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Amari Gainer grew up in Tallahassee, in a football family, the son of a Florida State player. Many of his fall Saturdays included trips to Doak Campbell Stadium, and one of his good friends was Trey Fisher, Jimbo’s son.

When the time came to make a decision on where the Chiles High star would attend college, Gainer was torn. He could stay in the comfort of his hometown and play for FSU. Or he could look elsewhere. Gainer reflected on a conversation he had with an Auburn assistant who was recruiting him, Kodi Burns, who remarked: “If we have to play Florida State, you got to be able to play.”

Gainer paused and thought about it. “It’s either be with them or against them. I’d rather be with them.”

His father, Herb Gainer, who played receiver at FSU from 1983-87 under coach Bobby Bowden, gave Amari simple but sound advice: Go where you can envision yourself playing. “I just knew I couldn’t play for anybody else other than the garnet and gold,” Gainer said. “It wouldn’t feel right.”

Herb Gainer recalls taking Amari to games at Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturdays. In the mid-1980s, Herb played a significant role in helping Bowden build a foundation for the dynasty run, catching 71 passes for 1,155 yards and 11 touchdowns in his career. And Herb told Amari he could one day have the chance, too.

“It’s one of the things we talked about growing up,” Herb Gainer said. “I always used to tell him that one day I was going to see him run out of the tunnel. He was in Pop Warner and I used to tell him. It still seems like a dream at times.”

The dream became a reality a few years ago. Amari Gainer committed to FSU, and Fisher, in May 2017. He maintained that commitment through the coaching change with Willie Taggart, enrolling early before suffering an injury in preseason camp in 2018 that kept him out of all but four games in his first season.

When he returned to the field in 2019, it was clear Gainer was a rising star and one of the defense’s most consistent players. In his first start, Gainer had nine tackles and two sacks in a home victory over NC State. He had five or more tackles in eight of his nine starts, finishing with 69 tackles – third on the team behind safety Hamsah Nasirildeen (101) and linebacker Emmett Rice (73).

“Amari is an energizer bunny,” Rice said. “He’s just going to keep going, no matter what, no matter how tough it is, no matter the situation, no matter the down or the distance. You’re going to get 100 percent from Amari from practice to the game.”

Gainer is poised to take another step forward in year 2 as a starter. He has added about 25 pounds of muscle, a credit to his hard work in the offseason as well as the connection he has built with new strength and conditioning coach Josh Storms. He smiled when recalling his offseason program. “He put me on a program of lifting weights and eating,” Gainer said.

Straightforward and effective. And his parents could quickly see the difference.

“I think it was a little bit of Amari finally making up his mind that it was something he wanted to do,” Herb Gainer said. “He would work out 3-4 times all summer. He put in the work. My wife did a good job of making him eat and having a lot of food prepared for him. And with the program they put it on he took it to heart.”

A year ago, Gainer was essentially a bigger safety who was often used as a stand-up defensive end in FSU’s 3-4 defense last year. Now he is a rock-solid 227 pounds and set to be the Seminoles’ strongside linebacker as the defense returns to a 4-3 alignment.

“A young man who really has an insatiable desire to be the absolute best at everything he does.,” linebackers coach Chris Marve said in early August. “If you see him when we first got here, early January, young man is probably 200, 205 pounds. You are talking about over the course of eight months, and preparation that he has put in and the adjustment that he has made, not only to his mental space but also his body, has been tremendous.”

Marve has also built a relationship with the linebackers. Even though the coaching staff spent more time getting to know players via Zoom meetings and phone conversations, Gainer feels a strong connection has been made. Some conversations have been about fundamentals and technique, while others have been about “knowing your purpose” and how you approach life and football.

“I love Coach Marve,” Gainer said. “He always is on me, just getting on me about little things. It doesn’t matter if you are a walk-on or a scholarship player, he is going to coach you the same.”

Gainer is optimistic about FSU’s outlook this fall. The defensive players know they struggled a year ago and are eager to show that 2019 is not reflective of who they are and what they can achieve. There is an intensity and focus now that was missing last fall.

“The difference in this team I feel like would be discipline,” Gainer said. “Honestly. I just feel like we’re starting to go back to holding people accountable, and just doing what you say you want to do and having that plan to not just talk about but do it.

“I feel like we have more knowledge of the game this year than we have ever had. I feel like this year’s team is a lot more focused and a lot more receptive to learning. I feel like now that we know the techniques and fundamentals we can apply them to the game.”

Gainer is just beginning to show FSU fans what he can do on the field. But he’s already excelling in the classroom, earning ACC honor roll recognition as he majors in entrepreneurship and urban planning. After he’s done playing football, Gainer aspires to own a business, perhaps a training facility for athletes. His commitment to football and academics has set him on the path for a path for a bright future.

“Being a student-athlete at Florida State is everything I’ve dreamed of,” Gainer said. “The value of a scholarship to me is it gives me a chance to better my life after football and during football. It gives me an opportunity to come out here and continue a legacy of being a Florida State Seminole. I appreciate having a scholarship a lot and to keep upholding the Seminole standard.”