The Daily Nole

Intricacies of a QB Competition: Former Noles Weigh In

Jeff Romance/FSU athletics

The hottest debate of the offseason surrounding Florida State isn’t whether or not the Seminoles can reclaim the ACC and make a run at a national championship. It’s who will ultimately start for FSU at quarterback.

Those vying for the job are redshirt senior Sean Maguire, redshirt freshman Deondre Francois and freshman Malik Henry. Maguire, who missed all of spring, is hoping his experience is what gives him the nod while Francois and Henry are looking to prove that the future is now.

For Maguire, this is his last chance to be FSU’s full-time quarterback. Maguire was expected to be the guy last season before Everett Golson transferred from Notre Dame. Golson ultimately won out for the job, but after struggling in a win over N.C. State in November, Maguire took the reigns to close the year.

Maguire is coming off foot surgery and many are expecting Francois to make the Labor Day start against Ole Miss. Former FSU quarterback Drew Weatherford can feel Maguire’s pain. After starting three straight seasons at FSU from 2005-07, Weatherford missed all of spring in 2008 with a meniscus tear before ultimately losing out on making a fourth straight season-opening start to a younger, more athletic Christian Ponder.

“From the moment I got hurt going into my senior year, I was kind of in a certain position,” Weatherford said. “You’re stuck watching younger guys make plays and get experience. You are losing a lot of opportunity to make an impact on the coaches’ perception of you as a player and a leader. There was a lot of similarities there and I was confident all the way up until I wasn’t the starter that I was going to be the starter and I assure you Sean feels the same way.”

Weatherford seemed to be perpetually in a quarterback competition for the final three years of his career. Weatherford arrived in Tallahassee in 2004 with the more highly-acclaimed Xavier Lee.

After Wyatt Sexton was lost to Lyme disease, Weatherford was given the start for the 2005 Labor Day opener against Miami. That night, Weatherford would become the first FSU quarterback in six years to lead the Seminoles past the Hurricanes. Florida State started hot, but was forced to overcome a late season slump to win a 12th ACC title in 14 years.

“I was in a situation where I competed pretty much every year, due to the fact that Xavier had such promise,” Weatherford said. Regardless of the fact that I started as a redshirt freshman and we won the ACC Championship that year, the fact that he had so much ability made it a competition.”

After passing for 205 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the spring game, Malik Henry has made himself the dark-horse to win the starting job for Florida State. Henry hopes to become the first true freshman to start for FSU since Chip Ferguson took the snaps against Oklahoma State in the Gator Bowl following the 1985 season.

“I guess it means a lot,” Ferguson said on being the last true freshman to start. “31 years and no one else has been able to come in there to play as a freshman either means something about me or about where the program has come in general.”

Despite starting as a freshman, Ferguson spent the majority of the next two seasons sharing time with Danny McManus and Peter Tom Willis. McManus led FSU in passing during both the 1986 and 1987 seasons.

“No one wants to sit on the bench; no one wants to not be the guy, because there’s only one person who plays the position,” Ferguson said. “As far as the group of quarterbacks, me and Peter Tom were roommates and Brad (Johnson) and Casey (Weldon) were roommates (in the early 1990s) and we were together all the time. We stayed totally away from football when we were away from football.”

The final half of 2015 saw Maguire and Golson play a bit of musical quarterbacks. Over the 2006 and 2007 seasons, Weatherford and Lee each saw time as the team’s starter, with Weatherford getting the majority of the starts.

Lee temporarily earned the starting job in 2006 after playing well for an injured Weatherford in a 27-24 loss at Maryland. Weatherford would eventually regain his job, but Lee got his chance again in 2007 after jump-starting the offense in a 21-14 win over Alabama.

There is a certain part of you that is excited that the team is doing well and you’re happy a friend of yours is competing,” Weatherford said. There’s another part of you that’s frustrated and over-analyzing the situation. Anyone who speaks truthfully about it knows you’re really at war with yourself. You’re happy the team is doing well, but when your job is slipping out of your hands, it’s torment. It’s a very painful thing to watch happen and there’s nothing you can do at the moment. Once you’re on the sideline, your hands are tied and you just have to let things play out. As much as you try to fight those tendencies, that understanding that your job is on the line, it’s a very, very difficult thing to do. You do your best to block it out, but it definitely takes a toll.”

Weatherford said he and Lee had a good relationship, but with the competition being so close, successes and failures were magnified.

“At the end of the practice, you have a 2-minute drill and if the other guy led the team down for a score, you’d feel it in your gut,” he said. “Not because you didn’t want the other guy to do well, but ultimately because the job is on the line and every play matters when you’re competing with someone who is equally as capable as you are. Once you step off the field, ultimately you’re teammates No. 1. That you’re competing for the same job runs secondary to that, but ultimately, it’s very real and you feel it everyday.”

Ferguson seconded that it was an internal challenge. After being the primary guy under center for the Seminoles late in the 1985 season, Ferguson never anticipated sitting.

“I would say it was different for each individual person,” Ferguson said. “I was always a competitive person, no matter whether I’m playing with my son, my wife or for a position in college. You don’t ever want to share the job, but unfortunately things happened. It’s like anything you deal with in everyday life. You may not understand it at the time, but you deal with it, you learn from it and you move on.”

Though Willis did get his fair share of time during the 1988 campaign, Ferguson was primarily the guy at quarterback for the Seminoles. FSU finished 11-1 that season, closing the year with a 13-7 win over Auburn in the Sugar Bowl.

“It’s a heck of an accomplishment, it’s something to be proud of,” he said. “I was proud to have been a part of it.”

Florida State finished third in the final AP Poll in what was the second of 14 consecutive top-5 finishes. Ferguson said he thinks the internal competitions played a key role in the program’s success.

“You talk about 14 years in the top 5, I think a lot of that has to do with guys biding their time and competing,” Ferguson said. “I think it’s competition that makes things like that possible. I don’t know that it’ll ever happen again anywhere.”

Weatherford’s career didn’t end on such a high note as he was relegated to mop-up duty during his redshirt senior of 2008, behind sophomore Christian Ponder. Although he didn’t agree, Weatherford said looking back, he understands the decision made by then offensive coordinator and current FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher.

Weatherford noted that FSU was playing a young offensive line and since Fisher was named head coach in waiting, he was forced to consider the long-term implications of his decision. After a pedestrian year in 2008, Ponder made major strides as a passer during his junior year of 2009. In 2010, Ponder led FSU to its first 10-win season in seven years.

“When that decision was made, being a good teammate and a good leader was the No. 1 priority,” Weatherford said. “You try to swallow your pride and do what you can to make the team better.”

Weatherford said he stays close to the program and is interested to see the results of this year’s competition.

“The young guys definitely played well in the spring,” Weatherford said. “I’m excited to see how it all plays out.”

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