ATLANTA (AP) — Houston’s Greg Ward Jr. wouldn’t let his quarterback dream die even when his first starts for the Cougars came at wide receiver.
Sean Maguire had to remain similarly confident in his future as Florida State’s quarterback when he began the season as a backup to Everett Golson.
Maguire will try to show he deserves to be Florida State’s starter in 2016 when he leads the No. 9 Seminoles against Ward and No. 14 Houston in Thursday’s Peach Bowl.
Maguire took over the starting job after Golson, the Notre Dame transfer, suffered a head injury. Maguire’s play enabled him to keep the job.
Golson, a senior, is not with the team for the bowl game due to personal reasons. Maguire should have a good opportunity to make a strong final case with coach Jimbo Fisher that he should be the 2016 starter.
Asked Monday if in his mind he should be the Seminoles’ starter next season, Maguire offered an immediate and strong "Yes. Yes."
Even so, the 2015 season was difficult to navigate for the junior, especially after Golson was named the starter before the season.
"The hardest thing was probably going to practice that first week after training camp," Maguire said. "After coaches had made that decision."
Maguire’s first start of the season came when he threw for 348 yards in a 45-21 win over Syracuse on Oct. 31. He was benched following a loss to No. 1 Clemson the following week but then came off the bench to lead Florida State past North Carolina State. Maguire took over when the Seminoles trailed 17-7 in the second quarter and Florida State scored 27 unanswered points.
Co-offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said Maguire earned respect by the poise he showed even before the comeback win over the Wolfpack.
"I think the way he handled it showed a lot of maturity," Sanders said. "And I always try to tell quarterbacks, from the time they arrive on campus, everything you do is sending a message. It’s not like other positions."
Maguire said he now is more confident "because more and more I realized this was my team."
Ward, from Tyler, Texas, said he was first recruited as a defensive back. He started the first five games of the 2014 season at wide receiver before taking over at quarterback.
"When I was younger, I fell in love with playing quarterback," Ward said Tuesday. "I wouldn’t let anyone tell me I was not a quarterback. I wouldn’t do it verbally but I would do it with my style of play and I would do it with my game. Everyone that doubted me, I would take it out there on the field."
Houston offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Major Applewhite said Ward still plays like he is trying to win over doubters. All doubts should have been erased by Ward’s huge production as a dual-threat star.
Ward is the only player in the nation to run and pass for at least 1,000 yards. He ran for 1,041 yards with 19 touchdowns and passed for 2,590 yards with 16 touchdowns — while completing 68.1 percent of his passes.
Ward said his favorite player while growing up was Michael Vick, and now he has a chance to play on the Georgia Dome field where Vick became a dual-threat star with the Atlanta Falcons.
When asked what makes Ward special, Applewhite’s first response was "athleticism." He then said "humility."
"He just has that attitude of `I haven’t arrived,’" Applewhite said. "He comes into the meeting room with that same type of intensity each and every day."
Notes: The bowl, whose title sponsor is Chick-fil-A, and the College Football Playoff Foundation are combining to fund $200,000 in projects for fifth to 12th grade teachers in the Atlanta Public School system. The money is expected to fund 150 projects, helping teachers buy books and other educational tools.