Mario Pender's talent has never been what people question about the former four-start recruit.
Ranked the No. 4 running back for the class of 2011, Pender had offers from dozens of schools other than FSU including Alabama, Tennessee and Miami among others out of Island Coast High School.
After enrolling early in the spring of 2012 Pender suffered a groin injury in the fall that required surgery and forced him to take a redshirt.
Without being able to step on the field and a rehab schedule that prevented him from even attending practice most days, there were whispers that Pender was perhaps not going to be able to stay on track and continue his career at Florida State.
But towards the end of the season Pender was healthy enough that he could finally attend practices with regularity and participate in a limited role. From that moment on Pender said he matured and realized what it would take to play at the college level
"I believe it was when I had that injury it kind of set me back off for a second," Pender said. "But now that I'm getting back in the role of things I feel a lot more comfortable and a lot more a part of things."
Pender says he's at about 95 percent right now physically and he's just trying to get the playbook down. So far the young back has impressed his fellow tailbacks and his position coach Jay Graham.
"He's a smart young man and he's doing a good job of picking up the offense," Graham said. "He has a good understanding, but there's always those little things technically, technique and stuff that he can improve upon. But he's doing a good job. He's very explosive, he can make plays in the open field and he's tough. He's tough and that's the thing that he's been doing really well in practice."
Graham isn't the only one who's mentioned Pender's toughness so far this spring. James Wilder Jr. also said that while Pender has breakaway speed the younger back isn't afraid to lower his shoulder as well.
At the end of Saturday's practice Pender finished a long run down the sideline by delivering a blow to a defensive back that knocked the defender to the ground.
"Pretty much all my life I've been that speed back because I really never had to come in contact with anyone," Pender said. "But since I've got to college I've figured out this more than just a speed came, everyone can be fast and I've got to show some toughness sometimes."
Make no mistake though, no matter how physical Pender runs, speed will always be his calling card. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound tailback has been compared to Chris Thompson a lot this spring due to his big play ability.
"He's more shifty than me and James," junior running backDevonta Freeman said. "He's that scat-back, the homerun. He's kind of like Chris (Thompson), with the homeruns and stuff like that. That's the type of back he is."
When asked if Pender thought of himself as the backfield's big-play threat, he just smiled and said it would be up to others to describe his style.
"I just really can't wait to show it," Pender said. "I can't wait to see it for myself, so I just want to take it one day at a time and when that time comes we'll see."
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