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Once an unknown recruit, Cushnie could factor in to FSU’s pass rush plans

When Florida State takes the field on Sunday night, there will be curiosity about nearly every position group on offense, defense and, yes, even special teams. There will also be intrigue about a transfer who was never rated by recruiting services or played a down of Power 5 football.

Defensive end Marcus Cushnie is the backup to Jermaie Johnson and both will make their Florida State debuts on Sunday night. But Cushnie is something of an unknown, perhaps a player FSU fans will know the least about among the scholarship players. As a prep prospect, his 247Sports profile is limited. Cushnie was listed at 6-2 and 220 pounds coming out of Palm Beach Central but was never given a star-ranking status. He or a coach appeared to create a Hudl page in 2014 but never added highlights. He was in many ways off the radar but landed a scholarship at an FCS school, Alabama A&M.

“If he was lifting weights or conditioning, or running, he was always working for optimal peak, as an individual,” Alabama A&M defensive coordinator Granville Eastman told the Osceola. “That’s his approach – How do I get myself better?”

That drive shows Cushnie’s love for football and the work ethic needed to succeed. And when Eastman says “How do I get myself better?” it was clear Cushnie pushed himself in everything he did at Alabama A&M.

Cushnie was an Academic All-American who already has a bachelor’s degree in criminology. On the field, he was a two-time All-SWAC selection in 2019 as well as the 2021 spring season. He helped Alabama A&M go 5-0 and win the SWAC title this spring, accumulating 14 sacks in those two seasons before entering the transfer portal. Eastman said Alabama A&M often used him as a boundary side edge rusher.

“He’s blessed with some athletic abilities, some physical abilities, at least on this level, that was fairly obvious,” Eastman said. “He never took that for granted. He’s a worker. He’s prepared. He studies film. He’s very inquisitive.”

Cushnie was also very inquisitive about another challenge, bringing his game to a P5 school. At first he committed to Purdue before switching to FSU, a chance to show off his skill set as a pass rusher and a tough offer to pass up for a South Florida native.

It was clear Cushnie had taken one step in his college career, earning a degree and showcasing what he could do on the FCS level. What he had put on tape at Alabama A&M was more than enough for schools like Purdue and FSU to show interest. And he brings added value as an end who is a redshirt junior, offering the potential to be a two-year player at FSU. Cushnie has practiced at both defensive end spots for FSU in the preseason but would likely line up on the field (wide) side.

There will be that question, until we see it on the field at FSU, if he can make the leap beyond FCS and even Group of 5 to Power 5. FSU coaches seem to have realistic goals for Cushnie, knowing he won’t play a starter’s snaps but will be asked to use his speed and allow him to maximize his opportunities as a pass rusher.

“The thing that that he absolutely brings to the table is a good edge rush presence and speed,” defensive ends coach John Papuchis said after FSU’s second scrimmage a few weeks back. “You saw both of those things flash tonight and he was able to make some plays. … We’ve got to get him caught up to speed and that’s what we do on a daily basis. I think he’s another guy that will be able to make an impact for us this fall.”

Eastman admits he does have mixed feelings about seeing Cushnie move on to FSU. He’d love to have him and wanted Cushnie to stay at Alabama A&M. But he also understands the pull of playing closer to home for FSU and, long term, perhaps the desire to showcase what he can do for NFL scouts.

“It is a little bittersweet,” Eastman said. “I tried to convince him in any way we could to come back another year. But I wish that young man nothing but the best. We preach it to all. Do the very best you can on off the field, you’re here to get a degree and play football, win a (conference) championship. And it has set him up to be able to move on now and play and demonstrate his skills on a higher level. We wish him nothing but the best and are pulling for him.”