TALLAHASSEE — Dozens of media members hovered around the garnet-draped table, waiting to speak with Jameis Winston following FSU’s 80-14 win against Idaho.
Once Winston’s interview session was done Saturday, national reporters left and a smaller group of local reporters went over to receiver Kenny Shaw.
The scene is fitting. Winston has been in the national spotlight all season, first for his on-field performance and now for both his production as a player and his role in a sexual assault investigation.
As a result, the freshman quarterback’s teammates have often been afterthoughts. But amid the hype and the scrutiny Winston has faced, the quarterback said leadership from seniors like Shaw has been invaluable to the team.
“Our seniors are just phenomenal people,” Winston said. “How we handle ourselves on and off the field, it’s praise in how we can just look at those guys and how to carry ourselves and how to lead the right way.”
The Seminoles (11-0, 8-0 ACC) are No. 2 in the latest BCS rankings. With a sizable margin between FSU and No. 3 Ohio State — FSU has a BCS average of .970, Ohio State has .920 — the Seminoles are on a collision course to play No. 1 Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game if both teams win the remaining games on their schedule.
With all the success, FSU has been under a microscope for the entire season.
“You’re going to go through what championship teams go through,” Shaw said. “We’re trying to stay upbeat, continue on the same schedule, play like everything’s normal.”
Normal is a relative term.
A media circus descended on Tallahassee during the past two weeks after reports surfaced Winston had been accused of a sexual assault in December 2012. News outlets from across the country came to the school to cover the topic, with some outlets visiting FSU’s campus to interview students about their thoughts on Winston.
The chaos surrounding FSU’s program will go on for at least another week, with State attorney Willie Meggs stating that he doesn’t plan to determine whether he will charge Winston until after Thanksgiving.
But on the gridiron, the Seminoles have faced little adversity.
“The football field is a sanctuary to me,” Winston said. “And it’s like that for all of our teammates because when all of us get on that field, everything is zoned out.”
Distractions have not fazed FSU this year. The Seminoles set a school record against Idaho for points in a game, a crescendo for a season in which the Seminoles have consistently dismantled just about any team it has faced. Florida State has outscored opponents 607-125 and is the only team in the country to have won every game by at least 14 points.
Fittingly, the 80-point performance came during the last home game for 24 FSU seniors. The maturity of a group that includes emotional leaders linebacker Telvin Smith and defensive back Lamarcus Joyner has been invaluable during the 11-0 start.
“We know where this program has come from, we’ve grown with the program and the coaches,” Smith said. “So we know what to expect, we know how to go about things. When I first got here, Coach [Jimbo] Fisher said we didn’t know how to win. We learned how to win, we learned how to stay composed during the game.”
The ability to focus through highs and lows, on and off the field, is something FSU seniors hope will stick with underclassmen in coming seasons.
“If they’re not paying attention to what we’re doing, they’re obviously blind,” Shaw said.
Winston, for one, appreciates what this group has meant to him and the program.
“Those guys deserve so much,” Winston said. “Just to follow those guys and see the way they do things, it’s an impact on our team.”