To get inside Charlie ward's head, it helps to first get inside his apartment. Ward, the Florida State quarterback, is the best athlete to pass through Tallahassee since Deion Sanders. Where Deion is Neon, however, Ward is strictly earth tones. Sanders seems to be surgically attached to his cellular phone; Ward to his Good News Bible, which at the moment is sitting on a coffee table next to an enormous framed photograph of Ward and his girlfriend, GeJuan Prime. Hanging on one wall is a purple and black image of Jesus on the cross, printed on velour. One gets the sense that Ward doesn't host a lot of beer bashes here.
One senses correctly. "I don't drink alcohol," he says. We're not saying that Ward is a choirboy, but until he went off to college, he did sing in the choir at the Mount Zion Primitive Baptist Church in his hometown of Thomasville, Ga. When his high-pitched voice wasn't raised in song, Ward was so quiet, says his father, Charlie Sr., "we never knew if he was in the house."
"He is the other side of the coin," says Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, comparing Ward to other athletes who have gone through the Seminole program. Like former cornerback Terrell (the General) Buckley, for instance. In his first game as a Green Bay Packer, two weeks ago, Buckley returned a punt for a touchdown. En route to the end zone he held the ball out for the inspection of the opposing punter, all the while lecturing the fellow on the futility of giving chase. Wouldn't it have been wiser, Buckley was asked afterward, to postpone the celebration until after arriving in the end zone?
Said the General, "For me, the 10-yard line is the end zone."
Hearing this account Bowden laughs, then sighs. "Guess I'm going to have to have Charlie talk to him," he says.
Ward, a redshirt junior, is the first black quarterback to start a game for Florida State. In January he will become basketball coach Pat Kennedy's starting point guard. Ward will most likely be drafted by both the NFL and the NBA. There are not many college football players in the country capable of creating so much excitement—which is not necessarily a compliment. Four games into his career as a starter, he has thrown 10 touchdown passes but also nine interceptions. When Ward drops back to pass, someone is going to gain 20 yards.
"He's going to be the best in the country," says Bowden, "as soon as he learns to distinguish jersey colors." Ward's buddy Sam Cassell, a guard on Florida State's basketball team, noting the errant throws, has asked Ward to consider the possibility "that you may be lefthanded and not realize it."
Ward answers the jibes with his customary economy of words: "What's our record?" Touché. After last Saturday night's 35-7 cakewalk past Wake Forest at Doak Campbell Stadium, it is 4-0. And just in time for this weekend's Orange Bowl showdown with No. 2 Miami (Florida State is No. 3), Ward appears to have learned to distinguish jersey colors—he threw no interceptions against the Demon Deacons, while completing 19 of 29 attempts for 240 yards and a touchdown.
Ward spent his first three seasons in Tallahassee biding his time, running the scout team and honing his reputation among his teammates as a Houdini in cleats. "Every day I sec him on the field," says defensive end Carl Simpson, "Charlie does something that makes me say, 'How did he do that?' "
When Ward's turn to lead the Seminoles finally came this fall, the voluble Buckley assured his former teammates, on national television, "Charlie will lead you to the promised land!" Ward entered the season, as Tallahassee Democrat writer Gerald Ensley put it, as "part Moses, part Jackie Robinson."