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A Gentleman And a Scholar
Rick Reilly
December 27, 1993
Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward, the Heisman Trophy winner, is as all-American as a young man can be
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December 27, 1993

A Gentleman And A Scholar

Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward, the Heisman Trophy winner, is as all-American as a young man can be

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Maybe it's just easier to put it in the record this way: In the year 1993, in the age of Beavis and Butt-head, shock radio, Marky Mark, and brassieres as outerwear, the best athlete in college sports is a former choirboy, vice-president of the student body and honor-roll student who is no louder than a convent cat and about as trendy as a firm handshake.

Take, for instance, this one day in October when Charlie went to a midget league football practice to talk to kids about his two favorite topics: staying in school and staying off drugs. Just as he arrived, one 10-year-old stepped on another's water bottle.

"Hey, watch it, you faggot jackass!" yelled the second kid.

Charlie's jaw hit his belt. When it was his turn to speak, he hadn't forgotten. "You know, when I first got here," he said, "there were some things being shouted that shouldn't have been said. Sometimes things slip out, but they shouldn't. You should never let that happen again. You have to show respect for your friends and your peers."

The kids looked as if they had just been scolded by Saint Christopher.

"Being a real straight arrow is something that a lot people are offended by, I guess," says Charlie. "But that's the way I've been all my life. It's just fun to be one of a kind."

One of a kind? Athletically, Charlie is one of a kind. As a celibate—though one with a girlfriend, a law student named Tonja Harding—Charlie is one in a million. Florida State's football team has fathered dozens of children. "It's not like I've been an angel my whole life," Charlie says, "but I've stopped now. If you're planning on marrying the young lady, and then you have sex before marriage, what is there to look forward to?"

So what Charlie does is make like a very hip Aunt Bee. On your typical dance-crazed night, Charlie hangs with the other players as they get dressed, jokes with them as they primp in the mirror, messes with them as they put on the cologne. Then he walks them all out to their cars and tells them to drive carefully and not get too wild, and then he goes back to his room. He does everything but give them sandwiches.

And yet Charlie is the biggest man on the team. If you were ever on the Seminoles' team bus when Charlie got on, you would notice the volume on the jam boxes go down about three notches and the trash-talking zip off and everybody straighten up just a little in his seat. Then you would see Charlie smile, sit down, slip on his headphones and flip on his favorite gospel tape.

Born in Thomasville, Ga., in 1970, Charlie is the third of seven kids in a family that still has Bible study around the kitchen table on Sunday nights. His father, also named Charlie, is a high school history teacher and a church deacon, and his mother, Willard, is a school librarian. The Ward kids all grew up with two rules in life: Respect people and stay humble. "Be humble, Junior," Charlie's father would tell him, "because the people who put you on a pedestal are the same people who will try to knock you off of it."

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