No, it wasn't Florida. Heck, it wasn't even Duke. When Adrian McPherson—Florida State's starting quarterback two years ago—threw five touchdowns last Sunday, he was whipping the Carolina Cobras of the Arena Football League.
This isn't the way it was supposed to work out—with McPherson, 20, putting up big numbers for the Indiana Firebirds, winners of five straight. But each game is another step in the quarterback's quest for redemption. McPherson, the only high schooler to win Florida's Mr. Basketball and Mr. Football awards, saw his Seminoles career end abruptly 12 games into his sophomore season after he was accused of cashing a stolen check. He was charged with felony theft, then later was charged with misdemeanor gambling for allegedly betting on Florida State. He pleaded no contest and got 90 days in a county work camp, 30 months of probation and 50 hours of community service.
McPherson never regained his NCAA eligibility but says he didn't despair. "People were saying things that weren't true, but I didn't have any control over it," he says. "My parents helped me stay levelheaded." In December he accepted an offer of a three-year, $120,000 contract from the Firebirds. A starter in the last seven games, McPherson has passed for 1,644 yards and 27 touchdowns while running for 12 more—stats comparable to Kurt Warner's when he played Arena ball in the mid-1990s.
Now McPherson hopes to follow Warner into the NFL. Though he can't be taken in this month's draft because he hasn't filed the necessary paperwork, the 6'4" McPherson, who has bulked up from 185 to 210 pounds since his Florida State days, is likely to get an invitation to training camp as a free agent—despite his checkered past. Says draft analyst Jerry Jones, "Some team is going to take a chance just because of his ability." McPherson thinks his comedown enhanced his character. "I feel like it was a blessing," he says. "I take football, I take my life a lot more seriously than I did then. It was a situation where you hated that it happened but were glad that it happened because it made you change."