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Tampa Tribune
Published: Jul 11, 2005

TALLAHASSEE - When Florida State quarterbacks Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee went to Panama City Beach together with friends for a Fourth of July weekend getaway, they didn't spend much time in the water.
Recent shark attacks in the area had their full attention.

"We got in and out real fast,'' Weatherford said.

The hazards that come with being a Florida State quarterback? Those don't seem to bother Weatherford in the least. A month from now he'll be joining fellow redshirt freshman Lee in a high- pressure competition to be FSU's starter for the Sept. 5 season opener against Miami.

The only other time a freshman started the season opener under center for Coach Bobby Bowden was four years ago, when Chris Rix got a chance to ease into the role against a Duke team that was beginning its second consecutive winless season.

Weatherford, close to fully recovered from April ankle surgery, relishes the chance to swim with the sharks against Miami.

"It excites me,'' the former Land O' Lakes High star said.  "It's a great challenge to get ready for it and, to be honest, I don't really feel nervous about the situation at all.  If I was the guy I'd really feel excited. One of us will have an opportunity to do a great thing.''

Junior Wyatt Sexton had been expected to lead the Seminoles into the prime-time showdown against the rival Hurricanes. But Sexton won't play this season after being diagnosed with advanced Lyme disease, leaving the Seminoles to try to end their six-game losing streak against Miami with a first-time starter at quarterback.

"We would love to have experience, but I'd rather have talent over experience,'' Bowden said Saturday in statements made after the disclosure of Sexton's condition.  "There is definitely a lot of talent there with [Lee and Weatherford].''

Weatherford spent the first part of summer preparations trying to recover from the ankle surgery. Since the start of the second summer school session at FSU in late June, he has been stepping up his participation and said he is nearly at full strength.

"When practice starts [Aug. 9] I'll be 100 percent ready to go,'' Weatherford said. "Right now, I can run and I can do my drops and make the throws, I just can't cut on [the ankle].  But I feel great, and I'm in great shape. I'm really excited.''

Weatherford's focus didn't change when Sexton was hospitalized under the state's Baker Act on June 14 after police found him lying half-dressed in the street outside his home, calling himself ``God.''

Weatherford, the son of a former Southern Methodist University quarterback, already was hard at work rehabilitating his ankle and preparing for the start of practice.

Though the recovery initially limited his participation in the afternoon throwing sessions with receivers, Weatherford ultimately feels he has benefited.

He goes through 90 minutes of rehabilitation work five days a week, in addition to five days of cardiovascular workouts with his teammates. His rehab continues to include long and arduous sessions in a therapy pool, sprinting against a current and using an underwater treadmill.

Taking only one class in summer school has allowed him to narrow his thoughts.

"I've got two things on my mind right now,'' he said. "Business calculus and Miami.''

Eager fans already are calculating who would give FSU its best chance against the 'Canes and beyond. Never mind that Lee hasn't taken a snap in college or that Weatherford's only play resulted in a sprained ankle.

"I find it comical, because so many people are saying this guy is better,'' said Weatherford's older brother, Will, who lives in Tallahassee and works as a legislative aide at the capitol. ``We don't know whether any of them are any good at this point. They could both be All-Americans or both just be average, but my gut feeling is both are going to be great.''

Lobbyists perpetually lean on Will Weatherford for the inside scoop. And he is aware how some fans have decided Lee is the better athlete.

"I don't get mad when I hear people talk, because FSU fans are passionate, and they're always going to try to pump one guy up over another,'' he said. "This is an FSU town and when there's a quarterback battle going on it's going to be the talk of the town.''

Bowden isn't likely to listen to the fans, anyway. He has ignored their complaints about his son, Jeff, and the offensive play-calling. Upon getting the news Sexton is out for the season, Bowden flatly stated that Weatherford and Lee will go head-to-head once practice starts.

"I feel very good about Xavier and Drew because they look like they have what you are looking for in a quarterback prospect,'' Bowden said. "They don't have the [experience] you would want them to have, that's one thing that isn't in their favor.

"They will have to speed up the process of getting mentally and physically ready to play because one of them is going to start against Miami.''

And what if he can't tell them apart during a few weeks of practice and scrimmages in which FSU defenders will not be allowed to hit the quarterback?

"It may come down to flipping a coin as to who starts the season,'' Bowden said. "We will go day-to-day with it. They will both get equal reps with the first team, no matter what.''

Will Weatherford, a four- year starter and a team captain at Jacksonville University before moving to Tallahassee, is pursuing his interest in politics. And he's quietly enjoying watching his younger brother get ready for what awaits.

He has watched Drew develop and is thoroughly confident he will handle the pressure, whether it's the competition in practice or the reins against Miami.

"All these guys, when the lights are on, they shine,'' he said. "But Andrew is an unusual competitor in that he always seems to be three or four moves ahead of his competition. He is always able to make plays happen when you think there's nothing there.''

Weatherford chose not to take any unnecessary risks in the Gulf waters during the holiday weekend, but something in his eyes tells you the sharks wouldn't have bothered him. The two-day getaway, he said, was his last respite before practice starts.

"Football season, for me, has already begun,'' he said. ``I love it. This is my favorite time of year.''
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