One of the best athletes in the history of Florida State University almost didn’t become a Seminole at all, skipping college for professional baseball first before eventually returning to play college football.
As a multi-sport star at Cretin-Durham Hall High in St. Paul, Minnesota, quarterback Chris Weinke had his choice of any college in the country as an All-American selection. He signed to play for FSU head coach Bobby Bowden and was even a part of the same recruiting class as quarterback Charlie Ward, who would go also go on to win the Heisman Trophy and lead the Seminoles to a NCAA national title.
But Weinke was selected in the second round of the 1990 Major League Baseball draft by the Toronto Blue Jays, and after just four days on campus, he decided to leave Florida State and pursue a professional baseball career. Thankfully, Bowden told Weinke that he would always have a scholarship waiting for him at FSU.
Chris Weinke’s Baseball Career
During his six-year career in the Toronto organization, Weinke played from Single-A up to Triple-A, mostly as an infielder, but also as an outfielder at times. He was a great first-baseman in high school and that is the position he played the most in the minors.
Weinke played well enough during the 1996 season in Double-A to move up to the Syracuse Chiefs, the Blue Jays’ Triple-A affiliate. But Weinke struggled at the plate, hitting just .186 and striking out in 49 of his 182 plate appearances.
Chris Weinke FSU
At that point, he decided to return to Tallahassee and play college football in 1997 as a 25-year old freshman quarterback. He was the backup his first season, and then took over as the starter as a sophomore in 1998, but it was ended early due to a neck injury.
In 1999, at 27 years old, Weinke and wide receiver Peter Warrick led the ‘Noles to their second national championship in program history, beating Michael Vick and future-ACC opponent Virginia Tech in the title game. He finished the season with 3,103 yards and 25 touchdowns.
To follow up a title-winning season, he was dominant. Weinke led the nation with 4,167 passing yards and finshed second nationally with 33 touchdowns to win him the 2000 Heisman Trophy, the second Heisman Trophy winner in program history. He also won the Davey O’Brien Award, Johnny Unitas Award, and many others as the top player in the country.
At 28, Weinke was the oldest player to ever win the Heisman Trophy. The closest winner in age is Billy Sims, who was 23 years and 78 days old when he won the trophy in 1978.
He also led Florida State to only one loss against Miami during the regular season, and the program’s third-consecutive BCS National Championship game appearance, but lost to the Oklahoma Sooners in the Orange Bowl.
But to think, this could have all happened at another school, or not at all. If Bobby Bowden would have been less understanding and told Weinke it was either football or baseball, he may have returned to football at another school or just stuck with baseball. If Weinke would have been more successful though, he definitely would have continued his career towards Major League Baseball, and probably would have reached reached the majors at some point.
There are a lot of what-ifs in sports, but Florida State could have never had their career-touchdown leader and one of the best football players in program history if not for a few little moments.
After his legendary college football career, he did make it to the NFL, being drafted in the fourth round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers. As a 29-year-old rookie quarterback, he started 15 games for the Panthers, losing all but one of them.
During his seven-year career with the Panthers and San Francisco 49ers, Weinke 15 touchdown passes, but 26 interceptions and completed only 54.4 percent of his pass attempts.
Chris Weinke Now
Since retiring, Weinke has become a coach, beginning at IMG Academy in 2010 as the head coach.
He became the quarterbacks coach for the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams in 2015, and then made the move to college after losing his job in 2017. He became an offensive analyst for Alabama, and was then named the running backs coach for the Tennessee Volunteers.
He became the Vols’ quarterbacks coach in 2019 and served in that role until new head coach Josh Heupel came over from UCF. The 48-year-old coach wasn’t retained in 2021 and was owed $450,000 by the school, per ESPN.
This post was originally published on September 19, 2019.