The forgotten man

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Clint Trickett was meeting with reporters earlier this spring for the first of what promises to be many summits on the state of the quarterback battle at Florida State when he was asked if it bothered him that a majority of fans already had relegated him to third-tier status behind Jacob Coker and Jameis Winston.

The suggestion came as something of a surprise to Trickett, which is probably a good indication of how little time he has put into reading the message boards and gauging the fan base.

"I thought the fans liked me," he said. "Every time I've gone in, I've heard cheers."

Trickett has earned cheers as Florida State's top backup for the past two seasons, even if his playing time has been sporadic. And it's not as if the base has turned on him en masse following EJ Manuel's departure, either. It's just that, with so little on-field evidence by which the fans can judge the quarterback contenders, the most-heated debate of the spring has become largely a popularity contest, and the big-armed Coker and recruiting coup Winston are simply hotter commodities.

Trickett is the skinny kid with the pedestrian skill set whose dad also happens to be on the coaching staff. Rooting for him to win the job just isn't as much fun, and he understands the sentiment.

"I'm a three-star guy out of high school, and there's nothing I could do about that," Trickett said. "I've just got to go out there and play."

While Jimbo Fisher still hasn't offered anything resembling a detailed glimpse into his perception of the quarterback race, what is clear through three weeks of spring practice is that Trickett has no intentions of ceding the battle to his younger competitors.

Coker has battled a foot injury, and Winston is still learning on the job. Coker's career includes just five pass attempts, and Winston has yet to play in a game. They're both immensely talented, but it's their longterm potential that has fans so enamored.

Trickett, on the other hand, is building his case around the here and now.

He's still the smallest of Florida State's quarterbacks, but after being diagnosed with Celiac disease in 2011, Trickett has changed his eating habits and put on weight.

"You pass by a Krispy Kreme every time you go home, and you're kicking yourself," he joked, but after playing at about 165 pounds two years ago, he figures to check in at "a pretty big 190" by the start of fall camp.

On the field, Trickett looks comfortable and confident, too. He might not have the same arm strength as his competition, but he understands the nuance of Fisher's playbook, which allows him to make a lot of throws Winston and Coker don't.

"He'll make a lot of reads that may not be his primary reads, but he'll still make good throws and good decisions because he understands the overall picture," receiver Christian Green said.

It's not that Trickett has a mountain of experience to draw upon, but after three full years in the system and with a handful of games under his belt -- including two starts in 2011 -- he's clearly the established candidate in this quarterback race.

So when the 2012 season came to an end, it was Trickett who was named the de facto No. 1 on the depth chart. He was handed the keys to the offense, along with a little advice from Manuel, who told Trickett that leadership would be the key to winning the job permanently. "And I think that you're doing that already," Manuel told him.

Trickett might not have the natural talent of Winston or Coker, but he insists he's a born leader. He organized the team's 7-on-7 drills and off-field activities in January and February. Since spring practice began, he has taken the majority of snaps with the first-team offense, and players say he has a firm command of the huddle. He also has been a sounding board for young players still gaining their footing in the offense, providing answers to anyone with questions -- including his competition.

"I'm not going to be that guy who holds anything back," he said. "If I want to win, I'm going to win being the best. If they need something, I'll let them know. And then I'll still try to beat them."

Ultimately, it will be Fisher who decides the winner, and he's playing his cards close to his chest for now. Even Trickett, the savvy veteran, isn't sure how things will turn out.

If he wins it, he's hopeful those fans who pulled for another quarterback will rally behind him. If he doesn't, he'll still be the vocal leader, offering tips to the man in the starting role.

"My feeling is whatever is best for the team," Trickett said. "But it's my job not to let that happen. I want this to be my show."