Ward's option play puzzles pros Seminoles' 2-sport star has yet to choose game of concentration

November 11, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- He is considered the most explosive player in college football, the runaway choice for the Heisman Trophy, the undisputed leader of the nation's top team. Before Charlie Ward helped Florida State beat Miami last month, Hurricanes coach Dennis Erickson called him "the greatest college quarterback I've ever seen."

He also is considered one of the country's top college basketball point guards, an unselfish coach on the court for teammates who often have battled each other for the spotlight. During Florida State's run to the final eight last season, Seminoles coach Pat Kennedy called Ward "the glue that holds us together."

But as the nation's college football and basketball coaches, including Florida State's Bobby Bowden and Kennedy, continue to marvel at Ward's skills, scouts and general managers throughout the NFL and NBA continue to wait and wonder which sport the 6-foot-2, 195-pound star will play as a pro.

"I saw him interviewed on ESPN, and he was saying that he wasn't sure whether he wanted to play football or basketball," Ron Hughes, director of college scouting for the Detroit Lions, said earlier this week. "Until he comes out and says, 'I'm going to commit myself to football,' I don't think anyone is going to be willing to take the chance."

New York Knicks general manager Ernie Grunfeld said: "He's a legitimate NBA prospect. But who knows how good he will be until he commits full time to basketball? A lot of people will shy away if there's any question with football. You don't want to waste a pick if he's not going to be in the NBA next year."

Ward's future may come more into focus Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. In what Bowden kiddingly has called Florida State's second "Game of the Century" this season -- and what is easily the biggest test of Ward's college football career -- the 9-0 Seminoles will meet the second-ranked, 9-0 Fighting Irish.

Though Ward seemingly has a lock on the Heisman Trophy, his draft status is clouded by uncertainty -- his own, and of those who aren't sure of his talents. And comparisons to former college stars with similar styles who fizzled in the pros don't make the process any easier.

"If he's as good as [ex-Duke point guard] Bobby Hurley, he's going to play basketball," Hughes said. "What did Hurley sign for, $16 million over six years? We [NFL teams] can't pay him that kind of money. With the basketball question hanging over his head, he'd make me nervous thinking about drafting him."

Not that the Lions would, considering that they have drafted two quarterbacks with styles similar to Ward's in the past five years. Rodney Peete, a sixth-round pick out of Southern Cal in 1988, has been hampered by injuries for most of his career. Andre Ware, a first-round choice out of Houston after winning the Heisman in 1989, hasn't repeated his college success.

Because of his size, Ward has been compared with Peete. In fact, Peete's status was hurt by his contemplating a pro baseball career while at USC.

What also damaged Peete in the eyes of many pro scouts was a poor performance for the second-ranked Trojans against top-ranked Notre Dame in the final regular-season game of his career.

"Do I think he [Ward] is going to be drafted higher than Rodney was? Absolutely," Hughes said. "Do I think he's any better than Rodney was coming out of college? Absolutely not."

There are some who wonder whether Ward's success since the middle of last season is attributable to the Seminoles' going from a conventional, pro-style offense to a no-huddle, no-holds-barred shotgun. Since adopting it during the second half of a comeback victory over Georgia Tech, Ward has gone from inconsistent to nearly invincible.

"I think he's got tremendous instincts, unbelievable mobility and a lot of other qualities you want in an NFL quarterback, but there are still a lot of questions about him not being the physical prototype and playing in a nonconventional offense," said Mel Kiper, a Baltimore-based NFL scouting guru. "He's going to have a huge adjustment to make when he has to sit behind the center."

Ward's position in next spring's NFL draft will depend largely on his performance the rest of the season, because his commitment to Kennedy for the basketball season will prevent him from playing in any postseason all-star games or attending the league's combine, the annual event used to measure everything from a player's speed to his intelligence.

Asked this week if he had a timetable for making a decision, Ward said: "It's football season, and that's what I'm concentrating on. I'm going to continue to play basketball. Then I'm going to talk to a few people and make my decision."

Kennedy said Ward has the skills to become an NBA point guard if given the time to work on his one weakness -- outside shooting.

But Kennedy also said: "If he wins the Heisman Trophy, that means he's the best player in college football. So what does that mean, he's not going to be a pro football player?"

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