Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston addresses the media during the ACC football media day at the Grandover Resort. (Reuters)
As a crowd of 100-plus writers waited to ask him questions, Jameis Winston entered the room, sat down behind a banquet table and posed one of his own.
“How does it feel to have an ACC team come in here with a national championship? Can we give the ACC a round of applause?” he said, beaming. “Finally, we took it away from the SEC.”
Of the 28 players who met the media Sunday at the ACC Football Kickoff, none had more to boast about — and questions to answer — than Winston, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback of the defending national champion Seminoles. When the season begins in six weeks, his team will likely be first in the major preseason polls. He will be a favorite to win another Heisman.
Winston, who would be the second player in history to win it twice and the first to do it while repeating as a national champion, did not wear his championship ring Sunday (“I didn’t want to be too flashy,”) and did not bring his trophy with him (“I have no idea where it is. … I think my Dad has it.”) He did sit there and answer questions with the confidence and a megawatt smile that helped him bask in the national spotlight last season.
After becoming the only freshman to go 14-0 and win a national title, the youngest Heisman Trophy winner (19 years, 342 days) and the engineer of a championship-clinching drive that began with 80 yards and 1 minute, 11 seconds to go, what has changed in his life?
“Not much,” he said.
People in Tallahassee “respect your space,” he said, adding that he enjoys when fans ask for pictures and autographs.
“It comes with your territory,” he said. “You’ve always got to have a smile on your face.” He had that Sunday, maintaining eye contact and speaking enthusiastically no matter the subject, refreshing himself with half a bottle of water.
He said his mood has stayed upbeat since last year, despite an April incident in which he was cited by police for stealing $32.72 worth of seafood from a Publix Super Market near campus. He was suspended from FSU’s baseball team, for which he is a relief pitcher, and performed 20 hours of community service.
Much more serious: the sexual assault accusation for which he was not charged, stemming from a December 2012 incident in Tallahassee. That made national headlines for a month as the state attorney investigated last November.
Winston was not asked directly about the rape accusation Sunday, but was asked why he shoplifted. “I don’t go into detail, but I did fix it and I’ve learned from my mistakes,” he said. “Like I always say, the leadership I’ve gained from my past mistakes has gotten better. I learned what it really takes to be a leader and everybody’s going to be watching you. You have to do the right thing.
“I have to be able to live up to that hype. I know I have a certain standard I have to live up to, and if I go even an inch below that standard, it’s going to be chaos.”
On the field, things have seemingly been simple for him. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound redshirt sophomore from Hueytown, Ala., threw for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns. He completed 67 percent of his passes and threw 10 interceptions.
Winston said he’s been “working on my hips,” his tendency to make “off-balance” throws relying on his arm, and checking down to his running backs. His totals could be even better this year, especially if he plays a full season; due to blowouts, he played in 82 percent of FSU’s total snaps and just 62 percent in the second half of games.
If he duplicated last year’s numbers, Winston could be the top pick in the 2015 NFL draft, for which he is eligible. He deferred when asked about turning pro, but was happy to talk about how good his Seminoles team will be.
“We’re starting over,” he said. “Clean slate. We’re not worried about defending the national championship. We’re worried about getting another one.”