By Dave Glenn and staff, ACC Sports Journal
November 11, 2002 TALLAHASSEE Nick Maddox has heard all the critics who have said he's too small, too slow, not physical enough. He's been told he should have stayed in his home state of North Carolina to pursue his football future. Why did he pass on in-state North Carolina four years ago to go to Florida State? For just this opportunity. A valuable reserve throughout his career, Maddox saw his role change dramatically when ACC rushing leader Greg Jones suffered a season-ending knee injury at Wake Forest on Nov. 2.
The Seminoles no longer needed Maddox simply to provide the change-up to Jones' powerball style. They needed someone to carry the load of a running game capable of taking the pressure off new starting quarterback Adrian McPherson. Maddox delivered, with consecutive 122-yard rushing performances the first 100-yard games of his career in wins over Wake Forest and Georgia Tech.
Maddox again will be the focal point of the offense as the Seminoles need one win over North Carolina or N.C. State to wrap up a share of their 10th ACC title in 11 seasons. Win them both (or if Maryland loses), and FSU will have the outright title and the accompanying BCS bowl berth.
It's nice to be playing teams from North Carolina these last two (ACC) games, said Maddox, a Kannapolis native. I'll definitely have JB (singer James Brown) on my headsets thinking about, ëThe Big Payback.'
The Tar Heels and Wolfpack were responsible for FSU's league losses last season.
Maddox knows a little something about responsibility. He's been a calming force in a dysfunctional FSU locker room throughout the season. Surprisingly, it took Bobby Bowden nine games to realize Maddox's importance beyond the playing field. Bowden promoted him to captain prior to the Wake Forest game.
He's probably one of the best leaders on our football team, Bowden said. He's very, very important to us.
In the role of peacemaker, Maddox helped usher defensive end Alonzo Jackson from the locker room away from media and recruits during an emotional outburst following the Notre Dame loss. Then he quietly offered words of encouragement to quarterbacks Chris Rix and McPherson, who were suddenly in the middle of a team-wide split.
I think you have to have somebody who can stay on top of things and keep a level head, Maddox said, explaining his role.
In role of playmaker, Maddox has been equally instrumental in keeping the season alive. His 34-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run at Wake broke the Demon Deacons' back. His 59 fourth-quarter rushing yards at Georgia Tech when he powered the ball between the tackles, Jones-style chewed up some valuable clock time in an eight-point FSU win.
I wanted to show people, Maddox said. I'm not a soft back, and I can take it up inside.
As it has turned out, he's shown people that he's plenty sturdy for any duty.
Meanwhile, FSU's defensive players were most outspoken in their desire to see McPherson get the starting nod over Rix at quarterback.
Of course, it might not matter which quarterback was calling the shots if the defense had played a little better earlier in the season, particularly in the fourth quarter of comeback wins by Louisville and Miami.
Regardless, since McPherson was elevated to starter, the Seminoles have pitched back-to-back second-half shutouts at Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. That's something the team hadn't done in the first eight games of the season.
We've made a 360-(degree) turnaround of how we've played in the second half, junior linebacker Kendyll Pope said. I think it's just the want and enthusiasm of everybody. We're tired of being criticized.