficionados argue that the best music is marked by the notes that aren't played, and success for McCloud and Dawkins is judged similarly. They rarely tally huge numbers of tackles or sacks. Instead, they deconstruct the opposition's playbook, moving the action away from the middle of the field and out toward the playmakers on the edge.
"A lot of plays get bounced out to the edge because everything's clogged up in the middle but we take a lot of pride in that," Dawkins said. "A lot of people don't see that sitting in the stands but our coaches see it."
That role will be pivotal this week against Virginia Tech, which relies on a power run game and the mobility of quarterback Logan Thomas to move the ball on the ground. The Hokies have found mixed results with the run game this season, ranking in the middle of the pack in rushing, but when they're moving the ball on the ground, they're a much better offense. They've averaged 63 more yards per game and 2 extra yards per carry in their four wins.
Dawkins and McCloud -- along with talented sophomore Timmy Jernigan -- have set the tone for Florida State's run defense, which has been among the best in the nation for the past two years. If the individual results don't show up in the box score, the big-picture numbers help illuminate the contributions of Florida State's interior linemen.
The Seminoles have allowed just 73 yards per game on the ground, the third-best mark in the nation. Opponents have mustered just 14 running plays that have gone for more than 10 yards this season. That's the fewest in the country, and No. 1 Alabama is the only other team that's close. On third-and-short plays, FSU has surrendered just seven first downs all season, tied for the third fewest in the nation.
"Even though it might not be noticed, we know that ain't nobody going to run in that middle," McCloud said. "That's the legacy we're trying to leave at Florida State. Nobody runs the A-gap. They don't get any yards."
If the contribution isn't always noticed on game day, however, it's overwhelmingly obvious on film. Saturdays are fun for Dawkins and McCloud, but the platitudes come on Sunday when coaches begin breaking down the film.
Dawkins said that film study provides rewards that numbers in a box score could never offer, and it's often followed by pats on the back from Werner or Carradine or one of Florida State's linebackers.
"They'll come up to us and say I appreciate it," Dawkins said. "It's just doing your job and not being greedy. You're making plays even though you're not getting the tackle."
Dawkins admits he didn't always understand this. When he first arrived at Florida State in 2008, he wanted his share of the spotlight, too. But through five years in a Seminoles uniform, he's grown accustomed to the blue-collar work ethic and under-the-radar lifestyle.
The grunt work provides its own reward. It is not art, but it's an honest day's work.
"I'm not a big spotlight guy," McCloud said. "I do my job, go home and know I can look myself in the mirror and say, 'Hey, he didn't run in my gap.' That's all that matters."