Ponder has talent to go with smarts

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published November 15, 2007

If you ask Florida State coaches about redshirt freshman quarterback Christian Ponder, you're apt to hear first about his acumen.

He did, after all, enroll at FSU in January 2006 with 21 college credits on his transcript from Advanced Placement exams and now has 81 credits and a 3.8 GPA as he works on a double major in finance and real estate. He'll be working on his MBA after June and eventually a Ph.D. before his eligibility is exhausted. Academics, he'll tell you, is his future.

But he absorbs his playbook as well as he does his textbooks.

"When Jimbo Fisher came in here and got his first look at our kids in practice, one of his first comments was that the one that impressed him the most was Ponder," coach Bobby Bowden said. "You can see why now."

Pressed into his first collegiate action Saturday at Virginia Tech afterDrew Weatherford went out with a concussion, Ponder showed he had picked up Fisher's scheme and some big-time ability to go with the football smarts.

Yes, he was only 8-of-18 for 105 yards and had two interceptions and a fumble in the final quarter, but Ponder also directed a pair of third-quarter scoring drives with his arm and his legs he ran five times for 51 yards as the Seminoles rally from 14 down to take a 21-20 lead.

"I was amazed at what happened in the third quarter," Bowden said.

"Football is a different intellect than just being book smart because it becomes a game of reaction and the intelligence has to be ingrained beyond the cerebral part," said Ponder's father, David, a former FSU linebacker. "Yes he understands the playbook and if you ask him a question, he's going to give you the right answer, but does he grasp it at an instinctive level? What we saw Saturday was his instincts were right on."

Ponder promised he would "learn" from his mistakes. All guys say that. He has shown he lives it and, even if he doesn't play again this season, that could make things interesting in 2008.

"The biggest thing I was lacking was experience in a game and I finally got it and coming out to practice, I've got a little more confidence in myself and I feel I can compete a little bit with Drew," Ponder said. "Come spring, I'm going to work my butt off and hopefully earn the starting job. It's going to be tough with Drew coming back. He's better as well, too."

Even before last weekend, Bowden and Fisher had said the 6-foot-2, 207-pound Ponder could quickly challenge to start.

"He was an outstanding quarterback in Texas and when the coaches saw film on him, they approved him immediately," Bowden said.

"I'll take a bunch of him," Fisher said simply. "I'll take a bunch of Christian Ponders."

PRAISE FOR VT: Bowden left Blacksburg with not just admiration for the Hokies, but for their fans. He heard no boos or barbs and "I nearly wanted to turn around and thank them all" for their sportsmanship.

"The last time that happened was in 1980 when we played Nebraska," he said.

NUMBERS GAME: FSU is 3-1 at home this season entering Saturday's game against the Terrapins. The last time FSU failed to win at least four home games was 1982. By the way, the Terrapins are 0-8 in Tallahassee.

TOURNAMENT TESTED: Women's soccer coach Mark Krikorian wasn't aware of how many NCAA Tournament-bound teams his group has played entering Friday's opener against visiting Kennesaw State.

It's 14. That includes two against a No. 1 seed (North Carolina), a No. 2 seed (Portland), a No. 3 seed (Florida), and three against No. 4 seeds (Virginia and two against Wake Forest). The Seminoles are 6-5-3 in the games against NCAA-bound teams, seven of which were on the road and three (in the ACC tournament) at neutral sites.

"We feel as though we're pretty well battled-tested," said Krikorian, who's looking to take his team the national semifinals for a third straight year. "We've played enough games where we've been pressed and had to perform to find a result."

Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347.