By Blair Kerkhoff The Kansas City Star
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Jameis Winston fielded about an hour’s worth of reporters’ questions over the weekend and smiled more than not.
This is Winston’s nature, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and Seminoles teammates said of their Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. Nothing rattles Winston. He’s charismatic and mature beyond his years. Winston turns 20 today, the day of the BCS Championship Game against Auburn at the Rose Bowl.
Winston is the centerpiece of college football’s main event.
Auburn’s turnaround season was amazing, and this is the final game of the BCS system. But this stage belongs to Winston, who had answers for everything, including queries about dealing with the possible sexual assault charges he faced a month ago.
Troubling times made him appreciate the value of teammate support, and the adversity bonded the Seminoles, he said. Winston even answered questions about answering questions.
“It’s fun to answer questions on my team’s behalf,” he said.
And about himself. Before Texas settled on Louisville’s Charlie Strong as its next coach, and Fisher’s name was dangled as a candidate, Winston said he’d follow his coach to Austin.
“I would ask him, ‘Can I go with you? I’m serious,’” Winston said.
Winston, of Hueytown, Ala., said he wanted to be recruited by the Longhorns. When asked why that didn’t happen, he tossed out this reason:
“I probably didn’t get offered by Texas because when I was growing up I was an Oklahoma fan,” Winston said.
Fisher believes Florida State won out over Auburn and others for Winston because of the program’s recent history of developing quarterbacks. The previous two, Christian Ponder and E.J. Manuel, were first-round selections in the NFL Draft.
Last month, Winston’s future appeared to be in limbo. This day, he was upbeat and confident, almost arrogant sounding, although his response to how teammates respond to his coolness was offered matter-of-factly.
“This is another thing that my teams feed off of,” Winston said. “I don’t feel pressure, there’s not a worry on my mind. Even when things are going bad, you can never let someone see you sweat.”
Winston is college football’s current superstar, the title having been passed this season from Johnny Manziel, who followed Tim Tebow. They became national figures for their greatness and personalities.
They also have this in common: Superlative play early in their careers. Florida’s Tebow became the first sophomore to win the Heisman, in 2007. Last year, Texas A&M’s Manziel became the first freshman to capture the Heisman, and Winston followed him this season.
The Seminoles knew they had a superb quarterback in the 6-4, 225-pound Winston, who redshirted last year when Florida State won the ACC and the Orange Bowl. He had been the nation’s top quarterback prospect and was ticketed to follow Manuel.
Winston wore a Florida State uniform before taking a snap, appearing in 41 games for the Seminoles’ baseball team last spring as an outfielder and a relief pitcher. The Texas Rangers made Winston their 15th round pick in the 2012 Draft, and Winston has talked about playing both sports professionally — like one of his heroes, Bo Jackson.
“People say Bo could do it because he played running back and baseball, and how can you play quarterback and baseball?” Winston said. “You may think it’s unrealistic, but I’m not going tell myself I can’t do it.”
After a year in which he authored the greatest season by a freshman quarterback in the game’s history by passing for 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns and winning nearly every award in which he was eligible — including MVP of the ACC championship game after accounting for four touchdowns against Duke — betting against him seems like a losing proposition.
“A lot of guys have talent,” Fisher said. “With young players you see flashes for a day, and you see potential in them. With Jameis, the things he did every day, his consistency, that’s what makes him special.”