TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- In a few moments, the dam would burst, the energy and emotion would erupt from the locker room, spill onto the field and swallow up the utterly overwhelmed Florida Gators, the latest in a succession of opponents vanquished by a Florida State team now poised on the brink of the BCS National Championship.
But first, Telvin Smith had to finish his speech.
The senior linebacker is a master orator -- part preacher, whipping his congregation into an exuberant frenzy, and part wartime general, rallying his troops for the battle ahead.
"This is our destiny," Smith announced.
The crowd roars.
"This is our season," Smith proclaimed.
The team clamors for more.
"Nothing can stop us," Smith implored.
The fervor reaches its apex.
Suddenly Smith's attention turns to Nick O'Leary, the star tight end who garnered national headlines months earlier thanks to the horrific video of his motorcycle colliding with a city bus near campus. The accident looked gruesome at the time, but O'Leary escaped with only minor injuries.
"Look at O'Leary," Smith barked. "They tried to hit him with a bus, and he's still here."
In an instant, the rabid aggression transforms into roaring laughter. All of the tension and nervous energy evaporates with Smith's punch line. The weight of the moment was made clear, then lifted. It was a vintage performance by Florida State's unquestioned leader.
--Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher
"He's a very special guy," coach Jimbo Fisher said. "And he's infectious. In a good way."
Smith has always been a talker. In the weight room, he brags about his workouts, pushing teammates to match his effort. On the practice field, he talks trash, daring the offense to make a play against him. Playing video games in his apartment, he talks smack to his roommate, Gerald Demps, who has been listening to Smith's rhetoric since high school.
On any given day, Smith is the white noise that filters through every corner of Florida State's domain.
"It's like having a kid," left tackle Cameron Erving said. "You learn to mute it out."
Smith was born a talker, but it was at Lowndes County High School where it became an art form. There, he played on the same defense with Demps, Tyler Hunter and Greg Reid, four teammates who would go on to define the culture in Florida State's locker room.
Lowndes coach Terry Quinn preached about pride and hard work and unwavering determination, and he had a captive audience. For players like Smith and Reid, those traits were second nature. In Valdosta, Ga., football was a religion, and no one took the game more seriously than they did.
"We're not faster than other guys. We're not stronger," Reid said. "We just have heart for the game."
At Florida State, Reid became an instant leader, and Smith was his trusted lieutenant. They talked, and teammates listened. They worked, and teammates kept pace.