GREENSBORO, N.C. — More than 10 minutes before Christian Ponder walked into a banquet room here Sunday at the ACC's annual football kickoff, media members were jostling for position around his table. They awaited a chance to interview the quarterback whom Florida State is promoting for the Heisman Trophy.
He arrived, finally. Ponder worked his way to his seat, through a thick crowd, in front of more than a dozen recorders placed front of him. There was silence for a second or two, before Ponder began to describe what all the hoopla surrounding him has been like.
"Well," he said, "it's definitely been a fun process, and I'm just trying to enjoy every moment of it. It's my last go-around, and this is exciting."
Evidently, Ponder has excited the masses, at least. Florida State is coming off a 7-6 season, its third six-loss season in four years, and hasn't been nationally relevant since the early 2000s. Yet Ponder proved to be the most popular player at ACC media days.
Ponder, who a season ago was on pace to pass for nearly 4,000 yards before missing the final four games with a shoulder injury, is not only being mentioned for several individual awards. He has become something more important: the face of a program that has been short on star power for years.
The last FSU player who warranted this much preseason attention might have been Chris Weinke, the quarterback who won the Heisman in 2000, one season after leading the Seminoles to an undefeated national title season.
Ponder said Sunday that he grew up admiring Weinke more than any other Florida State player. Of course, nobody expects Ponder, whose father played at FSU, to lead the Seminoles to a national championship. But the expectations are nonetheless grand.
When media members registered, they got a small goodie bag that included a black notebook with Ponder's "CP7" logo embossed on the front.
"I just got it (Saturday)," Ponder said of the notebook. "So I haven't been able to use it yet. I'll take it to class and show it off a little bit."
He said it with a characteristic smile, almost laughing. This season is FSU's first after the departure of coach Bobby Bowden, whose table at ACC media days was always the most popular. Ponder filled Bowden's wise-cracking role nicely. Asked about college football's brewing agent scandal that centers on a party that may or may not have been hosted by an agent, Ponder said, "I was a little offended that I didn't get invited to the party."
Cue the laugh track.
But Ponder doesn't joke when he talks about being able to handle expectations. Nor when he describes the importance of leading FSU back to national relevance. He handled well the mania around him Sunday.
"You've got a clear leader," Seminoles junior defensive tackle Everett Dawkins said.
And for the first time in a while, there's no doubting who.