Through four seasons and 49 games of dressing in a Florida State uniform, Lonnie Pryor had never had this many postgame responsibilities, this much attention.
He did everything. An on-field, stand-alone TV interview, an impromptu live radio one-on-one, he hoisted an MVP trophy, he weaved and zig-zagged through throngs of media, he held court at a postgame press conference. For the first time in his career, in the final game of his career, everyone wanted a piece of Pryor.
That's because Pryor had never had a game like he did in Tuesday night’s Orange Bowl.
The Seminoles completed a season-ending 31-10 beatdown of Northern Illinois behind the stocky legs of Pryor, who more resembled the high-powered running back he had dreamt of becoming when he committed to FSU out of Okeechobee High School, not the dutiful soldier of a fullback he became.
“It’s a blessing. I couldn’t do it without my team and Coach Jimbo [Fisher] believing in me, giving me the ball. It’s just a blessing,” said a thankful Pryor after his monumental night.
In his FSU swan song, Pryor ran for 134 yards on just five carries, the top single-game rushing compilation in his career by 69 yards. His 151 all-purpose yards exceeded his previous high-water mark by 80. The first of Pryor’s two touchdowns was an electrifying 60 yard first quarter burn down the far sideline, the longest TD, and run, in Pryor’s tenure at FSU.
Pryor, an afterthought to the outside world for much of his time in Tallahassee, was the headline, the sub-head, the lead and the body of the Orange Bowl story.
“I always wanted to have a big game and just, my last game at Florida State, to have the game I had was really good and I’m just happy for myself and the whole team.,” gushed Pryor, more content spreading credit around than taking it for himself.
After his masterful performance under the nationally-televised lights, Pryor bounced around the well-manicured turf at Sun Life Stadium with a massive smile plastered to his face. His grin subsided briefly after a lengthy embrace with departing FSU associate head coach and running backs coach Eddie Gran, who is leaving to become Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator after 3 seasons at FSU.
Pryor squeezed a weeping Gran hard, tears streaming down his face, the moisture causing Gran’s glasses to fog. It was an emotional moment, yet Pryor maintained his composure, the thrill of a BCS bowl win, his super night, his moment keeping him from expressing open sadness over the final chapter of his FSU tale coming to a conclusion.
A highly-regarded running back out of high school, Pryor never shied away from the significantly less glamorous role of converting to fullback during the spring of his freshman year. Florida State was his school and the making the position switch was the easiest way to see the field right away.
When asked if his journey from Okeechobee to Tallahassee , one that culminated in his jaw-dropping evening at the Orange Bowl, was a storybook ending, Pryor paused.
“You can say it is,” shyly admitted Pryor, still donning his Garnett and Gold uniform top, the only FSU player of the four at the podium to do so.
While still in the Florida State locker room in the minutes leading up to the postgame presser, Pryor had team managers take the pads out of his jersey so that he put it back on, unwilling to part with his #24 for the last time.
“I always came here wanting to play running back, always wanted to be the next Warrick Dunn, break 1,000 yards and this, my last year, to go out with a bang like that, it’s a blessing. It feels good. I never expected [tonight]. I always pictured myself doing stuff in this game, and I never saw the game I had tonight.”
Jimbo Fisher, who recruited Pryor and became his head coach leading into his sophomore year, was a bit more outspoken when asked to describe what Pryor meant to the FSU program.
"Lonnie is the epitome of what a team is about. I mean, he can make big plays, but if he doesn't, he doesn't complain. He'll block, he'll catch, he'll run. He'll sit on the sideline and cheer.”
“We had so many players, everybody has a role on a team and that's the hardest thing,” continued Fisher. “In today's time, with all this recruiting and how everybody is built up to be a nine -star and everybody is going in the NFL in two years and all the things that go on, on a team the hardest thing for a coach to do is to get these guys to accept a role and understand that. And when your best players accept it, everybody else? They have to. They have to. And Lonnie did that, everything that's ever been asked of him since he's been at Florida State.”
“To me, maybe not numbers wise, but he's one of the greatest players ever to play at Florida State. Statistics don't tell about players. The way you affect your teammates, the way you affect the game and everything you do does that, and that's what Lonnie Pryor did. He's a winner.”
For the last four years Pryor quietly went about his business, proving how valuable he was inside the walls of Florida State football, but remained fairly obscure to the outside world. Such is the life of a fullback.
After Tuesday night, however, Pryor is no longer a secret. The spotlight finally found Lonnie Pryor. After a game like that, take a bow. And come back for the curtain call.