GREENSBORO, Ga. — Florida State quarterback Drew Weatherford doesn't come off like a guy who, if you believe the Internet chatter and media speculation, may not be the starter for very long.
Just the opposite.
"I feel better than I ever have," said the fifth-year senior from Land O'Lakes High during Sunday afternoon's ACC Football Kickoff meetings. "I've never been more confident."
That despite throwing a career-low nine touchdowns as the Seminoles finished 7-6 for a second straight year. That despite missing most of the spring after surgery on his right knee, which he says is nearly 100 percent, and watching heralded redshirt sophomores Christian Ponder and D'Vontrey Richardson improve markedly.
"I think this team needs a quarterback who's going to be the guy," Weatherford said. "The guy who everyone's going to rally behind and look to lead and be there the whole year; be the guy from the first snap to the last snap and know that he's going to be there and we're going to stick with that guy. That's where a great team starts, and I have confidence that I'm the guy."
Coach Bobby Bowden, looking for one more national title run in a legendary career that is winding down, has said offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jimbo Fisher will make that call, but he would expect Weatherford will enter fall practices atop the depth chart.
"He understands the offense better and what to do with the ball when problems occur," Bowden said in a reference to Weatherford cutting his interceptions from 18 as a redshirt freshman to 11 then three last season. (Weatherford set the school and ACC record for consecutive passes without a pick at 270.) "You can't beat experience."
But avoiding mistakes isn't enough.
At least not for FSU these days.
"He's got to be more productive," Bowden said. "Drew, you've got to get us in the end zone."
That's what has Seminole fans and pundits alike giddy about Ponder. He not only showed a strong arm but quickness and elusiveness in his lone appearance in relief of an injured Weatherford at Virginia Tech as well as throughout the spring. Of course, Weatherford also had to weather the calls annually for another popular, immensely talented guy, Xavier Lee. Lee left school after last season.
"When you're not winning, the backup quarterback is going to be the (fan) favorite guy on the team," he said. "I don't blame them for being upset and trying to find answers. If I were a fan, I'd probably be doing the same thing."
That's why Weatherford tunes out the noise and focuses on the job at hand — to work as hard as he can to raise his game.
Although the torn meniscus limited his running in the offseason, he lost about 10 pounds to get down to about 210. That's the weight he played at in the Music City Bowl when he rushed for a career-high 48 yards and two touchdowns and was sacked just once in a loss to Kentucky.
He has also spent more time with assistant strength and conditioning coach Terrell Buckley, the former FSU and NFL star cornerback, on drills to improve his flexibility and agility.
"When you're stiff in the hips or your footwork is bad, it's going to stop you from reaching your potential," Buckley said. "That's the goal of every athlete — you want to reach your maximum and do some things you've never done. Drew's been doing great, and I think he's going to do some things he's never done this coming season."
That might be an imperative given the youth and inexperience of the offensive line. Only two starters return, center Ryan McMahon and left guard Rodney Hudson, and redshirt and true freshmen will fill out the two deep.
"I'm plenty athletic enough to escape the pocket and do what I need to do if that does occur," Weatherford, 23, said of growing pains from the line. He insists that neither Ponder nor Richardson is a superior athlete. "I move around just fine to get the job done."
Miami senior defensive end Eric Moncur agrees: "One play that sticks out to me was from two years ago when one of our ends had him in the backfield and he just somehow got away from him. I was really impressed with that. Drew's a real good quarterback."
Good enough to start against Western Carolina on Sept. 6 and every game thereafter?
"Drew doesn't deserve just to get the job, he's earned it," senior FSU defensive end Everette Brown said. "The work, the dedication, the commitment he puts into it. I can't wait to see how well it all comes together for him."
Brian Landman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3347.