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Gardner blossoming into big-time player

Finally healthy, receiver leads Seminoles in touchdowns (six) and is second in catches (20) and yards (353).

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 23, 2002

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida State receiver Talman Gardner was frenzied.

"I didn't get the play," he said. "We were in a hurry-up and I didn't get the play. I was yelling, 'What's the play? What's the play?' But they couldn't hear me."

The Orange Bowl was that deafening.

Down 28-27 to top-ranked Miami, the Seminoles were driving into field-goal range but were out of timeouts, and the clock was running. Sixty seconds, 59, 58

But Gardner didn't panic. He watched receiver Anquan Boldin burst off the line. Fifty-seven, 56, 55

Gardner then peered back at quarterback Chris Rix and reacted to what he saw.

"Chris was scrambling," he said, "and he threw the ball up and I just made a break on the ball."

Gardner outpositioned defensive back Al Marshall, jumped and somehow caught the ball for a 15-yard gain at the Miami 25.

"He made a great catch," said Rix, who had been leveled by two defenders as he released the ball.

Although that catch was negated when FSU missed a last-second field goal, Gardner's senior season has been filled with big plays. After starting slowly, with three drops and one reception in the first two games, he is second on the team in catches (20) and yards (353) and leads in touchdowns (six).

The numbers are modest, but the usually pass-happy Seminoles are running more than they have in ages. They threw 19 times for 83 yards against Miami.

"For a selfish person it could be real frustrating, but we're trying to get wins," Gardner said. "Whatever the coaches have in the game plan to help this team win, I'm all for. A selfish person would probably look at it like, 'I'm not getting the ball like I'm supposed to.' But I'm here to win games."

The coaches have decided the best way to win is to rely on the talented, senior-dominated offensive line and the running of tailbacks Greg Jones and Nick Maddox. But they also recognize they need balance or risk becoming predictable.

"You have to do both, you simply cannot win one-dimensionally," coach Bobby Bowden said.

If FSU's offense is to get off the ground, the ball likely will come Gardner's way, even against a veteran Notre Dame secondary. Gardner and Rix have developed a bond and seem to sense what the other is thinking, which helps when one of them doesn't know the play.

"I really can't explain that," Rix said. "Maybe more of our plays are called to his position rather than a backside receiver like Robert (Morgan). But he's just a playmaker."

Much of that has to do with his continued good health. His first three seasons in Tallahassee were checkered by injuries: a hernia, a painful pelvis, shoulder separations, lower back strains, hamstring pulls. That limited his action and effectiveness.

"When I started getting injured and it was holding me out, I started to get discouraged," he said. "My mom was like, 'Just pray. If it's meant to be it's going to be.' She kept instilling that in my head. Sometimes I'd get down on myself and I told her, 'I don't think this is for me; maybe I need to try something else.' "

But he persevered, worked hard to improve his fitness and has blossomed.

"He's hungry. That's it, point blank," cornerback Stanford Samuels said. "That's not for individual accolades. He wants a national championship and now at this point, an ACC championship and a BCS bowl. All he talks about is how hungry he is and that makes him tough."

In the past, he might have let a few drops early in the season affect his concentration and might have seemed lost if he didn't hear a call.

Not now.

"Talman's a fighter," offensive coordinator/receivers coach Jeff Bowden said. "He'll do anything you ask him to do, and he'll do it as hard as he can do it. With him, you feel like whether he makes a play or not, you're going to get everything he's got, and that he might be your best chance."

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