Male-pattern baldness isn't the only evidence of maturation for Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke.
A severe neck injury provided the 28-year-old quarterback a unique perspective on life and football. Weinke missed the 1999 Fiesta Bowl and his first shot at a national championship after being knocked out against Virginia in the 10th game of 1998.
The injury stole precious moments from Weinke's Florida State career and he's grateful for the chance to help the Seminoles defend last year's championship. He put a potential NFL career on hold to take full advantage of his collegiate eligibility.
"I love college football anyway," Weinke said. "To go through what I went through, I appreciate it even more. There's nothing better.
"I told myself, when I get better, I'm playing college football for as long as I can. They're going to have to kick me out of here."
Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden wasn't shocked by his quarterback's decision. Weinke owns a 21-1 record as a starter, but he was projected to be taken anywhere from the third to sixth rounds before the 2000 NFL Draft.
Weinke threw for 3,103 yards by completing 232 of 377 passes (62 percent) in 1999. He tossed 25 touchdown strikes and needs just 1,706 to become the Seminoles' all-time passing king.
"The key is Chris Weinke," Bowden said. "I was not real surprised. I'd have been more surprised if he didn't come back."
Bowden's biggest concern entering his 25th season at Florida State is replacing kicker Sebastian Janikowski, who converted 23 of 30 field goals last year. Peter Warrick was Weinke's favorite target in 1999, but the seemingly unending supply of talent in Tallahassee, Fla., should provide the former baseball player with a suitable arsenal of wideouts.
Senior Marvin Minnis made 19 receptions for 257 yards last season while sophomore Anquan Boldin had 12 catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns.
Florida State has four returning starters on the offensive line, including Lakeside product tight end Ryan Sprague. Sprague, a former walk-on, started every game last year for the Seminoles, making five receptions for 76 yards.
All indicators pointed to Weinke's return to Florida State. The Seminoles, poised for a ninth ACC crown, return seven defensive starters to give Weinke an experienced line of protection.
Following the example of Warrick Dunn, Andre Wadsworth and Corey Simon, the choice was easy for Weinke.
"If you look at the track record at Florida State, there are a lot of guys that come back for their senior year," said Weinke, who spent six seasons in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. "It was not worth leaving to go be a backup holding a clipboard somewhere. To me, it was a no-lose situation to stay."
Fully recovered from the devastating neck injury that required surgery to repair ligament damage, a ruptured disc and remove a bone chip lodged against a nerve, Weinke savors his opportunity.
"My goal is to be 34-1 as a starter," Weinke said. "There's a book being written at Florida State, and the last chapter hasn't been written yet."
Reach Jimmy DeButts at (706) 823-3221.
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