ATLANTA, Ga. – Within the first 14 hours in Atlanta for the Dec. 31 Chick-fil-A Bowl, the Florida State football team – at least many of its members – had already experienced a pair of firsts.
The Seminoles touched down at Hartsfield International Airport Saturday night and walked from the charter jet to the waiting team buses in a heavy snow. For a majority of the FSU players as well as others from the official FSU travel party, it was the first time they had ever seen snow fall from the sky.
“They were running their cameras, taking pictures,” said FSU coach Jimbo Fisher. “My two boys [Trey and Ethan] were. They had never seen snow.”
Much of Atlanta was covered with a little more than a dusting of the snow, which also led the Seminoles to move Sunday’s morning practice – originally scheduled for Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium – indoors to the Georgia Dome. That’s where FSU spent a little more than two hours Sunday, getting back to action with the first on-site work for their bowl date with South Carolina
While practice went off without a hitch, a number of players were still talking about Saturday’s snow showers.
“That was pretty good,” said sophomore receiver Rodney Smith, who grew up in snow-free Miami. “I felt like a little kid. I had seen snow for the first time.”
Sophomore defensive tackle Everett Dawkins has seen plenty of snow, growing up near Spartanburg, S.C. Still, he got a chuckle from some his teammates, including fellow tackle Jacobbi McDaniel.
“I know Jacobbi wanted to play in the snow,” said Dawkins, who got his fill of the white stuff driving down to Atlanta from home with Seminole teammate Justin Bright. “He [McDaniel] wanted to throw snowballs.”
Smith wasn’t interested in joining McDaniel and others, preferring to take in the snowfall from the warmth of the downtown team hotel.
“I didn’t want to go outside,” Smith said. “It was too cold. It was cool (watching) for the first 10 minutes.”
Ponder, ‘Noles draw practice praise
Florida State senior quarterback Christian Ponder rejoined his teammates on the practice field for the first time since the regular season finale against Florida on Sunday. Just 16 days after undergoing right arm surgery to repair a soft tissue injury, Ponder got plenty of work inside the Georgia Dome.
“He took all the reps; never broke from the reps,” Fisher said of Ponder. “I still rotated EJ (Manuel) some with the (starters), but I was very pleased. He threw the ball really well.”
Fisher said he was “more than encouraged” by Ponder’s performance and said he thought he would be ready to play against the Gamecocks.
“I didn’t think he would be as sharp as he was – throwing the ball down the field deep, long; making all the field throws,” Fisher added. “I think he will be ready to play. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”
Prior to joining the team on the flight from Tallahassee, Ponder threw Wednesday, Thursday and Friday under the watchful eye of Director of Sports Medicine Randy Oravetz as well as the strength and conditioning staff.
“I had to get used to throwing the ball again and it felt fine,” Ponder said at the conclusion of practice. “The biggest thing for me is getting back my footwork and my rhythm and everything. …
“I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel. We’ll see how it looks tomorrow, but with the way I threw the past three days, it didn’t bother me at all. It didn’t swell up or anything.”
Ponder’s teammates didn’t see any difference in the guy who led the ‘Noles to eight victories this season, despite dealing with the arm injury through much of the year.
“He looked pretty good,” Smith said of Ponder. “The ball was coming in pretty fast, so you know his arm is getting strong. …
“We always want to see how the quarterback looks and see if he was even sharper than he was before, and he was. No rust at all – sharp. He was the normal Christian. He always bounces back.”
Fisher said he expects Ponder to be medically cleared to play in the game by the team’s medical staff after having a chance to evaluate him following a few days of practice.
As for the team as a whole, Fisher also liked where the ‘Noles picked up with their first practice since Tuesday.
“The energy level was a lot better than I expected,” Fisher said. “I thought they’d be a lot more sluggish, like they were when we first started bowl practice, but they bounced around pretty good.”
Fisher also thanked the Atlanta Falcons and the Chick-fil-A Bowl staff for allowing the ‘Noles to get inside to work, given the dreary outdoor conditions.
“With the weather and the wind, you can’t get anything done (outdoors),” Fisher said. “You’re playing indoors, so the more times you’re in that environment … I think it’s huge; it’s why we elected to do it.”
• Fisher announced that starting tight end Beau Reliford was academically ineligible to compete in the bowl – FSU’s lone casualty – and was not with the team in Atlanta;
• Monday’s morning practice, set for 10 a.m., will also be held indoors at the Atlanta Falcons’ practice facility in Flowery Branch, Ga., which is about a 45-minute drive from downtown. The Georgia Dome is not available because the Falcons entertain New Orleans in a key Monday Night Football game;
• Junior left tackle Andrew Datko, who has been nursing shoulder injuries which prevented him from practicing in Tallahassee, worked with the first team throughout Sunday’s session. Fisher also said the tailback Jermaine Thomas, who is recovering from a knee sprain, also worked’