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Weatherford says being FSU quarterback is his destiny

Former Land O'Lakes star will be the starter against Miami on Labor Day.

By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published August 31, 2005


TALLAHASSEE - Drew Weatherford never meant for his assertion that one day he'd be Florida State's starting quarterback to sound preposterous or precocious.

"Andrew would always say it and I never doubted it," said his eldest brother, Will, 25, one of nine children. "I just knew he had the ability and the drive."

So what if his sibling was all of 10 years old?

A decade later, including a competitive battle throughout August with heralded fellow redshirt freshman Xavier Lee, Weatherford has realized that dream.

FSU coach Bobby Bowden announced Wednesday morning that Weatherford, the former Land O'Lakes star, would be his No. 1 quarterback for the nationally-televised, prime-time opener against No. 9-ranked Miami on Labor Day.

"The thing he has shown me is he has the tools to be an outstanding quarterback," Bowden said.

Lee missed about a week with a sore shoulder that essentially assured Weatherford the job, although Weatherford had been outperforming him. Lee returned to practice Tuesday and will be ready to play if he's needed. He and Weatherford will continue to compete.

Land O'Lakes coach John Benedetto still remembers seeing his son Giovanni, then in the sixth grade, tossing a football in the front yard with a fifth-grader.

"My goodness; this is a great quarterback," Benedetto said to himself.

That was his introduction to Drew, or Andrew to his family and his second family, the Benedettos, the athlete. Even then, he could imagine the possibilities.

"He's just a natural," said Bill Weatherford, a former quarterback at Southern Methodist (his father was a quarterback there when Doak Walker played), of his son.

Yet he hadn't planned to let him play until, like Will and Sam before him, he reached high school.

It didn't happen that way, thanks to his wife, Cathy. Instead of registering Drew, then 12, for flag football, she gave in to his tears and pleas to let him play tackle football in a Tampa city league. Bill was out of town on business and by the time he returned - and angrily saw the pads in the garage - he acquiesced.

"I knew that Andrew didn't just want to play, he had to play," Bill Weatherford said. "He would have been crushed if I said no. He was just dying to play."

Success quickly followed him in that youth league, then at Pine View Middle School and, beginning as a ninth grader, at Land O'Lakes. He started all four years at quarterback for Benedetto, a first for the coach, who's now in his 29th season at the school. (He also coached Will, Sam, currently has Joe, a junior quarterback, and John, a sophomore fullback. Stephen, a quarterback at Pine View, is on deck.)

"He's the only quarterback I ever had I would allow to come out in the no-huddle and call plays at the line of scrimmage," Benedetto said. "If there was a minute and a half left in the half and we needed to go 70 yards, I'd just stand on the sideline with my arms folded and watch him perform."

Aside from his god-given athletic skills, Weatherford's success can be traced to his mental approach.

When others might be nervous, he's more often than not remarkably calm.

"He's not acted like he's in the middle of a quarterback controversy," said senior offensive guard Matt Meinrod, the former East Lake High star. "He's just been very poised."

Mature beyond his years, is how other Seminoles describe him. He understands the quarterback is looked to as a leader, but he's tried to earn the respect of his teammates with his play and work ethic. Nor has he come on strong with his elders (something that didn't help Chris Rix win friends as a redshirt freshman in 2001), asking senior center David Castillo or Meinrod to speak up to keep teammates in line.

"Drew has the ability to get all his offensive guys on the same page," senior defensive end Kamerion Wimbley said. "Drew brings energy and they trust in him."

Weatherford exudes a quiet confidence, but he possesses a palpable aggressiveness and tenacity you see more often from a linebacker. In fact, he liked defense so much he pestered Benedetto for years to let him play both ways; he finally did play free safety as a senior.

"I got my butt kicked every day by older brothers (Will and Sam, who played offensive tackle at Fordham) so I didn't mind the physical aspect of it," he said. "I'd rather hit somebody than get hit."

"When they let him play defense, he was wreaking havoc every Friday night. I went to a couple of games and couldn't believe the ferociousness," said Will, who was a defensive end at Jacksonville and is now a legislative aide to Florida House Speaker Allan Bense. "He's willing to do anything he has to. It's a mentality he's had since as long as I can remember."

Before his senior year at Land O'Lakes in 2003-04, Weatherford met former FSU standout quarterback Casey Weldon at church and asked if he might work out with him. Weldon, then contemplating a comeback, said sure.

"When we were throwing, I didn't really see all of that to be honest," Weldon said. "I said, "Well, I'm eager to watch this kid in a game and see what all the hype's about. Sure enough, it was impressive. When the lights came on, he was just a player."

Weatherford said the best advice he received from Weldon was about the importance of footwork. How you move your feet, your balance and how you shift your weight, he learned, were far more important than arm strength.

"To have a guy like that to watch and work with, not many people have that opportunity," said Weatherford, who now wears No. 11 in part to honor Weldon, who was No. 11 at FSU. "It's been great."

Even at 10, Weatherford would spend evenings at the Benedetto house watching game film. He didn't just watch as a fan of his brothers' high school team. He tried to pick up nuances of the game.

"You really have to love the game a lot to do that," his father said. "I didn't like doing that. It's just an indication how intensely he wants to improve, watching to see what he did, what the other guy did, what might work. He just enjoys the game."

He became so adept at it, by the time he was a senior, he as able to suggest formations.

"We did watch film together," Weldon said. "Knowing what I know now, if I would have been more of a student of the game, I think I would have had a better NFL career and just a better career in general. He's got the desire to do that and it will make a big difference."

At FSU, he spends maybe six or seven hours a week studying film, watching Peyton Manning and Southern California plays and, most recently, the Miami Hurricanes' defense. Just recently, he spotted a goal-line tendency that he thought could be exploited and mentioned it to his position coach, Daryl Dickey.

Dickey had seen it too; he just didn't expect a redshirt freshman to have noticed.

"For a guy to be mature enough to study film on his own, which both he and Xavier have done very diligently, and now be able to carry the system over to film study and pick up things about defenses and say, "Hey, what about this?' is obviously very encouraging," Dickey said. "Both he and Xavier are very special. There's no question about that, in the way they've tried to prepare themselves, not only practice but now the game."

But Weatherford's preparation didn't begin in the past few months.

He started 10 years ago.