Florida State QB a Heisman candidate?
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
9/13/11 at 5:18 AM
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NORMAN - The question came from Bubba, a member of the audience watching coach Jimbo Fisher's radio call-in show.
"Will EJ win the Heisman Trophy this year or next?"
EJ Manuel had just played the first game of his first full season as Florida State's starting quarterback. He beat Louisiana-Monroe, not Louisiana State.
The Heisman Trophy? This year?
The moment tells you two things: The pressure piled on any Seminoles quarterback is no less fanatical than the load heaped on Oklahoma's. Also, like OU's Landry Jones, his counterpart in Saturday night's heretofore game of the year, Manuel causes FSU fans to be insanely optimistic.
Just ask the Seminoles' first Heisman-winning quarterback, a frequent text-exchanger with Manuel.
"He's very talented," Charlie Ward said from his head coaching office at Houston's Westbury Christian School. "He's definitely bigger than I am. Six-four, 235 or 240. From that standpoint, we're no match. We're cut from the same cloth in that EJ will use his feet to get where he wants to go. He throws the ball really well and makes good decisions, and he makes plays with his feet."
That fact has the Sooners' full attention.
"He's an excellent athlete," Bob Stoops said. "They've got some quarterback run game with him, so he gives them a little different dimension that way."
It wasn't as big a concern in last year's mismatch. OU marauded Christian Ponder. The Seminoles' senior quarterback went 11-of-28, threw two interceptions and net 23 rushing yards.
"Does he get out of the pocket and run? Yeah," OU defensive ends coach Bobby Jack Wright said of Manuel. "When he does, he's faster than Ponder was. But he's still a pocket passer."
Rewind to Louisiana-Monroe. Manuel dropped straight back and lofted a rainbow, 55 yards in the air, while being clobbered. Receiver Greg Dent never broke stride in scoring.
Rewind a little farther, to his first touchdown pass to Bert Reed.
"His fourth read," Fisher pointed out.
It helps that Manuel is a fourth-year junior. He redshirted in 2008, then started six games for the injured Ponder in '09 and '10. He has always had the tools. He showed them off in helping win the Gator and Chick-fil-A Bowls the past two seasons.
What Manuel needed was his chance, at least full-time. It's something else Ward can relate to, having waited behind Casey Weldon until his own redshirt junior season in 1992.
"Him waiting shows what kind of maturity he has," Ward said. "In today's society, that's not a characteristic that lot of kids have, being patient."
It was a lot of idle time for a kid rated the nation's No. 2 high school quarterback, a talent that one scouting service called "a smaller JaMarcus Russell" after watching him practice.
"But he waited and worked very hard," Ward said, "so when the time came he was prepared."
Manuel is 46-of-69 for 581 yards, with 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, for the 2-0 Seminoles. Promising numbers, even if they might change some Saturday night.
Ward recalled his welcome-to-the-big-time experience from '92, when his third-ranked Seminoles lost at No. 2 Miami, 19-16.
"I made a lot of mistakes with the ball, taking sacks and those things," he said. "But I also helped keep us in the game by making plays. That carried me through."
Ward didn't lose again that season. He was Orange Bowl MVP as Florida State finished No. 2 in the polls.
In '93, Ward was Orange Bowl MVP again. He also won the Heisman. The Seminoles won a national championship.
It's perspective the most fervent FSU fans might consider this week. Fisher offered his own when he answered Bubba's Heisman question by saying: "A lot of times it has to do with the success the team has. You have to have success all together. Hopefully we'll have enough of that for him to be in that.
"Hopefully he'll continue to play well. He has the potential to be a very good player. We'll see how far that goes."
Whether Manuel wins or loses Saturday night, or the rest of this season and next, Ward knows one thing, having been there before.
"I told EJ regardless of what happens, I'll always be here for him," he said. "Hopefully he does well. But his performance isn't going to have any weight on our relationship.
"He's not a perfect kid by any stretch. He's not a perfect quarterback. None of us are perfect. But he's the type of guy you can definitely be proud of."
At Florida State
7 p.m. Saturday
Radio: KMOD fm97.5, KTBZ am1430
Original Print Headline: Seminoles QB shows promise
Guerin Emig 918-581-8355
Florida State's EJ Manuel was rated as the nation's No. 2 quarterback coming out of high school. PHIL SEARS / Associated Press