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July 24, 2006
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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. ? Florida State tailback Lorenzo Booker says he understands why some members of the media have made Clemson a trendy pick to unseat the Seminoles as Atlantic Coast Conference champions.
But that doesn't mean he agrees.
"We're the face of the ACC," Booker said at the ACC media days at the Sawgrass Marriott. "That's just a fact. We've won it (12) of (14) years. Last year it was as strong as it's ever been, and we still won. It's a legitimate pick to say Clemson, Virginia Tech or Miami's going to win the ACC. That's a valid opinion. But again, when you think of the ACC, you think Florida State."
And when you think about Florida State, you often think about speedy tailbacks who could run circles around outmanned defenses. Warrick Dunn, Travis Minor and countless other backs have run roughshod over conference foes during Florida State's era of ACC dominance.
That's what made it so surprising last year when Florida State ranked last in the ACC in rushing offense while averaging just 3.2 yards per carry.
The Seminoles couldn't run the ball behind an injury-riddled offensive line. They often didn't bother trying.
Florida State passed the ball 58 percent of the time, preventing Booker and former Seminole tailback Leon Washington from ever establishing a rhythm. The lack of a running game also put more pressure on quarterback Drew Weatherford, who threw an equal number of touchdown passes and interceptions (18) in his first year as a starter.
"You can't run the ball [only] a few times and expect to be as effective as you want to be," Booker said.
Florida State reported to spring practice with a renewed emphasis on the running game. The offensive line regained its health and benefited from the arrivals of newcomers such as junior-college signee Shannon Boatman.
Booker noticed the difference this spring. He expects fans to see the change this fall.
"The offensive line had that nastiness about them," Booker said. "They were firing off the ball. We weren't having to make moves till we were three or four yards downfield, as opposed to having to make them in the backfield like last year."
Booker may have to double his output from last year ? 552 yards on 119 carries ? for Florida State to defend its ACC title. That would make him Florida State's first 1,000-yard rusher since Dunn gained 1,180 yards in 1996.
But it's another Dunn mark that Booker has in his sights.
Dunn owns Florida State's single-season rushing record after picking up 1,242 yards in 1995. Booker remembers how Dunn mentioned that while visiting Florida State for the Seminoles' spring game.
"You got to go get that record," Dunn told his prot?.
Not that Booker needed any reminders. He has the number 1,242 posted on his bedroom wall.
"When I lie down at night or wake up in the morning, that's on my mind," Booker said. "It sounds almost selfish to want to break the record, but if I rush for 1,200 yards, we're going to Arizona to play for the national championship."
Florida State needs a big season from Booker because he enters his senior year as the only Seminole running back with any sort of big-game experience.
The emergence of heralded sophomore Antone Smith could give Florida State a dynamic duo similar to what the Seminoles had the last two years with Booker and Washington.
But as the backfield's elder statesman, Booker must fill the leadership void left by Washington's departure.
Teammates say that's exactly what he's done.
"Drew's a leader also," senior linebacker Buster Davis said, "but [Booker's] the guy who, when everything comes down to it, he's going to put everything on his shoulders and say, 'Ride me. Ride me into the sunset.' "
Booker would love to carry the Seminoles all the way to Arizona.
For more coverage of the Florida State Seminoles, check out Warchant.com.