Minnesota Viking Christian Ponder just took the jump from a sports page fixture to a tabloid-worthy figure, but don't expect the ensuing publicity rush to hinder the second-year quarterback's wildly-improved play.
The reason for the jump is Ponder's dating life. He is apparently involved with ESPN's college football reporter Samantha Steele.
ESPN's Tom Pelissero reported that Ponder confirmed this rumored news on Friday as the media rush had already begun.
In the face of the extra scrutiny, Ponder quickly displayed the poise he's been showing in the pocket by lightly handling the media's interest. As Pelissero notes, Ponder told the media:
There's been a thousand articles today about it. You can't really worry about it. You've got to try to keep it private, but that's just part of the industry, part of the job. I don't know. Comes with the territory.
It does indeed come with the territory. The public can't seem to get enough gossip on high-profile relationships, and with Ponder being a starting quarterback on the rise who is dating a beautiful television personality, this is definitely a high-profile relationship.
However, opponents hoping this will distract Ponder, better just get to work on figuring out other ways to rattle him.
This 24-year-old is far too focused on his job to let that happen.
Ponder's dedication to his craft has been apparent all season. There is no other way to describe his vast improvement from his first year to his second.
He has to be considered the leading candidate for the league's most improved player. His quarterback rating of 92.4 is just over 22 points higher than the number he posted his rookie year. He has thrown eight touchdowns to just four interceptions while hitting a spectacular 68.6 percent of his passes.
Ponder has done this by improving his ability to read the defense, keep plays alive and make good decisions. These are all the product of preparation, and that is a sign of quarterback who is hard at work to improve.
The life of a starting NFL quarterback is filled with distractions. There will always be scrutiny and pressure. Ponder has passed these tests with flying colors, and there is no reason to suggest he will do anything but continue that trend just because that pressure has increased.
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