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Knowles gaining confidence, earning more time at nickel

Florida State’s coaches were able to take a long look at Kevin Knowles in the spring, seeing what the early enrollee could offer as a defensive back. Knowles settled in at nickelback and has gradually seen more and more playing time, a reflection of his understanding of the game as well as by need as the Seminoles have lost a number of defensive backs to injury.

“Kevin is one of our best 11,” FSU defensive backs coach Marcus Woodson said. “So he’s earned the right to be one of those 11 and take the field first play up the game. It’s important to Kevin. He understands the process and the grind, day in and day out that it takes in order for him to reach his full potential. He’s a student of the game. He comes out and practices each and every day with the right mindset and approach, so it’s no surprise to me as a coach that he’s one of the starters right now.”

The 5-foot-11, 184-pound Knowles was considered one of the top 25 corners in the class of 2021 and it didn’t take long in spring practices for him to impress coaches. Knowles admitted to some self-doubt in April, saying he was worried he may be “too undersized” or “too slow.” But he soon saw his hard work on and off the field showed he belonged.

“It started in the film room, it started where people don’t want to be honestly,” Knowles said this week. “It helped me to be consistent in my technique, consistent in my drive.”

Knowles saw his most extensive playing time in Saturday’s 35-25 win over UNC, although you likely wouldn’t know it by looking at the box score. He did not record a tackle, but his fourth-and-goal pass break-up of a Sam Howell throw to Josh Downs in the fourth quarter was pivotal in halting the Tar Heels’ comeback attempt. Knowles played 60 snaps and was often tasked with preventing Howell from connecting with Downs.

“I just knew the reps that I get in practice that was going to equal the reps I get in the game,” Knowles said. “The experience has been up and down. Coming into practice, I knew the speed of the game. … The game, it moves very fast. I just knew that I had to be ready and move with them.”

Knowles has more than held his own. With FSU’s secondary depleted due to injury, Jammie Robinson played nickel or safety. But Knowles has settled in quite well, taking on more and more responsibility as the season has progressed.

His numbers – just three tackles in four games – won’t catch much attention, but at the same time he has held up in coverage and prevented some big plays. And the coaches’ confidence to defend Downs, UNC’s top receiver, also shows their confidence in Knowles.

“The development of Kevin Knowles has been something I’ve really been pleased to see,” FSU coach Mike Norvell said. “Great competitor. You can see his confidence growing each and every week. Less mistakes. Some of those freshman mistakes that show up, those were reduced on Saturday.”