TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Charlie Ward is hoping that his cable gets fixed in time for Saturday’s game between South Florida and No. 11 Florida State so he can see the number he made famous with the Seminoles back on the field.
During the summer, the former Heisman Trophy winner who led Florida State to its first national championship, suggested to Jalen Ramsey that he could wear his old number while returning kicks.
Ramsey’s regular number is eight, but he has to put on a different jersey on kick returns because fellow returner Kermit Whitfield has the same number. Ramsey sent a text to Ward a couple hours before last week’s opener that he was taking him up on his offer.
Ward, who is coaching at Booker T Washington High School in Pensacola, has known Ramsey since he was a senior at Brentwood Academy in Smyrna, Tennessee. Ramsey spoke during Ward’s leadership camp during the summer.
“He’s someone that won’t take the number for granted and appreciates it,” Ward told The Associated Press this week. “He represents everything that I stood for on and off the field. If my son went to Florida State I would allow him to wear my number too. It is similar in that.”
Ramsey said he had two options that he was considering – No. 17 and No. 2, which was worn by another FSU great, Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders. That idea though didn’t get far.
The truth is Ramsey shares more similarities to Ward than Sanders. Both are multi-sport athletes who are humble off the field. While Ward experienced much success in basketball, Ramsey finished fourth in the long jump earlier this year at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
“For him to allow me to wear it and give his blessing on that is cool. It’s one of the biggest honors I’ve had ever,” Ramsey said.
Coach Jimbo Fisher also talked to Ward since jerseys are retired for a reason. Fisher said he wasn’t surprised that Ward gave his blessing, noting that Ward has always put bigger goals above himself.
Said Fisher: “It’s about whoever he can help, whatever he can do for his school, whatever he can do for somebody else. He’s one of the most unique individuals I’ve ever been around.”
Ward said that he got a few texts from former teammates wondering if Florida State was slighting him over bringing the number out of retirement. Ward cleared everything up by posting on Facebook Saturday night the story of his friendship with Ramsey.
Ramsey didn’t have any problems switching jerseys against Texas State since he practiced it many times during the summer. He was on the kickoff return team for four plays and had one return for 27 yards.
Fisher is hoping that having Whitfield and Ramsey returning kicks revives a unit that struggled last season. After leading the nation in kick return average in 2013, the Seminoles were in the middle of the FCS rankings. Whitfield, who had two kickoff return TDs in 2013 including one in the BCS title game against Auburn, had none last season and saw his average drop 18 yards to 20.8.
Having another return threat back there should also give Whitfield more opportunities. With Ramsey being a projected Top 10 pick and the nation’s top cornerback by some NFL Draft experts, many wonder if it is a risk putting him back there on kicks? For Fisher, the answer is why not, especially when Sanders and Terrell Buckley flourished in the secondary and as returners.
“I don’t see it as a risk. I think it’s stupid if you don’t,” Fisher said.
Ramsey said that Fisher mentioning him in the same sentence as Sanders and Buckley was also an honor and that he was taking the same mentality on special teams that he does on defense.
“If you go out and play scared you do get hurt. I know what I can do, coaches know what I can do which is why they have you out there,” he said.
On a defense that has seven returning starters, Ramsey remains the leader. He had four tackles and a pass breakup in last week’s game and set the tone on the first play when he body-slammed Lawrence White after a 6-yard gain. Ramsey is back at cornerback this season after being mostly a safety the first two years.
South Florida runs a similar attack to North Texas with a spread that has some elements of read-option for the quarterback. Quinton Flowers passed for 141 yards and two touchdowns in the Bulls’ 51-3 win over Florida A&M but also ran for 63 yards and a touchdown.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll do certain things to keep containment,” Ramsey said. “He is very athletic and can run. We’re going to have to keep our gaps sound.”