Not long ago on the Talk of Fame Network, Hall-of-Fame coach Tony Dungy said he wished former Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward were playing now. The reason? There’s no doubt, Dungy said, that Ward would be a star in today’s NFL.
Ward, of course, never played pro football — choosing a career with the NBA after the Heisman Trophy winner wasn’t a first-round pick in the 1994 NFL draft.
So when our Rick Gosselin suggested to Tampa Bay quarterback and former Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast that Ward reminded him of Russell Wilson, a star in today’s NFL, Winston didn’t disagree.
More than that, though, he said he thought that Ward — who played two decades before Winston at Florida State — was a pioneer for African-American quarterbacks.
“Absolutely,” he said on the last installment of our College Draft series. “He was actually one of my many mentors at Florida State, and I still talk to him. He was a great role model for me, and just being able to see his highlights and kind of feel (like I was) in his shoes of winning a Heisman and being an African-American quarterback was important to me.
“He could have done both. Obviously, he chose basketball. He chose a sport that he was really good in. I know that he would’ve been great at football as well, but he chose a passion, and he has a great life.”
Charlie Ward … the thing about his game (was that) he was so poised, and that’s something that you don’t see in a lot of quarterbacks.
But let’s say Ward had chosen football. How good could he have been in today’s NFL? Winston was sure with a response, getting in line with Dungy and Gosselin.
“Charlie Ward … the thing about his game (was that he was so poised,” said Winston, “and that’s something that you don’t see in a lot of quarterbacks. (What’s missing in) a lot of young quarterbacks transitioning into the league now is the ability to be poised. So his transition today … he would’ve been very successful.
“The way that he moved in the pocket … people remember him for his feet. But he had more fabulous throws. The guy really spins it; could really sit in a pocket. Just like Russell Wilson does today, he runs when he wants to. He isn’t a run-first quarterback. He tries to pick you apart, and if he has to pull the ball down he runs.
“The thing that I really admire about Mr. Ward is how poised he is. If you’re a quarterback, and you’re cool, calm and collected, you can make a lot of things happen in the NFL.”
Like Ward, Russell Wilson had a chance to try another pro sport. But he turned down baseball to pursue a career with Seattle. Then along came Winston, who like Wilson had an opportunity to play professional baseball, and he, too, turned it down in favor of pro football.
“I was really serious about baseball,” he said. “But this football thing ended up working out for me. It was a dream of mine to be an NFL quarterback and be a pro baseball player. But the way time has changed, that isn’t really allowed any more.
“Being from Bessemer, Alabama, and seeing Bo Jackson and hearing that name ring around a lot, that was a dream of mine. So you never know. Football … the life span of this sport is not really guaranteed. So baseball might be there one day.”
Meaning … he might be open to playing both sports one day, just like Bo?
“No,” said Winston, laughing. “I was thinking like being a 50-year-old baseball player.”