TALLAHASSEE — Quarterback Drew Weatherford's most critical piece of equipment these days isn't his helmet, but his headset.
"The last thing I wanted to do was sit there and watch the game; I wanted to be able to contribute in some way, shape or form," said the fifth-year senior and former Land O'Lakes star.
His way is to signal in the play call from the Seminoles' nerve center — offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher and the staff in the press box — rather than running the play from under center. Last year, a graduate assistant filled that role, not a player with 33 career starts who had been cast as one of the faces for the program.
But Weatherford went from first string to third string behind redshirt sophomores Christian Ponder and D'Vontrey Richardson, just before the opener.
"It's extremely difficult, there's no point in hiding that," Weatherford said.
Although he's 2-0 as a starter against Miami, he's not likely to play in Saturday's intrastate rivalry. Or, it seems, the game after that or the one after that.
Even when Ponder and Richardson struggled — as neophytes predictably do — in the 12-3 loss to Wake Forest, combining for five interceptions (or two more than Weatherford threw last year), the veteran wasn't considered an option. Fisher said that isn't disrespect for Weatherford.
"It's where we're going and how our team is going and how good this team can be and where we need to go to beat the other teams and win the ACC," said Fisher, adding he regularly and candidly tells his quarterbacks where they stand and the basis for his decisions. "As a coach, I owe that to them. Whether they agree with that or not is a different thing."
Weatherford was replaced as the starter by Xavier Lee in 2006 and 2007, but reclaimed the position each season. This is different.
"I might not have another opportunity to play here, which is frustrating and upsetting, but that's just the way things are right now," he said, acknowledging that there's little anyone can say to him, even coach Bobby Bowden. "I think I've come to terms with it. I'm going to be ready. I'm going to work hard. I want another opportunity, but if that opportunity doesn't come, I'll be able to handle it."
Another player might have abruptly left for a Division I-AA school to play his final season. (Weatherford said had he known after last season he would be in this situation, he would have planned to finish his finance degree last year instead of this December and declared for the NFL draft.) Another player might stay and sulk, or whine for time.
Not him. He's displayed nothing but grace, though it took a couple of days before "I could let my emotions calm down and see the big picture." Mentoring the younger quarterbacks on and off the field and signaling in the plays has helped him do that.
"I want to be out there. I can still get it done, so it's tough sitting on the sidelines," he said. "But at the same time, it's not my decision to make and this is the situation I've been dealt and I've just decided to deal with it with a positive attitude and try to embrace it and have as much fun with it as possible."
"Drew's a big help," raved Bowden, who has supported Fisher's call on the quarterbacks. "You talk about a guy who's showing character. There's a guy who wants to play as much or more than any of them and he's got three years of experience under his belt and he's having to sit back. But instead of him taking it negatively, he's helping them. And it's good to know he's there because you never know what's going to happen in this doggone ballgame."
Trust us. Weatherford does have his helmet handy.
Brian Landman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3347. Read his blog at blogs. tampabay.com/Seminoles.