You can say this about Chris Rix: He's not afraid to enter the fray. As a redshirt freshman in 2001, he outplayed then sophomore Anquan Boldin in the battle for the starting quarterback job left vacant by Heisman-winner Chris Weinke. He then overcame a shaky 3-2 start and got better each game en route to being named ACC Freshman of the Year. Finally, in a move that had his coaches shaking their heads, Rix ran for vice president of Florida State's 35,000-strong student body last February. "Most football players would never try the crazy things I do," says Rix, whose derring-do has included front flips into the end zone for a score and a dorm-to-dorm political campaign in which he presented starstruck classmates with tiny, personally autographed footballs. "I like challenges."
Though Rix's foray into politics wasn't successful—he and his Garnet and Gold Party running mate pulled just 11% of the votes to finish last in a three-way race-he came out on top in the quarterback battle again last spring. After a season in which his prodigious passing (2,734 yards and 24 touchdowns) was undercut by untimely turnovers (five fumbles and 13 interceptions), Rix held off a formidable challenge from two other candidates, thanks to his strong arm and knowledge of the offense. "Last year we had to be somewhat simplistic in our play-calling," says offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden. "Now that Chris has developed a sense and feel for our system, we can open up a little more."
Racked by injuries and inexperience (15 new starters) in 2001, the Seminoles gave up 356 yards per game and suffered their worst record (8-4) in a decade. That situation has been ameliorated by the return of 17 starters, including junior tackle Darnell Dockett (22 tackles for loss) and junior linebacker Michael Boulware (81 tackles and three interceptions).
While Dockett and Boulware are the marquee men on defense, senior end Alonzo Jackson, who accounted for five of the team's 14 team sacks last season, will be the Seminole on the hot seat. If he's as combustible during the season as he was in the team's spring game, in which he collected three sacks in dominant fashion, the pass rush should be back up to Florida State's usual high standards come this fall.
The only unit that could surpass the Seminoles' defensive front as the ACC's best is their offensive line. The veteran bunch, led by 6'6", 310-pound All-America tackle Brett Williams, who had 48 pancake blocks before suffering a season-ending knee injury in November, will make life much easier for Rix. So will the return of wideouts Robert Morgan, a senior, and Boldin, a junior who's back at his natural position after his failed trial at quarterback. Both missed last season with knee injuries, which left Rix with precious few targets to choose from. The 6'2", 205-pound Boldin, whose confidence and playmaking ability remind Bowden of former Florida State All-America Peter Warrick, could turn out to be the most important weapon in the offense. "Last season was the first time in nine years that we didn't have depth at the receiver position," says Bowden. "We had to count on freshmen to make crucial third-down plays. Having a leader like Anquan back in the mix is huge."
With his teammates eager to prove that last year was an aberration, Rix realizes that consistently strong play, not somersaults, is required of him. In addition to watching videotape nearly every day during the off-season, Rix spent May developing a quicker release with the help of Los Angeles-based quarterbacks coach Steve Clarkson, the former San Jose State star who tutors Rix and Tennessee junior Casey Clausen whenever the young signal-callers are home in California. Equipped with a new, over-the-top motion—and an internal drive that could be similarly described—Rix has grand visions for his sophomore campaign.
"When it comes to this season, no expectations are unrealistic," says Rix. "As long as we continue to work hard, work together and stay healthy, I have no doubt that we'll be in the Fiesta Bowl [playing for the national championship] in January."