A good thing, too. Ward played only a handful of downs over the next three years. His matriculation at Florida State was postponed a year while he took classes at Tallahassee Community College to get his ACT score above the minimum qualifying standard. While he waited to enroll at State, basketball became his sole athletic outlet. Before long, Kennedy—who had been searching for a point guard—got a call from former Seminole guard George McCloud, now with the Indiana Pacers. Said McCloud, who had played against Ward in the Dade Street Rec League, "Charlie Ward is your point guard."
Now it was Kennedy's turn to be patient. In 1989, Ward's first season with the Seminoles, the freshman was assigned punting duties—he averaged 37.1 yards a kick—after starter John Wimberly was injured. State made it to the Fiesta Bowl, and Ward was needed through December. He did not go out for the basketball team until the following season. In 1990 Ward was redshirted at quarterback, and Bowden let him go in mid-October to practice with the hoops team. By then Ward was starving to compete in a game in any sport. "Basketball bailed me out, saved my sanity," he says.
Running the second team, Ward was as much a hindrance as he was a help to Kennedy. Instead of duplicating the offense of the upcoming opponent, Ward had the annoying habit of doing whatever he could to beat the first team and too often succeeding.
With the team 5-5 and foundering, Kennedy installed Ward at point guard. The Seminoles went 15-6 the rest of the way and made it to the NCAA tournament. Ward's 30-foot jumper in the waning seconds of a game against Louisville gave the Seminoles their first Metro Conference title.
"He is a pure point guard," says Seminole assistant Dave Zimroth. "He gets the ball to everyone, elevates everyone's play. You know where he is the most incredible? On the fast break. As the guys fill their lanes, and Charlie sees all his options, he always makes the right decisions. In those situations he is incomparable."
Last year Ward backed up Weldon and was unavailable to Kennedy until December. After the Seminoles upset the Tar Heels in basketball in Chapel Hill—in Florida State's first game as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference—North Carolina coach Dean Smith made a beeline for Ward, who had scored 18 points and had taken over the game. "I don't know how good a football player you are," Smith told Ward, "but you can play this game at the next level."
Ward led the basketball team to the Sweet 16 of last season's NCAA tournament, where the Seminoles finally lost to Indiana. Bowden, who needed Ward for spring football, observed the progress of Kennedy's team with both delight and irritation: Every time the Seminoles won, he had to bump spring practice back another few days. Bowden was more impatient than usual to get started. In the off-season his assistants had persuaded him to scrap his beloved two-back offense and install the one-back, three-wide receiver set favored by Miami. That decision meant that Ward, in his first season as a starter, would be learning a new, more complicated offense.
"It's been on-the-job training for Charlie," says Bowden. "He's had to work the kinks out on the field." The turnovers prove that. Ward's eighth interception was probably his most boneheaded. In an attempt to force a third-quarter pass to a well-covered receiver, he put the ball squarely in the chest of Clemson defensive end James Trapp. Trapp, who was an alternate on the U.S. Olympic track team for the 4 x 100-meter relay, covered the 39 yards to the end zone with frightful ease to put Clemson in front 13-10.
One series later Bowden benched Ward—but only for two plays, perhaps the briefest demotion of a quarterback in the program's history. "When he came off the bench," recalls tackle Robert Stevenson, "he seemed a little more focused." It took Ward five plays to guide the team to a touchdown.
Clemson regained the lead on its next possession, which only enhanced the drama of what has since come to be known in Tallahassee as the Elway Drive. Ward completed five straight passes, to four different receivers, calmly marching the Seminoles 77 yards for the winning touchdown. Florida State never had a third down during the drive. Ward's leadership was flawless but for a minor detail. "Charlie has that high voice to begin with," recalls Stevenson. "To make himself heard above the crowd, he had to yell. A few times, his voice cracked."