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A bittersweet start for Weldon

He still feels little joy about the circumstances _ winning the starting quarterback job from his best friend in a loss _ but for Casey Weldon, this is an opportunity that has taken much too long to realize. Almost every high school football star dreams of stepping into the action once he gets to college. Weldon was no different and expected to make his move before now.

Here it is, four years later, and four quarterbacks _ Danny McManus, Chip Ferguson, Peter Tom Willis, and best friend Brad Johnson _ have trotted onto the field ahead of him.

Finally, Weldon will get his first start for Florida State when the 12th-ranked Seminoles (4-2) play Louisiana State (4-2) Saturday afternoon at Doak Campbell Stadium.

"This is what you play for," said Weldon, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound redshirt junior from Tallahassee. "But it's still clouded by the loss to Auburn. I'd have rather stayed on the sidelines that whole time than lose the game."

Weldon came off the bench in relief of Johnson and completed 20 of 30 passes for 244 yards and one touchdown in FSU's 20-17 loss to Auburn last Saturday.

His ability to scramble helped him avoid the Auburn rush; he ran seven times for 25 yards. Weldon also is better at throwing the ball downfield, a trait FSU coach Bobby Bowden likes.

"He automatically goes downfield more," Bowden said. "Brad will get better at it, but Casey does it. With Casey, we feel like we can do more of the things we've always done here."

Johnson, although his statistics were impressive, was not doing those things. He was on pace to throw for 2,400 yards, the fourth-best total in a season in school history, but his trouble was third-down efficiency.

FSU had converted only nine of its last 30 _ even though Johnson was 15-of-22 passing on third down. He simply was not throwing long enough to get the first downs.

Going deep has never been Weldon's problem. In fact, it got him in trouble. He did it during spring practice and was intercepted too often, according to Bowden. And when he completed only eight of 23 passes for 106 yards in the spring game _ compared to Johnson's 22 of 32 for 274 yards _ Johnson was given the starting job. And he never lost it until Saturday.

"I was pretty crushed," Weldon said. "I just wanted to be ready for when the team needed me."

Weldon's suffering covers most of his career at FSU. Two years ago, he was upset about a lack of playing time during an easy stretch in October. Last year, he thought he had a chance to challenge Willis for the starting job. And finishing the season as the No. 2 quarterback, he figured he'd be the starter this year.

All of this came with the burden of being a hometown hero. Weldon starred for Tallahassee's North Florida Christian High School, where he hit 130 of 229 passes for 2,448 yards and a state-leading 29 touchdowns during his senior year in 1986.

When he was finally set to win the FSU job this spring, he played poorly at the most crucial time. "I don't think he had his mind on it this spring like he does now," Bowden said. "He had some things on his mind that would be disturbing for anybody that was affecting football. But he got it straightened out."

Weldon did not elaborate, but at 21 years old he is already a husband and a father. He and his wife, Lori, have a 14-month-old daughter named Kendall.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself and things were not so good at home," he said. "I just got back to what I knew was right. I got my priorities in order, that my family has to come before football."

Weldon was disappointed that he wasn't given a chance to win the job at the start of practice in August. But there were signs that he might yet get a shot. Bowden played him early in games against Tulane, Virginia Tech and Miami.

And early in the game against Auburn, Weldon warmed up on the sideline with Willis, who was in town to watch the game because the Chicago Bears had the week off. "P.T. was fired up," Weldon said. "He hates Auburn as bad as we do."

Weldon took that emotion into the game with him.

"He came in and did an excellent job," said flanker Lawrence Dawsey. "He played with a lot of confidence and showed great leadership."

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