BRADENTON, Fla. -- Minnesota Vikings first round draft pick Christian Ponder spent his time during the NFL lockout in Florida preparing to make the leap to pro football.
Ponder says the fear of failure, and the inner drive to be the best is what pushes him to near exhaustion. He see's himself as an underdog on the field and wants to prove the doubters wrong. But most of all, he wants to be a franchise quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings.
KARE 11 Sports Director Randy Shaver first caught up with Ponder at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, in 90-degree heat and suffocating humidity. The rookie says it can't replace lost minicamps and organized team activities, but as he puts it, it's better than doing nothing.
"Some people say you're the 12th pick in the draft, you're not really the underdog , but a lot of people say it's a big reach. There's a lot of people who doubted the pick so I go in it as I am the underdog and I've got to prove myself," says Ponder.
Ponder works one-on-one with former NFL quarterback and Cretin-Derham Hall star Chris Weinke. Weinke built the IMG football academy from the ground up, and the NFL lockout has allowed him the opportunity to act as Ponder's personal coach.
He's made some slight changes to Ponder's delivery and foot work. It's a constant conversation both on the field and in the classroom.
"When you can get an outside perspective from a different set of eyes and have someone else evaluate you, put you on film and evaluate your film, I think it's good," says Weinke.
Weinke puts Ponder on the spot, making him stand in front of a white board and draw up certain plays, from memory, from the Viking playbook, which Ponder received during the one day the lockout was lifted. Weinke will also quiz him on specific situations and defensive schemes
"We get into certain situations where your going to have combinations , ernie dragon, ernie burst, ernie philly we know all of those out of empty," recites Weinke.
They will then take those plays, bring them to the field and run them like a practice. Viking tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and fellow quarterback Joe Webb were also on hand. So all three ran plays under Weinke's guidance. Because it's a new offensive system, it's a learning experience for all.
But for Ponder, the faster he learns---the sooner he will play. Weinke understands that. And he's trying to make sure the mechanics, plus the knowledge of the playbook, stay pace with Christian's eagerness to play right away.
Weinke says Ponder is as hard a worker as he's ever seen, and that should bode well when the young quarterback heads north.
But football was not Ponder's first love. Instead it was baseball, thanks in large part to a bitter first impression.
Ponder recalls the incident, "First time I played, I was 8 or 9 years old. I was one of the bigger kids stuck me on the line. Stuck me on the line? Well that's alright, but I wanted to play quarterback. Everybody wants to play quarterback. The coaches son got put in the position. Oh boy. Little bitterness there. There's a little bitterness, and we were 8 or 9 years old and the coach was pretty hard on us. He was cussing us out Yeah, so I hated footbal at that point., didn't even last the whole season. That's a perfect example of how a coach can change your love for a sport. Defintely. Didn't enjoy it because of that, didn't enjoy because didn't want to play the line? or both, defintely both."
He picked up the game a few years later, and the rest is history. He became a star quarterback at Florida State, earned an undergraduate and Master's degree there. Now, Christian Ponder has his sights set on a new challenge. He plans to rewrite Viking history.
"The Vikings are starving for a Super Bowl, for Super Bowl win and hopefully I'll be that guy to get them there."