TALLAHASSEE — As Florida State attempts to regain its form of old, it will turn to a youngster at quarterback.
Redshirt sophomore Christian Ponder was named the starter for Saturday's opener against Western Carolina, beating out three-year starter and former Land O'Lakes High quarterback Drew Weatherford and redshirt sophomore D'Vontrey Richardson. Freshman E.J. Manuel is expected to redshirt.
"I trusted my eyes and what I saw," said offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, who made the call with the full support of coach Bobby Bowden. "Also, there's a gut feeling about things. Sometimes you have to push people out of the nest."
Ponder, 6 feet 2, 220 pounds, has appeared in just one game, taking over in the first half when Weatherford suffered a concussion at Virginia Tech last season. Although he made mistakes late in a 40-21 loss, he showed the ability to make plays, big plays, with a powerful arm and surprising speed against one of the nation's best defenses.
"That's when we began to suspect we might have something," Bowden said.
Fisher and Bowden have said Ponder improved markedly during the spring and preseason practices, offsetting Weatherford's wealth of experience. The fifth-year senior has 33 starts.
"I like all three quarterbacks," Fisher said. "It got down to the fit for the type of team we have; what we need."
To him, that meant Ponder, who missed a little practice time recently with a sore shoulder. He has the mobility to rescue a broken play, Fisher said, more so than Weatherford. And that's something that looms large with an inexperienced offensive line.
And he offers the promise of big plays. Although Weatherford decreased his interceptions from 11 to three last season, he threw just nine touchdowns. Richardson had only a couple of plays, and those were designed runs.
Fisher, who met with the three players individually Wednesday to tell them of his decision, said he doesn't plan to "yo-yo" quarterbacks. He prefers to go with one and give him a long leash.
"I've been wanting this for a long time; ever since I realized I could play at the college level," Ponder, 20, from Colleyville, Texas, said. "I always had dreams as a little kid of coming out here to play. Finally, the starting job's here. I have it, and I'm just going to take it and run with it. I'm excited."
Weatherford, 23, who lost the starting job at times during the 2006 and 2007 seasons, said: "Obviously, I am very disappointed in the decision. However, I am a team-first guy, and I am always willing to do whatever helps this team win; whether that's starting or helping from the sidelines.
"I am a 'Nole, and I want to win. I will be ready and able when my opportunity comes."
Times correspondent Ira Schoffel contributed to this report.