TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The Florida State student body needed a man of the people last spring, a voice powerful enough to attract attention to student concerns. So it came as no surprise that one ambitious and enterprising young Seminole, Jeanne Belin, knocked on the door of the most popular man on campus in search of the perfect vehicle.
Charlie Ward was the right package, a well-liked sophomore who was the starting point guard on an NCAA tournament team and the quarterback-in-waiting for a school that plays football in the fastest lane. But when Belin asked him to join her on the Monarchy Party ticket and run for vice president of the student government, Ward had this slight problem: How could anyone speak for 30,000 peers with a voice he describes as "soft and squeaky?"
Let the record show that Ward was one of the first vice presidents to carry a ticket to an election-day victory. Let it also show that despite his sober approach and penchant for brief, gentle conversation, Ward is the undisputed leader of a Florida State team that desperately needs his talents and verve to win its first national championship in 46 years.
When the third-ranked Seminoles (4-0) play No. 2 Miami (3-0) in their annual duel in the sun in the Orange Bowl on Saturday, no player will be scrutinized more closely than Ward, who would prefer to be anywhere but under a microscope. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound quarterback might be as gifted a two-sport athlete as his Florida State predecessors, Deion Sanders and Terrell Buckley, but he doesn't share their inclination to talk a good game before playing it.
"I'm not a very talkative person," Ward said. "I give teammates a couple of words of encouragement or whatever, but I'm not the type of person that is going to get on someone because they didn't do something."
Ward's route to the center of Tallahassee's sports madness was a circuitous one, although it began just 30 miles away in Thomasville, Ga.
Ward spent one year at Tallahassee Community College after failing to meet Proposition 48 standards, skipped basketball and punted for the football team as a Florida State freshman, redshirted in football and joined the basketball team as a sophomore, then spent last fall on the bench behind Casey Weldon before leading the ACC with 4.4 steals per game on Pat Kennedy's 22-8 team.
In his first season as a starting quarterback, Ward has run the gamut. He threw eight interceptions in his first two games -- Weldon had eight in 12 games a year ago -- but was brilliant in the closing minutes at Clemson, going 5-for-5 for 63 yards on a 73-yard drive that won the game and earned him the respect of his teammates.
"A lot of guys maybe had doubts about him," said senior offensive tackle Robert Stevenson. "But they stopped doubting him then."