SI Vault
 
Twice Blessed
Austin Murphy
October 05, 1992
Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward has his team in the national title chase, and he's also a pro prospect in basketball
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
October 05, 1992

Twice Blessed

Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward has his team in the national title chase, and he's also a pro prospect in basketball

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4

He couldn't quite bring it off. In fact, after throwing his eighth interception of the season in the Seminoles' second game, at Clemson, he was even benched for a series by Bowden. Ward was not shaken by the experience. "Charlie has an inner strength that most of us don't have," Bowden says.

What is the source of this strength? The question was posed to Ward during a study break in his apartment last week. Without saying a word, he held up his Bible. Numerous scraps of paper sprouted from the top of the book, marking Ward's favorite passages. He turned to the first chapter of James, several verses of which he has marked with a yellow highlighter.

"My brothers," one passage begins, "consider yourselves fortunate when all kinds of trials come your way."

Thinking the verses might help Ward during his early-season travails, a friend had pointed them out to him at a recent Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting. "Nine-thirty, every Thursday night," says Ward. "Why don't you come by?" The meeting lasted for more than an hour—but without Ward. "Slept right through it," he said later. "Sorry about that."

"He's got a strong faith, but he's just a normal kid," says Charlie Sr., a teacher and golf coach at Thomas County Central High. The elder Ward was born in Thomasville, which is just across the Florida border, about 30 miles north of Tallahassee. In the early '60s he went to Florida A&M, where he played football in the same backfield with Bob Hayes. At FAMU, as it is called, he met a bright, headstrong woman named Willard Watson and married her. They have six children, and Charlie Sr. finds it convenient to divide them into two groups of three. "Three of them are good listeners, all you gotta do is talk to them. The other three you gotta whip," he says.

It was the good fortune of Charlie Jr.—known around Thomasville as Junior—to be among the former. When Junior was going through high school, his father was an assistant football coach and the head basketball coach. As frequently happens in such father-son relationships, Charlie Sr. was harder on his son than he was on the other players.

One night the Yellow Jacket hoopsters lost a close game to Seminole County High. Ward's team, which had been coached to play aggressively, had taken a one-point lead with 15 seconds remaining when Junior committed a foul trying to steal the ball. The Yellow Jackets lost. In the car on the way home, the coach chastised the player for the unnecessary gamble. Then the coach's wife chastised the coach. "Live by the sword, die by the sword," Willard reminded her husband. "That shut me up," says Charlie Sr.

Willard Ward can be a formidable customer. In the fall of 1987, when she and the two Charlies talked to Bowden on the coach's official visit to the Ward home, Willard grilled Bowden at length. People had told the Wards that a black quarterback would never start at Florida State. Should they be worried? She demanded assurances that Charlie would not be switched to another skill position.

Bowden answered to her satisfaction and posed a question of his own to the prospect: "Are you patient?" Seminole quarterbacks require years of gestation, and at the time of Bowden's visit, the position was crowded with Peter Tom Willis, Brad Johnson and Casey Weldon—all of whom are now in the NFL.

Ward's expansive reply: "Yes, sir."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4