TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Cam Akers broke the Florida State freshman rushing record Dalvin Cook set only a few years ago, but ask about his performance in 2017 and Akers replies simply, “There could have been so much more done.”
Even though he rushed for 1,024 yards as a true freshman?
“As a team, there were a lot of things we could have done differently, but I always go back and criticize myself, look at film, holes I could have hit, runs I could have made, things I could have done differently,” he said. “I plan on cleaning up the stuff I did wrong last year.”
He is serious about that, too. Though questions remain at quarterback, new coach Willie Taggart has a backfield he can build around as he brings his up-tempo offense to Florida State. In Akers, he has a powerful back who recognizes settling for a good season is not good enough.
The first day Akers went to meet Donte’ Pimpleton, the running backs coach asked what Akers’ goals were.
Akers simply told him, “No. 1, a championship. No. 2, rush for 2,000 yards.”
“Let’s do it,” Pimpleton said. “I’m going to get you there.”
To get there, Akers realizes from all his film study that he needs to be more patient as a running back, something former coach Jimbo Fisher discussed at various points last season when Akers struggled with consistency.
Patience generally adds up to much bigger runs, and that is something Cook did so well as a back at Florida State. Cook is the back to whom Akers has drawn the most comparisons, so breaking Cook’s record is nothing Akers takes for granted. Akers just believes he can be so much more, especially in this offense.
“I’ll fit in great,” Akers said. “Being able to do a lot of things from the position — block, run, throw — I feel like I’ll be able to fit in great in the offense. Lethal simplicity, that’s what we’re looking for.”
Taggart mentioned that catchphrase at his introductory news conference in Tallahassee, setting the expectation for his offense. But before any of these players begin practice, Taggart has worked to set a different expectation on the field.
Akers described a point system Taggart has brought with him in which players earn points for essentially everything they do, from academics to the weight room to community service.
“They hold you accountable and make you be more accountable with the things you do on and off the field,” Akers said.
Accountability is yet another buzzword around the Florida State facility, one that Taggart and his coaches have been preaching to their players since they arrived.
“You hear a lot of the guys saying, ‘Coach, we needed this,’ and that gets you fired up, and when they say that now, you can hold them accountable to the things they say they want to do,” Taggart said. “It’s more off the field than anything and making them come together as a team.
“To me, watching the film from last year, if you ask me what went wrong, I didn’t think this team was close enough. They didn’t play for each other. You see it when you watch them. I showed these guys, ‘You watch Georgia, you watch Alabama, it’s totally different. They enjoy playing with each other, having fun. You guys didn’t show that. That’s the problem around here. You’re good enough; you weren’t doing it for each other.’ … There’s no reason for Florida State to go 6-6 — there’s too much talent on this team.”
Indeed, struggling through an unusually average season is not the way any player envisions his first year at a school like Florida State. Those struggles took Akers back to his own freshman year in high school in Clinton, Mississippi, when his team went 3-8. By the time he was a senior, they had won the state championship.
“We’re trying to speed that process up here,” Akers said with a smile.
Speeding that up means even more production out of Akers and Jacques Patrick in leading the way at running back. But it also means remembering how it felt to struggle to make a bowl game, and how it felt to be on a team that never lived up to expectations.
“We’ll never forget the hard times,” Akers said. “We never want to go back to them. It’s always right there, every workout, everything we do, it’s right there in our mind, so we’re trying not to have that type of season again. That’s nothing that’s forgotten.”