Fisher always believed in Ponder

TALLAHASSEE -- Jimbo Fisher raised eyebrows after Christian Ponder's sophomore season when he said the quarterback would one day be a first- or second-round draft pick.

Ponder was coming off a so-so 2008 season: 14 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 55 percent completion percentage.

But Fisher had seen something.

Then again, Fisher had always had seen something.

Fisher arrived in Tallahassee in January 2007 and in the first few months saw a quarterback with the physical talents and intangibles that he felt would lead the Seminoles.

It wasn't rising senior Drew Weatherford.

It wasn't athletic sophomore D'Vontrey Richardson.

It was Ponder.

Some FSU fans thought he was a legacy recruit, the son of David Ponder, a standout defensive lineman in the 1980s for Bobby Bowden.

Ponder wasn't supposed to be the guy, especially not that soon. Not over an established starter in Weatherford and not over the speedy Richardson.

But Fisher saw the arm strength, athleticism, agility, intelligence and toughness. He wanted to go with Ponder, and chose him to start the 2008 season.

By the end of his senior season, Ponder had thrown for a career-high 20 touchdown passes and led FSU to wins over Florida and Miami (the first time the Seminoles had done that since 1999).

But Ponder also was sidelined by an elbow injury that caused him to miss the Clemson game and the ACC championship game against Virginia Tech. The injury wasn't structural but was instead scar tissue that simply wouldn't heal.

Ponder had surgery to remove the tissue but was knocked out of the Chick-fil-A Bowl in the first half. It was a disappointing end to a college career.

But Ponder showed through the months leading up the NFL Draft that his arm was strong and healthy. He was the MVP of the Senior Bowl and turned in stellar performances at the NFL Combine and FSU's Pro Day.

"He's a guy that's very complete," Fisher said. "… When his arm is healthy and it is right now, he's going to throw the ball 75 yards down the field. He's going to make all the throws."

And as it turned out, he didn't have a long wait on draft night at all.

In a surprising move, the Minnesota Vikings selected Ponder with the 12th overall pick on Thursday night.

"I know people will have their doubts whether I deserved to go No. 12, but I'm going to make sure I work my butt off," Ponder said. "God's blessed me with a lot of great gifts and I'm making sure I take full advantage of them and I'm going to make sure I do everything I can to lead Minnesota and prepare myself to have a successful career there."

Few draft analysts saw this coming – Ponder was left off of most expert's mock drafts. Those who did a second round in their mock drafts, had him going in the mid-30s. But now Ponder is the first Seminole quarterback to be taken in the first round. Gary Huff (the 33rd pick in 1973 by the Bears) was the highest an FSU quarterback had been selected.

And the Vikings are getting a quarterback who has the tools to succeed in the NFL. "He has the arm strength to make all the throws and intangibles to handle the grind of an NFL season," said Chris Weinke, a Heisman Trophy winner who played seven years in the NFL. "Great feet and mechanics will allow him to throw the ball with anticipation and accuracy."


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