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Florida State defensive end Jared Verse made a pros and cons list as he weighed his future over the past two weeks, trying to determine whether to leave school and become a potential first-round NFL pick or stay for one more year and improve.

Ultimately, Verse decided he wanted another year with the Seminoles, he announced Saturday, joining quarterback Jordan Travis, leading rusher Trey Benson, leading receiver Johnny Wilson and several others who have already announced they would be back in 2023. His decision, though, might come as a bit of a surprise to some.

Verse has consistently been projected as a first-round pick over the past several months. In his latest NFL mock draft, ESPN draft analyst Jordan Reid has Verse going at No. 11 . In a phone interview with ESPN, Verse said that the feedback he got from the NFL was consistent with the projections out there but that he believes he has much to improve on, and plenty to prove.

“Obviously, the money is a big factor in it. But my biggest factor was, ‘What can I improve on?'” Verse said. “I just have to look at myself and say, ‘OK, every day, I’ve still got a lot to improve on, I’ve still got a lot to be better at.

“I did what was best for me, and what was best for me was coming back and competing with my team.”

It just so happens Saturday marks one year to the day that Verse committed to play for the Seminoles after starting his career at FCS Albany. The fact he has risen so fast up NFL draft charts is remarkable considering how his career began. Verse was an undersize tight end in high school with zero FBS scholarship offers.

Albany coaches saw his raw potential as a defensive end and signed him in 2019. Over three years in Albany, 6-foot-4, 248-pound Verse transformed his body and became an unstoppable force at end with 21.5 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks, 15 quarterback hurries, 2 forced fumbles and 1 pass breakup in 15 games. With production like that, Verse became the most coveted player in the transfer portal last year.

Verse chose the Seminoles in large part because he trusted in coach Mike Norvell, and because he saw the success the Seminoles had with Jermaine Johnson, a transfer from Georgia who became a first-round pick.

Over the past year, Verse has proved he can play at an elite level, earning first-team All-ACC honors after leading Florida State with 7.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. But he missed one game to injury and was limited in several others as a result, and not getting in a full season at full strength also played a role in his decision to return.

“I feel like I showed that I could play at this level, which a lot of people did not think I could do,” Verse said. “I feel like there’s so much more I could have done, there is so much more I expected of myself that I was not able to complete. I do feel like I still have to show I can play at an even higher level, expand that gap between me and the next person behind me.”

When it comes to making the improvements he wants to make, Verse specifically pointed to his decision-making, something he believes will be improved in his second year as an FBS player. “My decision-making at some points sometimes was not the best, like when I’m going into pass rush moves, or reading the run block to the passing,” Verse said. “Just quick, small things where I feel like I can sharpen my iron.”

Norvell told ESPN that when Verse came to him with his decision, he made it seem as if he was leaving.

“Jared likes to have fun, but it was a great feeling when he told me he wanted to remain here,” Norvell said. “I was happy for him and for our team because of the impact he has on the field and in our locker room. It was also a statement of his buy-in and belief in our staff and our program to continue developing him to reach his ultimate goals.”

Verse said the decisions Travis, Benson, defensive tackle Fabien Lovett and others made to return also impacted his decision to come back.

“I think that’s the one thing that brought me over the hump of indecision,” Verse said. “I’m like, OK, they’re all coming back. I’ve still got something to prove, too, maybe I should think about coming back with them. It was a big decision. It’s not like it’s white and black. There’s a little gray in between.”

Florida State went 10-3 this past season, its first 10-win season since 2016. With many of its best players returning, the expectations will only rise headed into the offseason.

“We have leaders who have been in this program for multiple years now, and they set the tone,” Norvell said. “We’re moving toward being a player-led team because of the work and buy-in of guys like Jared and Jordan Travis and Kalen DeLoach and Trey Benson and Renardo Green and Rob Scott and Maurice Smith. The list could go on and on. Whether guys get here from high school or through the portal, our emphasis is on fit, and Jared is an important piece that showcases what that fit looks like. We have high expectations in our program, and there are no limits on what we can achieve.”

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