He is a brilliant young man who does stupid things, a Heisman Trophy winner with an infectious smile who is the target of insidious accusations, a dual-sport star with what appears to be a dual personality.
A few years ago, few had even heard of Jameis Winston, the Florida State quarterback who is also an outfielder and relief pitcher on the Seminoles baseball team. And now? Now, the national spotlight bathes him—initially in a benign way, but lately like a heat lamp.
Winston's accomplishments are impressive:
- The youngest player—19 years and 342 days—to win the Heisman Trophy.
- A freshman-record 4,057 yards and 40 touchdown passes to go with a 66.9 completion percentage and 219 rushing yards.
- Was named the offensive MVP of the final BCS National Championship Game after leading FSU to a 34-31 victory over Auburn on his 20th birthday.
- A switch-hitting outfielder and hard-throwing relief pitcher who in two seasons has a 1.95 ERA along with 62 strikeouts in 60.1 innings at Florida State.
Winston's rap sheet is troubling:
- In July 2012, an assistant manager at a Burger King in Tallahassee, Florida, called police and reported that Winston was stealing soda and being disruptive. Charges were not filed.
- Police questioned Winston and other FSU players in November 2012 after 13 windows were broken at an apartment complex near FSU's Doak Campbell Stadium due to an apparent BB gun battle. Charges were not filed.
- On Dec. 7, 2012, Winston was accused of sexual assault. No charges were filed, though the Tallahassee Police Department has come under criticism for not adequately pursuing the allegation.
- On April 29, 2014, Winston was charged with shoplifting crab legs from a Tallahassee Publix Super Market. He was issued an adult civil citation and made restitution.
All of it has made Winston a polarizing figure as he enters his sophomore season. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion. Here are several, starting with Winston himself.
Jameis Winston, 20, on his upcoming season and his off-the-field incidents.
"I'm going to be good. I'm going great. Even better than I was last year. I'm going to be myself. I love football. I love this game. I haven't set any individual goals, just team goals. First goal is to win the national championship.
"I'm constantly on guys. We all have to have that chip on our shoulder. It's a new year, a new beginning. It starts with this camp, learning new plays. It's going great. You've got to get better every day. You can't live in the past.
"Fundamentals. Studying my game. Studying team chemistry. Never letting it go below our standards here at Florida State. We know we're national champions, so we have to act like national champions in everything that we do. And we're going to play like champions.
"I don't think [the off-the-field problems] have been difficult. I've been doing what I do, keeping a smile on my face. Obviously, I was blessed to have baseball season to look forward to. And I've just been hitting my books, studying. I don't have time to focus on bad things. ... Focus on the positive, not the negative.
"I did have to learn that I have to be more guarded, but I'm always going to continue to be myself. That's never going to change. People can have their opinions about me, but it's about Florida State football.
"I've never thought about [winning a second Heisman Trophy]. It's not about me. It's about us.
"I've seen the kids and how they gaze at me. I'm thinking, I have an opportunity to change these little kids who come from where I came from, the bad neighborhoods. I have an opportunity for them, when they see me, to say they want to be like Jameis Winston.
"I have to realize that everything I do is going to be under a microscope, so I want to make sure those kids don't see the bad side of things, they see the good side.
"It's a good life, man. All eyes are on me. I don't really have much to prove. But I have a family that needs me. I'm going to take care of the name on my back. Believe that."
Gil Brandt, 81, is a sage evaluator of football talent. The former vice president of football operations for the Dallas Cowboys now works for the NFL.com as a personnel guru and for Sirius NFL Radio Network as a commentator.
"First of all, Winston's got the size you like, about 6'3.5". And he doesn't look it, but he's about 232 pounds. He's pretty accurate. He completed about 65 percent of his passes [actually 66.9 percent], and accuracy is key in the National Football League.
"I think he's an athlete. He moves around really well, and what I liked is that when they played better teams, he was avoiding rushes from the Clemsons and Auburns. It's not like he just avoids a Duke rush.
"I think he has a good arm, but not a great arm. I think his arm is sufficient to be an NFL quarterback. I don't think he's got an arm like Andrew Luck, for example. Luck has rare arm strength. So does Cam Newton. Winston's not in their category. As Hank Stram used to say: He doesn't have as much mustard on his arm like those other guys do.
"I hope he has two years left [in college] because it will help him. He'll be more mature, and it'll give him a better chance to be a good player. You saw that with Andrew Luck, you see that with Sam Bradford—although he's been hurt a lot. You see it with the Mannings. The more experience a quarterback can get in college, the better off they are.
"The off-the-field [stuff] is a concern. Stealing fish from a supermarket and stuff, it concerns you. I think the one thing everyone in the league will delve into is what happened with the young lady, especially since it sounds like it's not over. Her lawyer is still pursuing it. So teams will look into it.
"And the security department of National Football League doesn't deal with hearsay. With them, it's fact-finding. And they will find out.
"Winston and [Oregon's Marcus] Mariota are the two best quarterbacks in college, and Mariota has a clean bill of health, and that matters. In today's world in the NFL, there's a lot more emphasis on character than there once was. When a guy is having problems, it becomes a distraction, and it disrupts the team.
"What happens when you have character problems is that his teammates run into people on the street, or someone they went to high school with, or family, and what they get is, 'Hey, you can tell me what really happened.' It's not only media who ask them questions. It's everybody."
Ron Sellers was a two-time All-American wide receiver for FSU in 1967 and 1968, when the school had little to show for itself on the football field. A former NFL first-round draft pick, he is an active Seminole booster and fan.
"Winston is one of the top two or three quarterbacks to ever play at Florida State. Without a doubt, Charlie Ward is No. 1. He didn't have as much talent around him as Winston, who I believe had one of the best receiving corps around him last season that I've ever seen at FSU—and I'm talking from tight ends to wide receivers to running backs. Charlie didn't have that kind of talent, but he was incredibly talented, with great touch on the ball, and a lot more fluid than Winston.
"Charlie was also a leader on and off the field. Winston is still growing in that area.
"I would have loved to have played with Winston, but what I don't love is that he's not been accountable off the field. He's got the world ahead of him and nobody but himself to stop him. He's got to be more careful with his actions and the consequences of his actions. I think he's learning from his mistakes. A cat has nine lives. Winston has three or four, and he's already used two of them up."
David Jones is a longtime Heisman Trophy voter who covers college football for Florida Today, Gannett News Service and The Tampa Tribune.
"Innocent until proven guilty. It's a phrase and belief we try to cling to. You want to be fair, you hope in so many cases the initial reports change, the waters clear.
"With Jameis Winston, it wasn't easy. Being a Heisman Trophy voter for close to a couple of decades, the initial thought was, 'Don't vote for him.' But I waited. And I hoped. And when no charges were filed, you have to be just. I've got a couple of 20-something daughters, so the decision wasn't easy when I sent in my ballot with Winston as my top selection. In fact, I felt sick to my stomach.
"If you've been to a Heisman ceremony, as I've done several times, it's more of a celebration. Rarely is there any real question about the winner. But last December just seemed weird.
"The two Heisman winners I covered on a daily basis were Tim Tebow and Danny Wuerffel, two guys where character wasn't an issue. This was different. Winston wasn't charged, but several of the 100 or so media at the event still seemed uncomfortable.
"We'd just gotten through the Reggie Bush era, along with several others who came and left with the trophy who had issues. You hope, given all the past problems, that the Heisman could stand for more than touchdowns. Remember, several Heisman winners served in wars.
"What made it so bizarre is that Winston seemed oblivious to the controversies. He seemed more like a happy child rather than an adult aware that serious allegations surrounded him and that he really, really needed to take the path to maturity at a sprint, not a stroll.
"Of course, not soon after, more issues came up—not as disturbing as rape allegations, but troubling nonetheless. For a college student to walk out of a grocery store claiming he forgot to pay is incredulous.
"It was very uncomfortable as a voter to be there watching the awarding of a trophy that I used to look at much differently. Nothing against Winston. I don't regret voting for him, because I have to stick to the time-honored standard everyone should get: innocent until proven guilty.
"But I left the ceremony kind of sad because I'm not sure the standards are the same anymore for an award that used to be considered so special for so many reasons and not just about touchdowns and wins."
Bobby Bowden coached Florida State from 1976-2009, ushering in unprecedented success. An avuncular figure now, he keeps close tabs on the program while keeping an arm's distance away. A statue of him stands at one of the entrances to Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium.
"Each of the Heisman Trophy quarterbacks there [Chris Weinke, Charlie Ward and Jameis Winston] had their own style. Jameis is the most natural quarterback I've seen since Charlie Ward. Charlie had great natural ability, great running ability, like Winston.
"Weinke was a tall, traditional pocket passer. He wasn't as mobile as either of those other two, but he could probably throw as good as either. But all three had a way of getting it done. The big difference between Winston and Charlie is that Winston plays at about 225 pounds and Charlie played at about 180, 185.
"I've never met Winston, but my son Tommy did at an ACC get-together, and he told me that Winston is one of most impressive physical men he's ever seen. I've never even laid my eyes on him. But I watch and read everything I can, and my impression is that he's just a great athletic talent with that confidence. He's got that confidence that I've never seen outwardly from anyone else. He just has it. And he's not afraid of saying how confident he is.
"You know what they say: It ain't bragging if you can do it. And he can do it. It's just outright confidence. I think it's natural, and I think it's infectious. His confidence cools down his teammates. When they know they have him on their side, when they know he's leading them, it gives them confidence.
"I've never seen anything like him. When they show him on TV in the dressing room, he's smiling. You're supposed to sit in the corner frowning. [Laughs] But not Winston. He's got this big ol' smile on his face. That's just him. It's not phony, and the kids thrive off of it.
"The big thing is if he can avoid injuries. If he can avoid injury, he can do anything. If he played for me and played baseball, I would be concerned every ballgame. I'd be telling him, 'Don't strain that arm. Ease up on that fastball.' If he can just avoid injury.
"When I had Charlie, I had Casey Weldon and Brad Johnson, and Weinke too, before he left to go play baseball. I had to stagger them somehow, so when Charlie made the basketball team, I was happy. I was happy that he wanted to play another sport. And when you talk about all-around athletic ability, like people do with Winston, people forget that Charlie punted for us as a freshman.
"Athletically, of course, Deion Sanders was much faster, much quicker, and he had that ultimate confidence, too. ... Deion was quicker and faster, and Winston is bigger and more physical, and he can throw that fastball. I can't believe half the things I've seen him do. He's a coach's dream.
"I didn't know much about Winston until last summer, when I was talking to [Florida State head coach] Jimbo Fisher, and he mentioned to me that this guy might be the best he's ever coached. He said that several times, and he's coached No. 1 draft choices. Jimbo has a great knack for developing quarterbacks, and he was saying those things about Winston before he even played a down.
"Now that I've watched him, he just has a natural knack to put the ball where the receivers want it. He has the ability to see receivers and then put the ball right where they can catch it and then do something with it. Joe Montana had that great reputation too. He could see that back out of [the] backfield and put it one foot in front of the numbers. Winston has that same knack.
"He also has the one thing going into this year that is the greatest thing a quarterback can ask for, and that's an offensive line that is returning. That's all a quarterback can ask for is protection, and he'll have that this year.
"He's just got to learn from his mistakes now, because if he doesn't learn from it, it'll catch him one day. If he does that, he's got a great future. I would imagine that with the pros, their mouth is watering."
A grandmother, Camille Albert, is the former president of Brevard County (Florida) Seminole Booster Club and former board member of Seminoles Boosters, Inc. She's been a rabid Florida State fan since 1961, when she was a high school student in nearby Thomasville, Georgia.
"I just read yesterday where the Orlando Sentinel dug up that pellet gun incident from two years ago. I read it top to bottom. Jameis is just a big kid. Back then, he was just a big kid who still had pellet gun fights. He's growing up every year, but he's still just a great big ol' kid at heart. Every year he gets more mature.
"He loves people too. I've heard Jimbo Fisher say that if there are 100 kids wanting his autograph, he'll stand there and sign every one. He loves being around people.
"On the field he's brilliant. His ability to see the field is unbelievable; I've never seen anything like it. He has everything going for him—the personality, the technical skills, leadership. And if you look at his grades, they're amazing. He really is a good kid. I think he's going to be even better this year and hopefully next year with FSU, too.
"Last year, Jameis snuck up on us. I don't think most Seminole fans knew much about him or how good he was. All of a sudden, we're winning games 63 to whatever. And it was like, where did he come from? Did Jimbo just open a box and all these wonderful players come out? Can we keep it up? Can we really win the national championship this year?
"And then, at the national championship game, you could see Jameis in all the other kids' faces, imploring them to come on, let's not lose sight. He was leading that team even though they were so behind. He never quit. I think that's the progress you're going to see him make this season, that he's going to continue to lead the team and grow more so into a leadership role.
"Last year, if you read and listened to his quotes, it was always about the team. At the ACC media day and at other times in the offseason, it's been the same. Jameis continues to try to bring the focus back to the team. 'It's a team effort. It's not about me. It takes a team.' You hear that again and again, and I think that's going to get better. That team believes in him now. And it's the same with baseball. He's a really good baseball player.
"When the rape allegations surfaced, I was concerned. I didn't want to think he would do that. Was what he did smart? No, it was the stupidest thing he's ever done.
"When the incident at Publix occurred, I think the staff, the workers there, I think they just give them food. But this time, he'd just gotten too recognizable. I think it was like, 'Ooh, ooh! There's Jameis Winston! And he's walking out without paying!' He'd become too high-profile. So now we fully expect to see people in crab costumes at the Florida game this season.
"But I think Jameis is learning that he's in a high-profile situation. But really, how many young guys go to college and do stupid-ass stuff and it's never mentioned? But he's in the spotlight. I don't think that really sunk in with him until the Publix incident.
"I wish him well. I just hope he stays focused. And by that, I mean go to school, work out, practice, play football, play baseball, listen to [FSU baseball coach] Mike Martin, listen to Jimbo Fisher. And listen to Charlie Ward too. I understand Charlie is mentoring him big time now. If Jameis does those things, he's got a career in front of him that I don't think can be touched."
The 911 call to the Florida State University Police Department, made by a friend of the alleged rape victim early Dec. 7, 2012. Edited for length.
FSU Police: FSU Police. How may I help you?
Caller: Hi, I'm (redacted), and I think we need you over here.
FSU Police: OK, and you say this just happened?
Caller: I think it was a half hour ago or something. I just drove over here.
FSU Police: And you say she was raped?
FSU Police: OK. She did not know the person?
Caller: No, they met at Potbelly's.
FSU Police: OK, stay on the phone with me. I'm going to dispatch an officer. (Dispatches an officer before coming back on the line.) I have an officer en route. Is she, I mean is she OK? Does she need, do you know if she needs an ambulance?
Caller: No, she's OK. She's just very shaken up.
FSU Police: I'm sorry, she's what?
Caller: She's very, like, shaken up. She says that she's hurt. She got hit.
FSU Police: She got hit? Does she know what she got hit with?
Caller: No, she says she kept, like, blacking out. Like she only remembers pieces. She keeps trying to tell me the story, but it's very in pieces.
FSU Police: OK, do you know where she was hit at?
Caller: She says she thinks she was hit in the back of the head, and then she ended up in somebody's room.
FSU Police: Did it happen on campus?
Caller: No, she said it happened off-campus, like an apartment. She doesn't remember where, though.
FSU Police: OK, and you said that she met the guy at Potbelly's?
FSU Police: And does she remember leaving there? Did she leave with him willingly?
Caller: She doesn't know.
FSU Police: Alright, we've got an officer en route to you, OK?
A call made to a non-emergency Tallahassee Police Department hotline on the evening of July 21, 2013.
Allie is the former assistant manager of the Burger King at 1060 West Tennessee Street in Tallahassee, Florida. Originally from Massachusetts, she lives there now. She declined to give her full name. Bleacher Report is the only media outlet she's spoken to about the incident that night with Jameis Winston.
"He grabbed a regular-sized cup from behind the counter, and I'm like, 'You can't do that.' And he flipped out, raising his voice, saying, 'Do you know who I am? I'm a 5-star recruit from Alabama. You want my autograph?' And his buddies were like, 'Do you know who he is? He's Jameis Winston.' How stupid is that, telling me his name? Otherwise, I wouldn't have known what name to give to the police when they got there.
"I kept telling him, 'I don't care who you are, theft is theft. You're stealing.' That's when he filled the cup up and drank it right in front of me. Then he filled it up about halfway and threw it at me. It missed and I laughed at him. I had my employees Google his name while I called the cops. I just wanted him to leave. That's when he ran.
"I never expected all of that to go on the Internet, on TMZ. That's the part that I think has been blown out of proportion. I didn't realize it was on TMZ until a couple of months ago. That's when I found out about all the other stuff. Before that, I didn't know about the rape allegations or the Publix thing.
"I don't follow sports. I don't know what the Heisman Trophy is. All I know is that just because he's the head quarterback for Florida State University doesn't mean he's God. But we didn't press charges. I didn't want the kid to be screwed. ... The rape charges, I don't know anything about that. I don't have an opinion there, but stealing from Publix...it doesn't sound like he learned his lesson. I'm sure he probably threw his name out again."
Brian Koby, 34, was working at the Burger King the night of the Jameis Winston incident. He still works there now. He has also not spoken to any media other than Bleacher Report.
"He kept saying, 'Do you want my autograph? Do you know who I am? I'm a 5-star recruit from Alabama.' He started out drinking from a ketchup cup. Then he got a water cup and he went straight for the soda machine like a little kid and started getting soda. The manager told him to get out of here. She wanted no part of that. But he kept getting soda and saying, 'What are you gonna do about it?'
"He had that guy who plays linebacker with him—[Chris] Caster. And he was saying, 'You want his autograph? You know who he is? That's Jameis Winston.' And Jameis was asking her, 'You don't know who I am?' And our manager was saying to him, 'I don't care who you are. You're stealing.' And he'd say, 'I'm not stealing. I'm sampling.' Finally, she called the police and he ran.
"He was decked out in all his FSU stuff. Everything—his shirt, shorts with No. 5 on them, shoes, even his book bag. It was all FSU gear.
"I went to the last baseball game of the season with my girl, the Duke game. I was trying to get his autograph. All the other guys on the team came out and signed, but Jameis snuck out the back. I would've asked him, 'You remember me? I made your Big Stack that night at Burger King.'
"I think he's a good guy. He wants to [be in] school. Of course, that changes when they offer you a hundred million dollars to go pro. But what is he, 20? I think he's just a little bit immature."
Charlie Greene, 76, moved from the Northeast to Miami in 1968, where he worked for Eastern Airlines. He now is retired, living in Palm Bay, Florida.
"I pull for both Miami and Florida State. Years ago, I used to work a second job as an usher at the Orange Bowl. Whenever the Noles came in, they always seemed like a classy opponent. There never seemed to be fights in the stands, like with other schools. One of my neighborhood kids also became an FSU player, so I started pulling for them too. Overall, I'm just a sports fan.
"When I first saw Jameis Winston, I thought he was another outstanding college quarterback who was going to go places. I was excited about him and for the whole team. I thought he was on the way to becoming another Tim Tebow in college football.
"When the allegations surfaced, I read everything about it in the paper and watched all the TV news. I had a sense of disgust. Maybe I was wrong in prejudging him to be guilty, but in my mind, he was. It's just logical thinking on my part, with maybe my definition of logical.
"I think it's apparent, though, that the police didn't pursue it the way they should have. It looked like one of those boys-will-be-boys situations. The Tallahassee police force has to be full of Noles fans. So it stands to reason that there is a sense of impropriety there.
"I think the cops were Noles fans first and then police second when it came to Jameis. The perception is that if you're a star player there, then you get a free ticket. God forbid that you would miss a few games or, even worse, go to jail.
"And then, when the Publix incident happened, it solidified my opinion that he thinks he can get away with anything, just because of who he is and because the previous allegation was swept under the carpet."
Devin Healy, 21, is entering his senior year at Florida State. He is studying editing, writing and media, with the hopes of becoming a screenwriter.
"Jameis is our lord and savior. He's the boss. He's pure talent. It doesn't get much better than him. To step in as a redshirt freshman and do what he did...it's like he's the eighth wonder of the world. I went to the national championship game in Pasadena, and let me tell you, there is nothing like him. He put the team on his back. That's what a leader does. It was a complete turnaround in that game. He has such charisma. Everybody could see it. Raw talent. I was awestruck with what he was able to perform and do.
"Yeah, he's had a couple of scuffles with the media, some mishaps. ... And the Publix thing, it's known around town that they let the players get food and the university or somebody in the athletic department reimburses them. That's standard operating procedure. That's what I heard through the grapevine.
"If you look at the video, it wasn't like he was trying to sneak and duck around. Somebody there at the store obviously didn't know the drill.
"But all that is in the past and the future of FSU is looking good."
Maria Brous is the director of media and community relations for Publix Super Markets.
"There is never an agreement between Publix and athletes for free food. We require that everyone pays for their groceries, including our own employees. There is no such agreement. I can absolutely tell you that there are no arrangements, no tab or anything like that. Absolutely not.
"We've heard people say that he walked to the deli, got his food and walked out, and that the food was waiting for him. But the video that you've seen is only a small portion. The food wasn't ready for him. He was around the store. Products were not waiting for him.
"We did conduct an internal investigation, and there was never an arrangement between him and any of our associates or with any athletes past or present.
"I think that with social media, there's always going to be talk. But the majority was directed the other way, not against us, but more about the situation and an athlete stealing food from Publix rather than our actions.
"If someone shoplifts from our store, it's shoplifting. We treat them as a shoplifter. It doesn't matter if they're an athlete or whoever they are. If someone shoplifts, it's shoplifting. There are always signs posted in stores about shoplifting. He made restitution. He's welcome in our stores. There are no repercussions."
Jimbo Fisher has been the head football coach at Florida State since 2010. Prior to that, from 2007-09, he was the Seminoles' offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.
"Jameis did sneak up on the fans last season, but when you coach him in practice, you could see. Even on his bad days, you could see how he responded to adversity was very good. But you really never know until you go out and play and the lights are on. He got even better then.
"He's getting fundamentally better. His knowledge of defenses and what we're doing on offense is better. What he has to do now is let the game come to him and try not to force it.
"I've never seen anything like the media coverage he gets. The thing about him is that he's so personable, so I think the media likes him because of the way he endears himself to them. But also nobody has ever achieved what he's achieved, with maybe the greatest season anybody has ever had—we won the national championship, he's undefeated, he wins the Heisman. That's all part of the territory now.
"I don't think there's any doubt that he gets it [that he's accountable off the field]. He gets it most definitely, and I think he's learning every day, and I've been very proud of where he's at right now.
"This offseason, people mostly asked me, 'What is he like? What is he really like?' I tell them that he's a fun-loving guy who is as genuine as the day is long. He loves people, he loves everything about the game of football, he's a tremendous competitor and the other thing about him is that he's a highly, highly intelligent young man. He's a true student-athlete. I'm telling you, he's one of the smartest individuals I've ever coached.
"It saddens me that there is this misconception about him, but the only way you can change somebody's perception of you is how you act over a long period of time, and I think he'll consistently do the right things and make good decisions. I think you'll genuinely see who he is.
"It's too early to say if he's the best I've seen, but he's had a tremendous year, and I'll tell you this: He has all the intangibles to be the best.
"I don't think he'll focus on winning back-to-back Heismans. Jameis is a guy who truly believes he needs to play well so his team wins. He's truly a team guy, and I don't think the Heisman will be his focus. I really don't.''
Randy Sanders is in his second season as FSU's quarterback coach and in his first season as co-offensive coordinator.
"I've been really pleased with Jameis, not just in the things he's done but with the attitude he's had. It would've been easy for a guy who accomplished all the things he accomplished last year, and won all the awards he won, to feel like you've got it all figured out. But he's been really hungry and real eager to learn, and he's had a great attitude all the way through camp.
"He's not only trying to get himself better, but trying to get those around him better. When you play quarterback, you're only as good as those 10 guys around you. He also understands that he has to get himself ready to do his job. I've been really pleased.
"His focus has been on this year. He hasn't let last year affect the way he's prepared. He's learned from the past, and he's taken what he's learned, and he keeps improving. He's not a finished product yet.
"There are a lot of fundamental things that he needed to work on—his feet, having his balance in the pocket, having his eyes in the right place all the time. There's one thing he has that you don't develop so much as it's God-given, and that's his vision, the ability to see the field. A lot of times, he has his head over here, but he'll be looking over there. He's phenomenal that way.
"He's also blessed with the ability to anticipate throws. It's hard to quantify. They say the one thing that made Wayne Gretzky such a great hockey player was that he could anticipate what was getting ready to happen and he could see the angles. Jameis has a lot of that ability as a quarterback. He can anticipate what's getting ready to happen, see the angles and know where to throw the ball and put it right where he wants to.
"I expect the same Jameis, but I think he's definitely a little more mature, a little wiser. Obviously, there were a couple of things he had his name in the paper over. As you go through experiences, you either learn from them or they beat you down. I think he's matured some. He has a year's worth of experience now of being in the spotlight, and his spotlight is pretty bright.
"You always say that as a quarterback you live in a glass house. Everything you do is looked at. He's taken it to a level to where he doesn't have curtains or blinds to close. Everything he does is going to be looked at."
Nick O'Leary is a senior tight end, known as a bruising player who should hold every FSU record for tight ends when his career is over. He is also the grandson of legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus.
"Jameis has so much energy all the time. It's fun to play with him. He puts the ball not only where we can catch it, but also do something with it. He's not overrated at all. He goes out there and works hard. He pushes other people to be the best they can be.
"His personality...he's the kind of guy who goes out there and has fun with everything he does. The way he pushes people and makes them better is just amazing. He doesn't let you slide. If you mess up, he tells you. It's always encouraging.
"He's always talking. You can always hear him. Wherever he is, he's always talking, always cracking on guys.
"He makes mistakes in practice. Jimbo is always yelling at him for not putting the ball on the right shoulder, wrong read, things like that. Jameis tries to be the best that he can be, but there is always stuff you can do better."
Entering his junior season, P.J. Williams is a versatile defensive back who has played safety and cornerback for FSU.
"Practicing against Jameis sharpens us a lot, because that's a great quarterback. When he throws the ball, he either puts it right there for his receiver or where we can't get to it. It's hard to play him, and it's hard to intercept his balls.
"When his receivers run the wrong route, he'll let them know what they need to do. He also gives us tips on how to play cornerback.
"I can't tell you what he tells us; that's secret. I don't want to tip off the whole world. But I can tell you that after practicing against him, games are easy. It's definitely easy. We play the best offense every day in practice, and games are much easier after that."
A redshirt junior linebacker, Terrance Smith has emerged as one of FSU's team leaders. He's a close friend of Jameis Winston.
"You have to deal with the attention. You know it's going to be there. That's what happens when you win the Heisman Trophy, you get a lot of publicity.
"I wouldn't want to be him. It's crazy. He can't walk around without having to stop and take 30 pictures and sign a hundred things. Sometimes you just want to be out relaxing, and instead you have to be that guy, because the way the public is, they'll think you're ignoring them and then you get the wrong type of reputation.
"Jameis is pretty good with the way he handles all of that. Honestly, I don't know if I could handle all that. But that's what happens when you win the Heisman Trophy.
"Everybody makes mistakes. We know that Jameis is a good dude. He has a good heart. He cares for his team. He cares for us like brothers. That's what we always say, that we're brothers. We're not just teammates.
"I tell him, somebody is always looking, and you've got to know that. He realizes that now. He can't go nowhere without eyes being on him. He's scrutinized. He grasps that. He realizes he can't live a regular person's life anymore. He's taken heed to it. He's been chillin'. He's more of a houseboy now. He doesn't go out as much. He's more reserved. If he is out, he's with us and not doing something crazy.
"Sometimes we have to kind of protect him from cameras. People will harass him all day with the cameras, and sometimes he doesn't want to take pictures. Sometimes you have to tell people he doesn't want to take pictures.
"With a lot of the craziness he's been involved in, people have their own opinions. I just try my best if anybody has misconstrued perceptions about him to correct them and tell them how Jameis really is. People think he's a knucklehead, he's a bad person, stuff like that. Which is not true. Jameis is not a bad person. He has one of the best hearts on this team. He cares for everyone on this team. But that's how the media portrays him most of the time. I have to tell people that everything you hear is not true."
Darious Cummings is a junior defensive tackle for the Florida Gators, Florida State's in-state rival.
"He's a good football player. I will give him that. But everybody has their weaknesses, everybody has their strengths. This year, we're going to try to handle those weaknesses a little bit better than we did last year.
"The thing about Winston is that he continues to play; he plays hard. He makes the most out of plays. You think a play is done, you think you have him locked up on the edge or shut down across the middle. But with him, if he can't pass, he'll do it with his feet. And then, when you make him run, he'll jump in the air and throw a 60-yard pass.
"There's a reason he won the Heisman. He's a good football player.''
Mike Martin Jr., the son of FSU head coach Mike Martin Sr., is FSU's associate head baseball coach and recruiting coordinator. A former Seminoles player who roomed with Danny Kanell and played football and baseball at FSU, Martin Jr. has coached 10 major leaguers, 12 freshman All-Americans and 18 first-team All-Americans.
"When I went to watch Jameis in high school, the first thing I saw was him warming up in the bullpen. He was the starting pitcher that day. Jimbo Fisher and I are good buddies, so I called him about Jameis and said, 'This ain't good.' And he said, 'What do you mean?' And I told him, 'I think he's going to be too good. The pros are really going to be after him. It's going to be a battle between us and the pro people. He's really good.'
"Watching him, you could see that his command was way above his years. He had that fastball and a 12-to-6 loopy curveball. This was a rivalry game at another school, and the fans were nonstop on him, relentless, but nothing fazed Jameis.
"He gave up an unearned run in the second inning because of a few errors, and his team wound up winning 2-1, thanks to Jameis hitting a home run. He's a switch-hitter too. They say he can also play some hoops.
"It definitely was a deal-breaker if we'd have told him he couldn't play two sports, and it would have been a deal-breaker if we didn't have the proof. We had that proof—Charlie Ward, Terrell Buckley, Danny Kanell, Deion Sanders, Taiwan Easterling, D'Vontrey Richardson. There's been numerous guys. We're Two Sport U, and we had the data to show him. Other schools told him he could play two sports, but they didn't have the data to back it up. We did.
"As a pitcher, I think he'd be the kind of prospect who'd spend a year and a half in minor leagues and then be in major leagues. As a hitter, it would take more time.
"I don't worry about him hurting his arm. If you break down the throwing motion with football and baseball, it's really very similar. You don't think that in football the hand turns over and pronates, but if you look at it close, it really does. Jameis has strong hands and the ability to turn his hand with the ball in it.
"The two motions are actually very similar. If you watch film of him in football throwing an outpost, and you see him crank it up, and then look at that side by side with his baseball motion, it looks identical.
"Of course, you worry about getting injured. But I'm more worried about him slamming into outfield walls. He had a game against Virginia where he slid to make a catch and slid into a brick wall, banging his knee and ankle.
"The guys who are hard to find are the ones who genuinely care. Some guys fake it, but it wears off. Jameis is a guy who genuinely cares about his teammates, and they know it. He encourages guys, pats them on the back. He's the guy in the dugout clapping, the first one out to greet someone after they've scored a run. Whether he's playing or not, he's always in the game.
"As far as all the negative stuff about him, he hasn't done anything wrong! He...hasn't...done...anything...wrong! I wish people knew the truth. I wish I could talk, but I have to be careful. But if I could talk, I'd be the first one to scream from the mountaintop. He hasn't done anything wrong! There is always another side.
"Like the Publix thing. At Winn Dixie, you pay first at the front, then go hand them your ticket at the deli, and then you walk out. Jameis told me he went totally brain-dead. He was in Winn Dixie mode."
Josh Delph is an outfielder and designated hitter for the FSU baseball team. He is also Jameis Winston's roommate when the team is on the road.
"He brings that confidence that he has in football onto the baseball field. He keeps us going. He keeps us in the game. One of things I appreciate about Jameis is that he never acts like he's better; he never looks down on any of us just because he's won the Heisman. Before and after he won the Heisman, he's been the same guy.
"If someone has a bad game and is pouting, like a pitcher after a bad outing, and they have their head down, Jameis will walk over and tell them not to worry, that we're still going to get the win. It's all about the team.
"He approaches baseball the same as any other baseball player who is playing one sport. I think he gained our respect from how hard he works and how much he appreciates it. With baseball, it's more action instead of words.
"I've seen him where he had football workouts in the morning, afternoon baseball practice and then he'll do baseball workouts. Guys will be a little sore after baseball practice, but Jameis does both, and he's never whined.
"He's real good. He could be a pro baller for sure; just look at his size and how live his arm is, the way he plays the game, he hits his spot. In the outfield, he's got a great arm. And he's a switch-hitting power hitter.
"I've faced him, and you know he's going to get on you quick, and he's got a good, sharp slider. He's tough to hit. You have to battle up there. You're not going to get any free passes.
"Because I'm his roommate, people are always asking me for crazy stories on the road. Everyone assumes he must have tons of people coming over. But we don't do much. Usually we just hang out, talk a lot, get in bed by curfew and get up early.
"When we talk, it's usually about the future a lot. We'll talk about baseball, what teams we have coming up, family, girls—we cover it all. Usually, someone on the team has brought an Xbox and we'll play that. He's real good at Madden. That's his game. I've asked him, 'Do you actually work on your quarterback game through Madden, reading defenses and stuff?' He says it helps.
"He never really brings up the Heisman. You wouldn't know he won it. Sometimes, we'll see on TV a school like Clemson, and he'll say something like, 'Yeah, we dominated them.' It's never, 'Yeah, I threw all over those guys.' It's usually a we thing instead of a me thing.
"We always have a policeman with us now. It wasn't that way his first year. For Jameis, he'll take batting practice, sign autographs for 15 minutes, the game, and then he'll sign for 15-20 minutes after. And there's always a cop close by, a cop walking with us, a cop when we check into our hotel.
"I remember a time when we were out to eat, and people were taking a bunch of pictures, and he just wanted to eat, and there was one time Jameis didn't smile, and our captain, Justin Gonzalez said, 'Hey man, you've got to smile.' And Jameis said, 'You really don't understand how many pictures I take every day.'
"He can't make the same mistakes like how every other college kid makes. When he makes a mistake, everyone in the world knows about it.
"I remember once, when he came in halfway through a homecoming concert at the Civic Center in Tallahassee. I think he came late because of football. When he walked in, the whole crowd kind of stopped paying attention to the concert, and everyone got in line and started taking pictures with him.
"He finally had to go up into a private box. He couldn't just enjoy the concert like everyone else. I always say that he has the celebrity lifestyle without the celebrity salary. He's like a movie star without the movie star money. But all he has to do is be patient. That will come."
Chris Fowler has been the primary studio host for ESPN's iconic College GameDay show.
"I think in the context of GameDay, it's a show that doesn't focus off the field. The news focus is definitely on the field. When we're doing the countdown, we're reporting on what fans most want to know. It's not fundamentally a journalistic enterprise.
"Now, when something off the field becomes front and center, when it's of a serious nature, when it might impact on-the-field eligibility, then we're going to focus on that. But by and large, our focus is naturally on the field. So with Jameis Winston, we really wouldn't get into his off-the-field problems.
"I saw Jameis three or four times last year. The Clemson game was, for many people, his coming-out party. When we interviewed him on the set after that game, you talk about personality, he had it. But I think it was that speech he gave in the locker room before the Clemson game that was most impressive. To see how loose and relaxed he was for a redshirt freshman was pretty startling.
"And then he came on the set after the game and there was this different persona. He seemed like a polished veteran, almost like a guy who'd played a couple of years already in the NFL. He had on a suit and tie, and he'd just had this unbelievable game in such a hostile environment and came away with a monster victory, and he was very low-key.
"I was struck by that, with how low-key and how businesslike he was.
"He had this presence where you said to yourself, This did not look like a redshirt freshman quarterback who just engineered a huge victory on the road and quieted 85,000 people. His confidence afterward was very measured. He seemed like a very poised, charismatic, experienced guy wearing a suit and tie.
"The persona he gave off was, We expected this. We expected to be winners. This game was just a means to an end. It really gave me a window into Winston's mindset.
"I was on the field when he gave the pregame speech at Clemson, but I saw it played back. We didn't go in thinking that was going to happen. We didn't go in with the intent of capturing Jameis Winston pregame. The camera wasn't even on him initially. And then, all of a sudden, you hear this voice from the side of the room and the camera swings around, and you see this young quarterback giving a speech.
"And it wasn't your usual fire-in-the-eyes speech. This was a guy who exuded a confidence and a swagger and a charisma that you don't expect from a guy that young. And it was interesting to watch the older players. There was not a veteran in the room who leapt to their feet, and maybe it was because they were caught by surprise. There was definitely a respect, but also, looking at their reactions, it made you think that they were thinking, Huh, that was a freshman?
"He was not yet an established leader. It's now one of the ingredients of every Winston feature done since then, and it's become part of the mythology of the season, this leader with bravado, exuding confidence and charisma.
"He was hyped coming into the season, yet in his debut, he exceeded all the hype, and on the road, too. Then he built on it. He gets to his first real road test, and it's hard to overstate how intimidating Death Valley was at Clemson that night; they were trying to break the all-time decibel record for a crowd, and Jameis silenced them. He absolutely silenced them. They were hell-bent on disrupting him, and he silenced them, put them in a box. He didn't just pass the test, he aced it—A-plus.
"Then the midseason accusation comes, and it was about as ugly as it can get. But what I noticed was the way he seemed to be secure in his own innocence. That came through. And I want to be careful with how I say this, but I believe it's hard to be oblivious if you feel you did something wrong.
"The way he dealt with it didn't impact his performance, and that's not the stuff of a freshman. And I don't want to trivialize it as a distraction, because the allegations were serious, but in football terms, the way he blocked it out was pretty stunning.
"The last game before the Heisman was not textbook. He didn't play well against Duke, but he didn't panic. He bounced back, and they won going away. And then to win the Heisman and carry that into a bowl game would have been tough enough as a freshman, but to take that to a national championship game—again, as a freshman—was astounding.
"All along, the one piece of puzzle where the picture was not complete was how would Winston respond individually, and how would Florida State respond collectively when facing adversity? Every game they won, they won needing to coast, needing to back off. Could they come from behind and surge to victory?
"You knew he had raw ability and a great skill set, but what we hadn't seen yet was how he would respond under pressure, move chains when he had to, rally the guys and perform under ultimate pressure. He did that. In that national championship game, he did that."
Gene Deckerhoff has been the radio play-by-play broadcaster for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers since 1989. He has been the voice of Florida State sports for 36 years and for Seminoles basketball for 41 years. He's seen all the great athletes come through the school, including the three Heisman Trophy winners—Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke and Jameis Winston.
"The No. 1 thing about Jameis is that he won the Heisman younger than Chris Weinke and Charlie Ward. No. 2, he's in the same mold as Charlie and Chris in how they prepare themselves to play football. The thing that separates Jameis perhaps from Chris and Charlie is his accuracy throwing the football. It doesn't matter if it's in a practice or in a game, and I've been around a lot of NFL quarterbacks—he's unbelievably accurate.
"Right now, I think Charlie Ward is probably the best athlete to ever play quarterback at Florida State. If you take Deion Sanders out of the equation, Charlie might be the best athlete. Charlie was a two-sport player, a tremendous point guard with a long NBA career.
"I think people realize that Jameis just turned 20 and that young guys make mistakes—and so do young girls. I would invite anybody in the media to spend a day with Jameis Winston, and you would think he's the greatest guy you've ever been around, I promise you that.
"Jimbo Fisher will tell you—he'll sign autographs until they drag him off the field. He loves meeting people. He loves talking football. He donates his time, which is valuable. And he's also a great student. I'll tell you this: His grade point average, if you're comparing all the Heisman Trophy winners, not just Florida State, I think Jameis has the highest GPA. Jameis is a great student-athlete.
"If the NFL didn't have the rookie salary restrictions that they have in place now, he might be the highest-paid rookie coming out—in two years, I believe. I think he'll play another year.
"I honestly think Jameis Winston, at the next level in the National Football League, will become one of those great quarterbacks who plays for 15, 16 years and wins Super Bowls. He is that kind of a competitor.
"I bet he studies as hard as Peyton Manning. I think he's got the arm of a Tom Brady. He's the real deal. He's a football player. And oh, by the way, he's got a 93 mph fastball in baseball. Ninety-three miles an hour, and he's 6'5". That ball comes at you like a BB.
"I've seen some great players. I don't know what it takes to get to Canton, to the Hall of Fame, but he's got all the credentials when he gets out of college. I really think he does.
"Now you've got to get on a good team, and he'll be the No. 1 player taken overall. But whatever team he gets on, he's going to make better. He's the best quarterback I've ever seen."
Earlier this year, Ira Schoffel, the former sports editor for the Tallahassee Democrat, became the managing editor for Warchant.com, an online fanzine that is part of the Rivals.com network.
"From a media perspective, last season started with FSU sheltering Jameis because he was a redshirt freshman. Then, all of a sudden, he had that opening game against Pitt [a 41-13 victory], and you realized this was something different. Then he became this superstar within a matter of weeks.
"So then they had to shelter him because of all the media requests. Then, when there were the sexual assault allegations, it took the attention to a different level, and obviously they were sheltering him for other reasons.
"It was unlike any athlete I've ever covered in the sense that he went from a guy thrust into a world of major college football as a redshirt freshman, then he becomes a superstar, then he becomes this polarizing public figure, all in the span of about two months. It was crazy. I don't think I've ever seen that evolution so compact. Usually, that evolution takes three years, but it was all in about two, three months.
"When the sexual assault allegations surfaced, it was frustrating, because you couldn't ask him questions other than about football. There was definitely criticism of the media, because at press conferences, we were just asking him football questions. People were like, how could you just talk to him about football?
"The big criticism everybody got was the questions we would ask about distractions. How are you going to handle distractions? But what people don't realize is that we were told that if we started asking questions about the incident, we were not going to have any more availability. We were going to be shut down. So from a local media's perspective, that meant we wouldn't be able to talk about the game this week, the game last week, about teammates—not anything.
"So we felt we had to abide by those rules, or it was going to inhibit our work. And it was not like he was going to answer any questions about the incident anyways. But from the outside, I understand people's perspective: You're having a press conference, and you're just asking him football questions. And it's insulting to call it a distraction when it was sexual assault allegations.
"We get that, but that was the only way we felt we could bring up that topic without them saying, OK, the press conference is over. I think we did get criticism, and I can see the perspective from outside, but we also had a job to do to cover the team.
"I think everybody has their opinion. Everybody knows how they feel.
"What's interesting is how people can have such strong viewpoints when, really, none of us probably have the whole picture. People who bought into Jameis from day one and want to adore him, I think they're still hopeful that he really is that guy.
"I think the people who are against him, or believe he did something wrong, they've got their opinion.
"But really, who knows him?"