By all accounts, Charlie Ward was one of, if not the most celebrated quarterbacks in college football history. A Heisman trophy and a National Championship ring are just two of the many accolades bestowed upon the former Thomas County Central (GA) star. After a 12 year NBA career, Ward has settled down in Houston, first as an assistant coach with the Houston Rockets. And then as luck would have it, he got back into football as the head coach of Westbury Christian Academy.
"I've been blessed to have a lot of great mentors," said Ward. "I never thought I would be coaching. That was the last thing on my mind. However, I have one great coach here--my dad. I find myself doing things he did with the kids, making sure they are taken care of. As a high school coach, Charlie Green, middle school coach Joe Coleman, then off to college with Coach (Bobby) Bowden, Coach (Mark) Richt, and John Eason who are great mentors for me as well.
"A lot of the things I do I learned from those guys. It comes down to having a heart to care for kids. I want to be a mentor. The X's and O's, we'll do away with, but to be able to drop seeds and have an impact on kids lives for a very long time is what we are really there for."
And now, Ward is trying to be a mentor, but not just to his kids in Houston, but privately to E.J. Manuel and Christian Ponder. For the past few years, Ward says he has reached out to the Seminole quarterbacks to provide advice and support. But both quarterbacks have benefited from Ward's knowledge and the former Heisman trophy winner says he spends a lot of time talking to Manuel.
"I've been talking to E.J. for the past couple of years since he's been there, mentoring him and keeping him up when he wasn't getting the opportunity to play; checking up on him spiritually," said Ward. "I do that for a lot of guys, encourage them and critique them on their play. He has great ability. He's a big kid and did well in high school. He has a good work ethic."
Ward has similar praise for Ponder who was a breath of fresh air for the Seminole offense before his injury. His abilities haven't gone unnoticed in Houston.
"He's definitely improved over the couple of years he started playing," said Ward. "You always want to see improvement. He's a smart kid, sometimes that can be good and sometimes that can be bad for an athlete. He's very athletic for his size, but he's done a very good job. He's a smart kid. He's getting his MBA or something in the spring. That's ridiculously unheard of and he still has a year of eligibility."
Ward is confident in the future of Florida State's football program, especially at the quarterback position. With Ponder going into his senior year and Manuel behind him, Jimbo Fisher should be set for the next few years. Will Secord, and recently enrolled Clint Trickett, are next in line and in 2011 look for Fisher to bring in another signal caller. And whoever comes in will continue to follow in the shadows of Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke.
"The future at the quarterback position is very bright next year and the next couple of years with E.J." said Ward. "I'm not sure what we have coming in, but I'm sure they'll bring in some top talent. That position is always key. The years that we struggled, that was the one key position where we did not have consistency and it hurt us. Look at all the teams that are very good. The quarterback position is key to their success. You can have a good defense, offensive line, and running back, but if the quarterback isn't consistent in the run game or the pass game or knowing the offense, the team will struggle."
Since Ward and Weinke, the 'Noles haven't had the consistency under center they were accustomed to during the 80's and 90's. But they are hoping that Fisher's background with quarterbacks and his success coaching the position will make the top signal-callers in the nation look long and hard at Florida State. But it all begins with Fisher who Ward says is a very good football mind. So much so, that he's been helping out with the offense at a certain high school in Houston.
"I've been talking with him. He's been helping me out with my offense where I am coaching at high school," said Ward. "But I feel like football wise, he'll do very well. It's going to be hard to match Coach Bowden and all the things he brought, but Coach Bowden probably didn't have all he had when he first started. There were some things that he had to grow into and learn from. You have to make some mistakes and learn from it. I think that's something Coach Fisher learned and he's had a great mentor in Coach Bowden. I think he'll do some things a little different which is good."