TALLAHASSEE — Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder is not one to spend time contemplating the possibility of winning individual awards, even the most storied one in college football.
At least not these days.
"As a kid," he said recently, "you do dream of winning the Heisman (Trophy) or being associated with the Heisman."
And FSU will try to ensure that Ponder is at least mentioned as a Heisman-worthy candidate by kicking off an Internet-based publicity campaign Wednesday. It offered a tease last week that showed the silhouette of a quarterback with his arm cocked and ready to fling the ball and the identifying tag CP7 — Ponder's initials and number.
A public relations push is something new for FSU. Though the school subtly promoted running back Sammie Smith in 1988, former coach Bobby Bowden believed his team received enough exposure and was ranked high enough that his stars, if they produced, required no extra hype to be on the radar of voters for such postseason awards. That was the case for Heisman winners Charlie Ward (1993) and Chris Weinke (2000).
But since Weinke's day, there has been a dearth of dazzling FSU playmakers. And given the team's absence of late from the national title discussion, another key for a Heisman candidate, school officials decided to see if they couldn't raise Ponder's profile as a skilled player and an accomplished student.
"He's the image you want out there," first-year FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "He's the one we all want our sons to grow up to be like. You hope that's who they all are, and the way he represents himself, his family, and this university, I couldn't think of a better ambassador."
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Schools have often used a bit of flash to augment a player's substance. BYU mailed blue-and-white ties to Heisman voters to hype quarterback Ty Detmer. Washington State sent out a leaf to remind folks about quarterback Ryan Leaf. Oregon spent about $50,000 to hang a banner of quarterback Joey Harrington in New York's Times Square. Others have issued CDs, mouse pads and life-sized posters.
"To me, they serve a purpose, but you have to be careful," said CBS Sports' Tony Barnhart, a longtime Heisman voter. "You have to inform the voters without going over the top. If you go over the top, you reach a point where there's diminishing returns."
"For me, campaigns have done nothing," said Weinke, now the director of the IMG Madden Football Academy in Bradenton who gets a vote as a Heisman winner. "If a guy is doing great things, he'll get the exposure he needs. … I remember I was playing in Carolina, and Memphis did a big campaign for their running back (DeAngelo Williams). They sent a race car with the Memphis logo. To me it was like, 'What?' It almost turned me off."
But a campaign can produce other unintended consequences: It can distract a player or create too much pressure, neither of which usually ends well for the player or team.
"I think it's good," Fisher said recently of a campaign, "if a guy can handle it. If he can handle it within the team concept and not get away from himself and put too much pressure on himself. Christian's a guy I think who can handle that. He gets the big picture."
That means doing his job effectively and consistently, which he did last season until he injured his right (throwing) shoulder against Clemson and missed the final four games.
Ponder showed he had the power, touch and awareness to complete 227 of 330 passes (68.8 percent) for 2,717 yards, 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also has the speed and toughness to be a running threat (179 yards, two touchdowns). But those numbers tell only part of his story.
He attacks every practice drill every day with ferocity, a trait that has earned him the respect and trust of his coaches and teammates on both sides of the ball.
"I'm famous for riding our quarterbacks," Fisher said. "I push. He's harder on himself than I ever could be. … But it's not just in ball. It's in everything he does."
Ponder, 22, enters his senior season already having earned his MBA.
"With his work ethic, he's an example to his teammates," Ward said. "And he has a real will to win."
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But that will to win must translate into wins. If Ponder's team doesn't win enough, gaudy statistics — even those highlighted by an innovative campaign — won't necessarily lead him to New York City for the Heisman ceremony.
"I can honestly say throughout the course of my senior year, winning the Heisman Trophy was never in my mind," Weinke said. "My only goal as a starting quarterback was to be a good leader and win a national championship. If you do those things, you're going to put up good numbers. I'm a firm believer in attention to detail and taking care of the little things, and if you do that, the big things will take care of themselves."
Ward, coach at Westbury Christian High in Houston, echoed that sentiment, saying he focused solely on his job on and off the field each day.
"The 'superhuman stats' were going to be a byproduct of doing what I was supposed to be doing — film time, studying, making plays when I needed to make them, winning football games," he said.
For his part, the well-grounded, laid-back Ponder seems to be emulating Ward and Weinke.
"Just having my name mentioned with the Heisman is pretty cool, but honestly, it's not something I'm paying a whole lot of attention to," he said. "The preseason hype doesn't really mean anything. I'm not working to go win the Heisman. Obviously it would be a cool thing to win and it'd be a fun experience to go to New York, but I'd much rather win the ACC championship and make it to the national championship or the Orange Bowl."
Brian Landman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3347.