Florida State's Jameis Winston is football's next great quarterback
Editor's note: On Saturday, Freshman FSU quarterback Jameis Winston was named the winner of the 2013 Heisman Award. He's the youngest player to ever win the award, and he won it with the seventh-largest margin of victory, earning 668 first place votes. This profile of Winston was originally published in the November 2013 issue of Sports Illustrated Kids.
Jimbo Fisher has a lot on his mind. The Florida State football coach is trying to get the Seminoles in the hunt for their first national title since the 1990s. He also has to move on after losing quarterback EJ Manuel, whom the Buffalo Bills made the first quarterback taken in the 2013 NFL draft.
But the hardest part of Coach Fisher's job is this: getting fans to calm down about his teenage quarterback. The problem is that freshman Jameis Winston keeps giving college football fans reason to be excited. Like when he was nearly perfect at Pittsburgh in his first career start. "He's played one game, that's it," Fisher reminded reporters and fans after the game.
Winston has since played a handful of games, and every week he looks like a star. Last season, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel became the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy. The way Winston has started off his first season, the wait for a second freshman Heisman winner might be a short one.
The hype surrounding Winston dates back to his high school days. Playing at Hueytown (Alabama) High School, he was unstoppable as a passer and a runner. As a senior, he completed 69% of his passes for 2,424 yards and 28 touchdowns, and rushed for another 1,065 yards and 15 TDs.
Some compared him to Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers quarterback who almost single-handedly carried Auburn to a national title in 2010. While Winston, at 6′ 4″ and 228 pounds, has the size and strength to steamroll defenders like Newton does, a more accurate comparison might be another superstar quarterback: Aaron Rodgers. Like Rodgers, Winston is an athlete who always keeps his eyes upfield, looking to pass first instead of run when he scrambles. And like Rodgers, Winston has the rare ability to fire passes downfield with velocity and accuracy even when running outside the pocket.
By his senior year, Winston was considered the Number 1 quarterback recruit in the nation, though as far as some people were concerned, football might not have been his best sport.
Winston is a two-sport star, shining on the baseball diamond as well. Actually, he's a two-position star in baseball. As a switch-hitting outfielder and pitcher, he was a two-time all-state player in high school. Perfect Game, an organization that ranks baseball recruits, tabbed Winston as the nation's 22nd best prep recruit in the high school class of 2012.
Winston ended up at Florida State because it had top programs in both sports and was willing to let him play both. "Hopefully I'll be another Deion Sanders or Bo Jackson," he told SI.com as a high school senior in 2011. "No [pro] quarterback plays two sports. I want to make a name for myself."
And there's one other thing Winston, who had a 4.0 grade-point average in high school, said he wants to do: "I always wanted to be a foot doctor."
The Legend Grows
As a true freshman last fall, Winston's role on the football team was clear. The Seminoles already had a star quarterback in Manuel and a veteran backup in Clint Trickett. Unless numerous injuries struck, Winston would sit out the season.
He got on the field during baseball season, though. Armed with a fastball that registered as fast as 97 miles per hour, Winston had a 3.00 ERA over 17 appearances as a freshman. As a hitter, he had a .377 on-base percentage and made a couple of highlight-reel plays in the outfield, throwing out runners at home and third with laser-beam throws from rightfield.
Finally, in the spring, Winston had a chance to show off that arm on the gridiron. Trent Dilfer, a former NFL first-round pick and current ESPN analyst, had seen Winston play at the 2011 Elite 11 camp. You might say he was impressed: "I know what's coming," Dilfer told reporters last winter. "[Winston] will be an absolute rock star." Dilfer added that Winston could be the top overall pick of the NFL draft, which could be as soon as 2015.
With Manuel in the NFL, Florida State was looking for its next quarterback, and fans overwhelmingly wanted Winston. But Fisher wanted an open competition between Winston, Trickett, and highly regarded sophomore Jacob Coker. In the spring game, it became obvious the fans were going to get their way.
On his first throw of the spring game, Winston dropped back and fired a tight spiral downfield to receiver David Tyrrell over the hand of Lamarcus Joyner, one of the nation's best defensive backs. One pass, 58 yards for a touchdown. Winston went on to finish 12-for-15 for 205 yards and two TDs.
Charlie Ward was Florida State's first Heisman winner (in 1993), and he too was a two-sport athlete. (Ward played 11 seasons in the NBA.) The FSU legend thinks comparisons between him and Winston are right on.
"He's special, there's no question about it," Ward told the Orlando Sentinel.
Fisher waited until the end of August to officially announce what everyone already knew: Winston was his starting quarterback. The coach did his best to keep everyone's expectations in check. "It was one of the toughest decisions I've had to go through," he told reporters.
How could Winston possibly live up to the hype in the season opener? The Noles started the 2013 season on the road at Pittsburgh, a tough ACC opponent, in a nationally televised game on a Monday night. With a top-notch defense, Winston could have simply managed the offense well enough for FSU to escape with a win. Instead, he picked apart the Pitt defense. Winston was nearly perfect, finishing 25-for-27 for 356 yards and four touchdowns. His completion percentage (92.6) was a single-game school record. He added a fifth TD rushing.
In FSU's next game, against Nevada, Winston went 15-for-18 for 214 yards, two more TD passes, and another TD run. By the end of September, Winston was in the nation's top 10 in passer rating (209.9, 2nd), completion percentage (73.6, 4th), and TD passes (12, tied for 9th).
Along his dazzling skills, Winston also charms people off of it. He's outgoing and funny, whether he's dancing like MC Hammer, shouting random things in a Seminoles huddle ("Yogurt!"), or doing an interview as Jaboo (a nickname his parents gave him) in the showy style of a pro wrestler.
"I love putting smiles on people's faces," Winston said at FSU's media day. "The worst thing is a rainy day with no laughs. People laugh on sunny days. But on a rainy day, people want to be dull. There's no reason for that.
"Every day is going to be a good day at Florida State."
That's been especially true since its new quarterback came to town.
Photos: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images, Phil Sears/AP