Five Minute Guide to '99
2 Florida State
The painful memories of a title that got away will be a powerful motivator for Chris Weinke and the Seminoles
The plan this year is to pick up where they left off before Weinke went down and to fulfill their title obligation. "It's not a learning thing anymore," says junior tailback Travis Minor. "We'd put that slogan on a T-shirt if it was a little more catchy." It is never difficult to find cause for preseason optimism in Tallahassee: Florida State has finished no worse than No. 4 in the nation for a mind-boggling 12 consecutive seasons and continues to accumulate talent. But this season brings even more promise than usual. Of the 22 players who started the Fiesta Bowl, 14 are expected to start in the Seminoles' opener against Louisiana Tech. At two of the remaining eight positions, Florida State is stronger this season.
The first is defensive end, where 6'4", 240-pound junior Jamal Reynolds replaces the solid Tony Bryant. Reynolds generated major buzz by dominating spring practices, and he looks very much like the heir to the Seminoles' defensive end legacy established by Peter Boulware, Andre Wadsworth and Reinard Wilson. Reynolds joins three front-four veterans -- Jerry Johnson, Roland Seymour and All-America Corey Simon -- to form the best front wall in the nation and the backbone of a defense that was the best in the country a year ago.
The second positional improvement is at quarterback. The 27-year-old Weinke has come through a long and painful rehabilitation to reclaim his position and resume the strange journey that he undertook when he came to Florida State in the winter of 1997, following a six-year minor league baseball career. After leading the Seminoles to a 23-14 win over Texas A&M in last year's Kickoff Classic, Weinke threw six interceptions in the 24-7 loss to N.C. State. "When I got home, I had 161 E-mails telling me I was horses---," says Weinke. He threw his next 218 passes without a pick, a streak that was put on ice by the injury. He underwent surgery, beginning two months of agony.
"The period of time after the [Nov. 10] surgery was hell for me," says Weinke. Spinal fluid leaking from the area of the injury caused crushing headaches and left Weinke so weak that his roommates had to carry him from his apartment bed to the bathroom. His rehabilitation didn't begin in earnest until the headaches subsided in February, when he began soft-tossing a tennis ball and lifting weights to restore some of the 25 pounds he had lost. Yet once he started on the road back, he became voracious.
"We were hoping he'd make it out during the spring and just lob a few passes," says offensive coordinator Mark Richt. Instead, Weinke did everything but participate in contact drills. Since then, the 6'5" Weinke has pushed his weight up to 245 pounds and has made every throw that he was making a year ago.
He'll have help in getting to the Sugar Bowl, site of the season finale between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams. Senior wideout Peter Warrick, who caught 61 passes for an average of 20.2 yards per catch and is also a threat throwing, running and returning punts, stunned everyone from draft experts to teammates to coach Bobby Bowden by coming back for his senior year. "I followed my heart and followed God," Warrick says. Apparently, he also followed Liberace, given the haul of gold-and-diamond jewelry he was wearing one midsummer afternoon, but that's just in keeping with his future take. For now, he's the most dangerous offensive threat in the country.
Minor has rushed for 1,480 yards over two seasons and could be joined in the backfield by former quarterback Dan Kendra, the hard-luck fifth-year senior who is making one last bid to salvage something from a once-heralded college career undone by injuries. "If his knee is sound, he's going to be a heck of a catch for some NFL team," Richt says of Kendra, who heads into preseason drills as the No. 2 fullback behind junior William McCray. "He can do everything that [Tampa Bay's] Mike Alstott can do." To confound opponents, Bowden and Richt have filled their playbook with sets that use both Warrick and Kendra as passers. They have one other offensive weapon as well: Junior kicker Sebastian Janikowski is among the best in the nation.
In all, the Seminoles are loaded. Yet they have been loaded for more than a decade and have only one national title (1993) to show for it. With that in mind, Florida State has tinkered with its well-oiled machinery. Upperclass offensive linemen -- four of whom were starters last season -- have been told to lose 10 pounds per man, after several years of trying to get bigger. (All four starters from a year ago weighed more than 300 pounds.) "I got bigger every year, and last year I felt slower and more tired," says senior guard Jason Whitaker. Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews demoted, at least temporarily, cornerbacks Mario Edwards, a probable first-round selection next spring, and junior Tay Cody for poor academic performance. After two losses in the last three bowl games (following 11 straight wins), Bowden has vowed to change his longstanding bowl-preparation schedule to get more work out of his troops during the roughly 40 days they have off between the end of the season and their bowl game.
After all, it's about time the Seminoles won another title. "Five years ago I checked into Burt Reynolds Hall and figured I'd leave with two or three rings," says Edwards. "Well, I don't have any rings. This year I say, 'Don't talk about it, be it.'"
Sounds like a slogan
-- Tim Layden
1998 record: 11-2 (7-1, tied for 1st in ACC)
Coach: Bobby Bowden
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are from 1998 season.
Oct. 9 vs. Miami
Nov. 20 at Florida
If the Seminoles can avoid their usual costly slipup and Weinke can stay healthy, the Sugar Bowl should come calling.
Five Minute Guide to '99
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