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2021 New York Jets Draft

Hamsah Nasirildeen: From Florida State Star To New York Jets Draft Steal

On February 2017, Jimbo Fisher was wrapping up what would be his final signing class. There was always one surprise flip from another school that he pulled off every season.

That year it turned out to be a blue chip hybrid defender who was projected by recruiting analysts to go to South Carolina or Alabama. 

Considering Florida State’s reputation for producing NFL talent in the secondary, and a Derwin James comp by then FSU defensive coordinator Charles Kelly, the flip made sense. On top of being a defender, Hamsah played wide receiver, catching 33 passes for 584 yards and two touchdowns. 

Throughout his football career, Hamsah stood out to coaches and the scouting community. In high school, the consensus on the All American was his ability to diagnose plays and run the alley in the run game.

He also showed the ability to finish on the ball when it comes in his area, and has plenty of closing speed when in coverage. The style of his play over everything else was fast and physical. 

Nasirildeen was recruited to play Division I basketball as well. He scored 1,000 points for the Concord Spiders, and enrolling in college early, like most top-tier football recruits, so he could play the season as a senior.

At Florida State, Hamsah impressed the coaching staff from the first snap in practice.

After appearing in all 13 games in a reserve and special teams role, Hamsah made the starting lineup against Syracuse and at Clemson, the national defending champions.

The true freshman put on a career day in his start at Clemson, racking up 10 tackles to rank second on the team.

However, the true freshman stepped into what would be one of the worst eras in the school’s history.

The coach who won him over Saban and Muschamp, would eventually bolt to Texas A&M after the season.

As each week passed, it became apparent the coaching staff seemed disconnected after losing the season opener to Alabama. With the exception of the Florida game, the planing and adjustments seemed uncharacteristic of a Jimbo Fisher coached team.

The players noticed. The best example of this was the game be Boston College in October that resulted in a 30 point blowout. 

The following season, Willie Taggart and his staff noticed something similar about  Hamsah in his second season as a true sophomore as Jimbo Fisher did.

The sophomore was also moved closer to line of scrimmage to be around the ball more due in part to the dearth of talent and experience at Linebacker compared to the secondary. 

The Taggart era in FSU ended abruptly after 21 games due to disorganization in every facet of the operation.

From recruitment events to game planning to making on field adjustments, it was apparent the staff was not ready for this job.

Despite the chaos, Hamsah kept making a name for himself on the team as a leader with back to back seasons of leading the team in tackles while earning second team All ACC honors.

The 2019 season was a miserable season with Hamsah being one of the bright spots.

Unfortunately, his season ended with an ACL injury vs Florida in the season finale. 

Another coaching staff led by Mike Norvell took over a month later. The staff had meetings with the players to gauge their interest in committing to a culture change brought forth by the new regime from Memphis.

Hamsah stayed committed to FSU and his teammates. During his rehab, he was active in his preparation for his eventual return. 

FSU’s current defensive coordinator Adam Fuller was impressed with how Nasirildeen has worked to get healthy once more, refusing to give up on playing this season.

“Injuries take all different forms. You wish his was more cookie-cutter for him because there’s not one person more frustrated than building than him, with his lack of being able to help the team physically on the football field,” Fuller said.

“I’m going to tell you guys from personal experience, he’s doing everything he can right now to physically get ready. Mentally, he’s been there since the day I walked through the door. He still asks key questions in the meetings. He’s the one promoting the questions with some of the younger players that are on the field right now. He’s trying to help that development. He’s taking ownership for the development.”

The recovery process was a roller coaster for Hamsah as it wasn’t linear progress. He was slated to play in September but did not play.

Meanwhile, Nasirildeen has been doing everything in his power to help pass on his experiences and the lessons he’s learned to those who are stepping up in his absence.

“He has done a great job with us, preparing us and talking to us about the things he’s gone through and the things that can pop up in games and practice, the little focus stuff like that. He’s been doing a great job of that,” FSU safety Travis Jay said. “He’s been doing a great job of coaching us and preparing us. We’re young back there in the secondary so he’s done a great job being an older guy not playing. He’s been holding us to the standard.”

Hamsah ended up playing only 2 games due to the roadblocks in rehab thanks to nagging issues. The impact from his absence was felt every week on this defense as the unit gave up big plays especially in coverage. The tackling was poor due to lack of confidence and experience.

I was there for Hamsah’s last game vs Duke where he registered team-high nine tackles, 1.0 for loss, one interception and one pass breakup in a 56-35 win that earned him the ACC Defensive Back of the Week honors, Senior Bowl Star of the Week and Thorpe Award Honorable Mention Player of the Week recognition for his performance vs. the Blue Devils.

The defense was not perfect but it looked more competent and confident when Hamsah was on the field. 

After the game, Mike Norvell reflected on Hamsah Nasilrideen’s interception: “I don’t know if I’ve been so excited to see a young man make a play like that.” He mentioned how Nas was in meetings he could, taking notes, “being a sponge” and ended with a statement that resonated with me: “I’m so honored to coach him.”

I still can’t believe Hamsah fell this far into the draft and there was no better situation for him to be in than a team run by Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh who are trying to implement a solid culture and a physical mentality on defense.

Throughout his career, every coach and scout has remarked on his character and mental toughness.

While he was in college, Hamsah still called his high school coach, Marty Paxton, to workout at Concord High’s weight room during the summers as a way to stay in touch to remind himself where he began “It’s just a lifestyle,” Nasirildeen explained. “You’ve just got to be consistent with it. You have to realize that you’ve got to approach everything with a certain mindset. You have to be the best you can be. And once you start approaching things like that, it starts to get easier because it doesn’t seem like everything you do is a hard workout or something; it’s just something you have to do, and you’ve got to do your best.”

He skipped early graduation to play one more season with his basketball teammates. He had a good reason to completely forego his senior season due to the pandemic and prepare for the draft.

Hamsah had every opportunity to become a malcontent after experiencing the chaos and dysfunction that ruined his college experience and lose his original draft stock of being a 1st or 2nd rounder.  

When asked if he planned to skip the season at FSU in 2020, “Nah, I can’t do that,” he said. “I came back so I could play some football and get better. That was my goal, that’s what I wanted to do. So I had to do it” 

Despite drafting another big bodied DB a round earlier and the ACL injury being a concern, I felt the same way when Hamsah’s name was announced to the Jets as I did when I heard his commitment to FSU that day in 2017.  

All I can think of is this quote when I see the fit in the Jets locker room this summer: “I try to keep a good mindset when I’m doing things. I don’t want to feel like I’m being forced to do anything. I try to make it feel like everything I do, I want to do. I make it a choice to do it to the best of my abilities.” 

A talented, true pro in every facet of life who is all gas no brake. 

Steal of the draft indeed. 

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