Kanaya Charlton is candid and funny. So is Florida State offensive line coach / offensive coordinator Alex Atkins.
And it comes as no surprise that the two hit it off immediately during the recruiting process.
“Being completely honest, the man is special to me,” Charlton said on Thursday afternoon. “One of the first things that he said to me was, he watched my film, and he told me that I sucked. That was the first time anybody ever told me that because all the other coaches will try to tell you that you’re good, that you’re capable of playing. He told me straight up: ‘You are terrible at what you play. But I can help you.’ And just at that moment, it started to develop because that really showed me that he really cares because he will tell you the truth no matter how bad it may hurt, no matter how good it may be. He will tell you the truth.”
The truth hurts in some cases. Or the truth can be a building block for a lasting player-coach relationship. That appears to be the case with Charlton, one of a large group of FSU offensive line signees in 2022 (Charlton and Daughtry Richardson enrolled early).
After that first conversation with Atkins, Charlton and FSU’s offensive line coach (and now offensive coordinator) have talked regularly. The tips about technique over the years have helped Charlton.
“He has been giving me advice ever since my sophomore year, I believe,” Charlton said. “Normally we talk, first five minutes will be about football and how I’m doing and how the team is doing but then the rest will be all about me personally. But in those five minutes, I learned a lot. One of the main things he told me was my hand placement needs to get better. And he showed me videos of NFL offensive linemen and how they will place their hands on the bicep of a skinny, smaller defensive lineman so he can slide up under the shoulder pads so they can grip on instead of throwing your hands down. But just the hand placement and the tips that he gave me really helped me throughout my high school career.”
The 6-foot-5, 355-pound Charlton was considered among the top 75 interior offensive linemen in the class of 2022 and has been on the FSU campus just a few weeks. While admitting the adjustment to FSU and leaving his mom behind has been difficult, Charlton knew he wanted to enroll early to get started on college.
“I used to talk my high school coach all about it,” Charlton said. “And just talking with him, he’s always told me that going in early will be one of the best decisions that you will ever make in your life because you get all of the experience, you get acclimated to college earlier. You get to stay on top of your classes. And you just get the whole college experience earlier and you are able to deal with it. Plus older guys who’ve been there before, they can come in and take you under their wing and help motivate you to do better and help you become somebody that you never thought you would be able to become.”
Charlton said he was considered too big to play any organized football in the first grade, recalling that he was about 5-foot-6 and 150 pounds. He kept growing and growing. By high school it was obvious that he could play, with Charlton recalling coaches putting players through a ladder drill.
“And they said, ‘Wow, you have very quick feet to be that big,’ ” Charlton said. “And I said, ‘Thank you. I don’t know what that means. But thank you.’ ”
Charlton is beginning to reshape his body, but he already got a jump on it after suffering a foot injury during his senior year. At the recommendation of a coach, Charlton began working with a personal trainer to help him rehabilitate the injury. They worked on his feet, knees and then back and Charlton recently signed a name, image and likeness deal with the physical fitness company.
Now, he is in Tallahassee and immersed in FSU’s offseason Tour of Duty workouts.
“I’ve only been to one but it’s amazing,” Charlton said. “What (Mike) Novell put together, it builds a whole lot of mental toughness and physical toughness and mental fortitude because you have to finish and you have to do it for your teammates, your brothers around you because if you don’t there will be a punishment for the whole group. So they want you to find it deep inside of yourself to push harder for your teammates, more than yourself because football is a team sport. It’s the best sport in my opinion. But it’s team-orientated. So if your team isn’t good, mentally, you may not be the best football team even if you have the physical capability. That’s why he’s working on us now, even as freshmen to get the fortitude that we need to become a mentally stable team.”