We had the opportunity to interview Florida State’s Christian Ponder, one of the quarterbacks in this year’s draft class. It was pretty easy to see in just a span of a short interview why teams would be drawn to Ponder’s personality as they assess quarterbacks, and I hope it comes through in print. The interview was made possible by the folks at New York Life and their protection index, a measure of offensive lines and improvement in the passing game.
JL: Tell us about this protection index with New York Life.
Christian Ponder: I’m currently working with New York Life to bring awareness to this pretty cool index, they’re doing a New York Life Protection Index which everyone knows about the quarterback rating and how that rates quarterbacks each week, but they’re doing one for the offensive line, which takes into account how well they are protecting the quarterback. I want to be aware of what they’re doing, and it’s shown to have a direct correlation to success on the field. Obviously when you are blocking, giving that quarterback time to throw, I’m enjoying it, I’m able to throw the ball down the field, and we’re going to have more success. We are trying to bring awareness to it, and you can go to the website at nylife.com/protectionindex to find out more information about it. Also, the draft is coming up and they are going to start releasing some draft-related nuggets later in the week.
JL: You were selected MVP of the Senior Bowl, you’ve gone through the combine, and all the team visits, I’m curious as to some of the guys that you’ve met with that maybe you didn’t know before that have been going through this process with you that you’ve become friends with. Give us an assessment of some of those guys.
Christian Ponder: I went out to Phoenix for a couple of months right after the football season to train, get ready for the Combine, the Senior Bowl and everything. There were probably about 25 of us out there, and I’ve gotten pretty close to all of them, but I’ve actually gotten pretty close with Blaine Gabbert, Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Greg Little and Randall Cobb. I could keep going, but those guys I’ve gotten really close with. It was cool to have a guy like Blaine who is going through the exact same process I’m going through as a quarterback. We just have to push each other, and talk as we’ve both gone through this whole thing, and it’s been helpful and beneficial to have him there.
JL: You mentioned two receivers in that group that are probably going to go pretty high, Julio Jones and A.J. Green, do you concur with the draft analysis that has those guys going pretty high?
Christian Ponder: Oh yeah, they’re unbelievable. As I’m going to talk to teams, they find out that I’ve worked with both of them, they try to ask me which one would I choose, and you can’t go wrong either way. They’re both unbelievable players, extremely talented and they both work extremely hard. You know, kind of going into this thing, you hear about those guys and how unbelievable they are, and you think that they’re going to have a big head and be a little over-confident, but not at all. They are both really great guys and I enjoyed being around them, and especially me being able to throw to those guys every day, they definitely made me better and I hope that I made them better.
JL: Now, I’m checking up on you and it looks like you are a pretty good student. You’ve got a finance degree, is that right?
Christian Ponder: I do. I got my undergrad in finance and actually finished that in two and a half years, and then I earned my MBA last spring–spring of 2010–and I’m after another grad degree, once I finish that in sports management, which I’m halfway through. You know, academics have always been important to my family. My parents have always pushed me to do well in school not knowing what’s going to happen to football, if football’s going to end at some point I have to have something to fall back on too. I’m very proud of what I did in the classroom.
JL: And we’ve heard some stories with the lockout and the players battling with the owners, about some guys not being financially prepared. I would assume with your finance degree that you will have an understanding of how to allocate your money?
Christian Ponder: Oh yeah, definitely. I think that’s a good background for me to have. My dad works in the financial services industry as well and to have that background from him as well is going to help me out. You know, a lot of these guys have never had the amount of money that they are going to get in the NFL, and a lot of guys have trouble dealing with it. You’ve got to be smart with it, and a lot of people get in trouble. Hopefully, I’ll be smart enough where I’ll never be put in that position.
JL: One of your teammates at Florida State, Myron Rolle, was a Rhodes Scholar, and last year about this time, I remember hearing some talk–which I thought was ridiculous–people questioning whether he was too smart for football and would have the dedication because of all his options. I’d like your thoughts on that mentality and also whether you’ve had to deal with those same questions given your background.
Christian Ponder: Yeah, you know, I can’t believe that some teams saw that as a negative, thought he was dedicated to his academics maybe a little too much, and more dedicated to that than football. I think that’s a little ridiculous. I think obviously he had the right priorities and thought that going to Oxford and using that Rhodes Scholarship to further his education was more important than going to play in the NFL for a year. And I agree with him, obviously he has his priorities set, which may be different than others, but he’s got to do what he’s got to do, and I really think that it’s just all positive. It shows that when he sets goals and has the right priorities that he’s going to work towards everything and going to push himself hard, which he did. The good thing for me, I never really raised any questions from that, I think for him it was just more because he decided to go to Oxford for the year, which I didn’t do obviously, going right into the NFL after college.
JL: I know you had a great junior year statistically-and I’m one of those guys that thinks statistics obviously represent not just what you do but your teammates and coaching–and then your senior year with some injuries those numbers fell off a bit. But I’d like your self-assessment of how you played your senior year and what you think you learned from it.
Christian Ponder: Well, I thought I played well. Unfortunately, I dealt with some injuries, which didn’t help, I think that hindered me a little bit. But also we had a stable of four running backs which were really good, and we started running the ball more, weren’t throwing the ball as much. I think the biggest thing is to show that we got to the 10 win mark, which I haven’t done, starting for three years, I wasn’t near that mark the previous two years. I think that shows improvement and that we found ways to win, especially dealing with injury. I think that’s a positive that teams can see. I thought number-wise it wasn’t as good as my junior year, but I take the wins over having good stats.
Christian Ponder: [laughs] Yeah, yeah. I grew up — even though I grew up in Dallas and am still a Cowboys fan, but John Elway was definitely my idol growing up, that’s kind of why I wore #7. I grew up watching him win Super Bowls with the Broncos and always looked up to him.
JL: Do you know who has the next most passing yards for a quarterback wearing number #7 in the NFL? It made me feel old looking it up, because he played in a Super Bowl the year you were born [note: Christian Ponder was born in 1988), a famous left hander.
Christian Ponder: Really?
JL: Yeah, Boomer Esiason. You know Boomer?
Christian Ponder: Of course, Boomer. Nice! Yeah, well #7 is a good number.
JL: So what’s going to happen to your Twitter handle @CPonder7 if you go to a team like Denver or Cincinnati?
Christian Ponder: [laughs] I don’t know, I guess I’ve got to change the number up. I guess I’m going to have to change the name which will screw me up a little bit but I think I’ll be able to make the adjustment.
JL: We talked about the labor difficulty and this is a very unique situation, it’s been twenty something years since this has happened. How is this going to work for you as a rookie quarterback once you’re drafted as far as getting access to a playbook? Teams used to go to mini-camp with rookies within weeks of the draft, how’s that going to work this year?
Christian Ponder: Obviously, once I get drafted, I can’t have any conversations with the team except for one phone call, but I can’t have any interaction, I can’t get a playbook from them. It is going to be difficult, especially as a quarterback, having to learn the whole offense, having to start building a relationship with teammates so you can earn that leadership spot which you have to do as a quarterback. It is going to be a little more difficult, but I’m going to find ways, hopefully reaching out to the teammates that are already there, and learning the playbook somehow through them. Obviously it’s going to make it a little more difficult, but it is what it is, and I can only control what I can control, and I’ll find a way to do it.
JL: You mentioned you’re from the Dallas area, so how did a talented quarterback like yourself from the state of Texas get outside the state of Texas?
Christian Ponder: Well, I grew up a Florida State fan, my dad went to Florida State back in the early 80’s, my mom went to Florida State as well, and I had some aunts and uncles there as well. My dad’s family lives 45 minutes outside of Tallahassee, so growing up, we used to take trips all the time to go see games and visit family. So I grew up a Florida State fan and always wanted to go there and had the dream of going there, and it was hard to turn down. I tried to keep the recruiting process open and see which one I really liked, but it was hard to turn down Florida State and it was a dream come true for me to just play there.
JL: If you were a life long Florida State fan and your family has ties, you obviously know that Bobby Bowden was an institution when you went there, right?
Christian Ponder: Oh yeah, definitely. He was probably the biggest reason I went to Florida State. Just to play for him was awesome. Unbelievable.
Christian Ponder: I don’t know, I don’t. Obviously, it’s hard to tell somebody, especially coach Bowden, who’s built that program from nothing, that it’s–that it’s time to go. I don’t think there’s a right way to do it, and you know obviously you can’t change what happened. I don’t know what I’d change. Obviously, you don’t want to hurt coach Bowden’s feelings, and he’s earned the right to do what he wants. At the same time, I think there was time for change, something needed to be done, we were under-performing for the years that I was there.
So, I don’t know, that’s an extremely tough question, and a lot of people were hurt by what happened with coach Bowden. Perhaps things could have been done differently, but I don’t know how. I wasn’t in a position to make those calls, so I can’t really provide too much input.
JL: Now, do you pay any attention to the draft projections and the guys on ESPN projecting where you are going to go?
Christian Ponder: No, not really. People bring it up to me, but I haven’t paid too much attention to it. You can’t really put too much weight in what they’re saying. I really have no inclination what’s going to happen to me, so I try to stay away from hearing what they are saying.
JL: I can just tell you what I’ve heard, and I want your thoughts on it only in this sense. I’ve seen some put you in the first round, and most in the second. Now with the draft going to this format where they do it on Thursday night on primetime and then on Friday, that may be a little difficult. Have you given some thought to sort of how that’s going to go from Thursday to Friday if people are saying you are right on the edge?
Christian Ponder: I don’t know. I’m just trying to enjoy the whole process and enjoy that moment once it gets here. I’m just hanging out at home for the draft, and I’ll obviously be paying attention on Thursday, and then if I’ve got to wait until Friday, then so be it. Just knowing that I’m going to get drafted is already a big achievement for me, and the first round would be icing on the cake, but the second round would be as well. So it’s not too big a deal where I get drafted, I’m going to get an opportunity to play no matter when it happens.
JL: I’ll close with this. If it’s not the first round, I’ll give you this word of encouragement. There were 10 quarterbacks selected by pick 40 that weren’t first round picks [ed. note: between 1980 and 2002, that is true, John Beck and Kevin Kolb were also selected there recently], and I’ll give you four names that were amongst that group: Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Boomer Esiason and Randall Cunningham. What do you think of that?
Christian Ponder: Yeahhh! You know those guys didn’t have too shabby of NFL careers. Super Bowl rings aren’t something you should feel bad about either. So yeah, I think it’s all about just taking advantage of the opportunity that you’ve been given, and obviously those guys worked extremely hard at what they’re doing and took advantage of being on a NFL team and earning a spot and winning a Super Bowl.
JL: Thank you, Christian, I wish you luck on Thursday or Friday, and maybe we’ll send you a shoutout on Twitter (@CPonder7) when you get drafted.
Christian Ponder: I appreciate it, Jason.
[photo via Getty]