HUEYTOWN, Ala. - Jameis Winston has yet to play a down in a college football game. But he's already built a tower of hype since he arrived on Florida State's campus in 2012.
He's the likely starter at quarterback as a redshirt freshman. He was arguably the best quarterback in the country in his class. And then there's that touchdown throw in the spring game.
But how exactly did Florida State get the guy? In Winston, the Seminoles snaked away arguably the best quarterback in the class of 2012 from Alabama's backyard. Turns out it was a bit of luck and one very hard-headed assistant coach.
We spoke with a number of Winston's friends and family about the wild process that led him to FSU, and about what the recruitment of a five-star quarterback from a small town looks like.
By the time Winston started high school, it was clear to his parents, Antonor and Loretta, that their oldest son would have a chance to play somewhere in college. They just didn't know how big things would get.
Antonor Winston, Jameis' Father: "I want to say 8th grade I knew Jameis had a chance to play when (Former Hoover High School coach Russ) Probst came. Because at that time, Probst had the national spotlight for all this stuff and if he's coming to see Jameis, it must be pretty good. He's got a chance. If you can come over to Hoover and start at quarterback over all these quarterbacks, you might be pretty good."
Shortly afterward, attention from college coaches picked up. In some of the early meetings with coaches, Antonor Winston sat in with Hueytown coaches under the guise of an assistant coach, hoping to see what the process was like.
Antonor: "The first was Georgia Tech. That was the 9th grade. They're telling me we really can't talk to Jaboo, but they pulled Jameis' transcript in the 9th grade."
Former Hueytown head coach Mark Scott: "After his 10th grade year I knew that was something that we're going to have to be more aware of. I knew when we sent his film out. There's some guys that you send out film to 80 schools. For him, I knew my No. 1 job right here was to try and keep it under control. At the end of the day he can go wherever he wants to.
Ohio State, as soon as they got that film, they offered right there and then."
Scott: "Those coaches would come in and he'd know more about them than they knew about him. He'd research. I'd tell these guys, 'Hey, be on your game with this guy, don't bring in any BS. He'll call you out on it.'"
"This one guy, the coach is about that far from Jameis' face and he's saying 'Jameis, let me ask you this.' And I don't know where he came up with this - 'I've been recruiting you a long time. You're hanging off a cliff by rope, dangling off the cliff. Somebody on the other end of that cliff is holding that rope. If they let go you fall to your death. Who do you want holding that rope?' He doesn't even check up, he says, 'Coach Scott.' And the other coach says, 'Hold on, wait a minute - you don't know what I'm saying.' He just knew he was going say him. And 99 percent of kids would because they knew that was what he wanted them to say. I spoke to some of the other coaches from the school and I said, 'You might as well just not send him back.'"
Scott: "The only coach that Jameis wouldn't mess with as far as kidding around a little bit was Nick Saban. Head coaches would be serious as all get out and he wouldn't be. He would do it to watch me squirm. I'd get so mad at him."
Loretta Winston, Jameis' Mother: "And what about me? I'm an Auburn fan."
Antonor: "Let me tell you, Auburn attacked her. They knew she was a fan. She had like five letters a day."
Loretta: "It didn't have any effect."
Antonor: (UCLA) "put a letter in the mailbox every day from 10th grade on. They were the second offer. Georgia Tech was the first. UCLA was the first with¬ handwritten letters."
Loretta: "Clemson was the best as far as what they were sending."
"It was hand-written letter every time, from different coaches."
Antonor: It was something, always a good uplifting message. 'Before your season started', 'Get ready for the season,' stuff like that.
Otis Leverette, Winston's personal trainer: "I think he handled it amazingly. It's funny when I watched him go through the recruiting process. Jameis found a way to almost take the pressure off of [him] in the sense of Jameis is going to be on Facebook, he's going to be out in the community, he's trying to recruit other players almost to say 'Mario Edwards is better than me, y'all need to sign him.' It was kind of comical the way he handled it."
The offers for Winston continued to pile up. Before his junior year, Winston and his parents instructed college coaches to go only though Scott at the high school.
It was a trick: Jameis and Antonor wanted to see which coach would be bold enough to break the rules. The first person to try to contact the family was then-FSU assistant Dameyune Craig.
Antonor:"Which one of those recruiters are going to be bold enough to say, 'Enough of this coach. His mom and dad had him, I'm gonna go find the mom and dad?' Most recruiters are going to respect what the coach tells you. 'Family doesn't want you to talk to them right now, they just want you to talk to me and all this here.' So if you fall for that, how bad to you really want him?"
"Dameyune was the one who really said, 'Wait a minute. I'm not going to be in there going through this coach and the dad is in there walking past.'"
"I always knew. Whichever coach broke away from coach Scott and came to me, that's the one he was going to give the most attention to. It could have been Miles College, and that's the team that wanted him. When Dameyune came, I knew it would be Florida State. Kids can swap and flip or whatever, but when Dameyune came I felt, 'OK, they're first.'
Loretta: He went down for Junior day and he was excited about it, but when he went down as a senior and said he felt the same way, he was just as excited about it then as he was as a junior. That was what made it for me. I knew then that was where he was going to go.
Craig's hard-headed approach put Florida State in the lead for Winston, unbeknownst to other coaches.
Antonor: "Once Dameyune said, 'I got him,' Then Coach Cheese (Charlie Harbison, Clemson) said, 'How'd you do that?' Then the others said, 'OK, I got you now.' Then coach Scott said 'Well, it's getting late in the game I think you should open it up.' By that point you'd had time to be real and you can just sit back."
"Coach Cheese, I wanted to tell him almost what to do. 'C'mon man, just call me and I'll tell you.' Because Clemson recruited so well. But Dameyune man, Dameyune the good thing I could say about Dameyune is that he related to Jameis. But I've been knowing Dameyune, just following his career."
Loretta: "He didn't think that they'd be able to get Jameis because it's the state of Alabama."
Antonor: "Jimbo tells me all the time, 'It wasn't me Mr. Winston.'"
Even once Winston's recruitment opened up, the family tossed in a few hijinks along the way once coaches started coming to the house.
Antonor: "Oh God, Les Miles and Nick Saban were probably the best ones, if I had to pick one it was Les Miles. He turned the TV down. I loved that. I always tried to have the TV up and have the noise. I always used to leave it up when the college coaches came in. I wanted to see who's going to try to talk over the damn TV and who's going to ask you to turn it down. I talked quitter and quieter. Les Miles came in and said, 'Hey, turn that down man!'
"Nick Saban didn't say anything. (Former Alabama assistant and now FSU assistant) Sal Sunseri did all the talking. Sal had a good relationship by then, he knew what I was doing. But Nick, you could tell when stuff bothered him.
"I kind of knew Jimbo, he was the last one in and I knew my son was going to go there, so I gave him a little respect. I didn't want to let him sit there with the TV on. I didn't do Jimbo like that. I knew he was going to be kind of nervous because my momma was here and she was a big Alabama fan. I didn't want to do anything.
"Grandma stayed quiet. She talked to everybody else but not a word to him."
Loretta: "She knew he was going to go to FSU and she said she didn't want to build a relationship. But she's on board now."
Antonor: "It got so comfortable, because they were coming so much, Jameis probably wouldn't even come out after the second (visit). He'd probably just stay back in the bed. After the first time we answer questions, me and Jameis are in on the plan, but after the first time they came, Jameis really wasn't in the conversation anymore. He's back there laying in the bed with the coaches out here (in the living room)."
Auburn even violated its own self-imposed sanctions to recruit Winston, though neither his family nor his high school coaches were aware of it at the time.
Antonor: "Because they can come to your house right after the championship game, they could come back in. (Auburn) came right after the championship game. It was that Tuesday when they came. They brought three coaches."
Scott: "I mean really the whole time the sanctions were in place nobody knew about it. The only reason we thought about it is why aren't they recruiting him?"
"We're sitting there in a room with like eight or nine attorneys and people breaking out pictures like it's an FBI telescopic lens and they're asking 'Who's that guy? Who's that guy?' Jameis wasn't in trouble but they were asking about the school.
"I 've done 2 or 3 depositions over the phone about Jameis' recruitment. Just people like, so-and-so school said that so-and-so had contact with Jameis and he wasn't supposed to. And I'd have to do a deposition that no he didn't."
Scott: "Zeke Pike. When he commits, (Auburn) called me and said he committed and they weren't going to recruit Jameis anymore. I don't think they realized is that has no bearing for him, he doesn't care. That's not going to make him say yay or nay."
Winston's family also asked each school to come up with a plan in writing to show how Jameis would be able to play baseball and football.
Antonor: "We didn't want you to just tell us, 'He can do that.' We wanted them to show us how.
(FSU) they weren't the best now. They were about the fourth best plan."
Loretta : "But he still knew where he wanted to go. The thing that really got him was the recruitment by both parts. Regardless of whether for Jimbo wanted him for football, Mike Martin still wanted him for baseball. And their willingness to work together and let him come really appealed to him."
Winston did eventually announce his commitment with a local ABC station in Birmingham. But beforehand, he called each of the coaches for the final four schools to let them know his decision.
Antonor : "I didn't want to listen. Not with them. Georgia Tech and the rest of them, I was around. I wanted to know how he was going to talk to them. He did a great job. But Les Miles? I couldn't. That man worked too hard. Nick Saban, I couldn't be around him when he told them."
Loretta: "I wanted him to be where he wanted to be, but it would have been so much easier to be 45 minutes or an hour and a half away. I had to take myself out of it."
Word got out about Winston's commitment announcement and media swarmed the studio location.
Scott : "We had to sneak in the back door that day. We shot it not far from here and the next day we were leaving to go to fall camp. There were so many media there, like out-of-state, that we had to sneak him in the back door of the studio.
"I called the guy from Fox, we hated that that happened. 'We're going to slide him out the back door and we'll meet you at the high school and let you shoot a deal with him.' They said OK, and the guy calls me, and everybody follows his ass.
It's like some stuff on the damn paparazzi. We had people following us. He said we'll meet you at the house by the swimming pool and it's on private property and they can't follow us. We're sitting there and we're trying to lose everyone. We shot that deal. I got him to fall camp and just got him out of there. To me you don't hear about stuff like that in high school."
Scott: "He did a good job with it. I think we did a good job managing it. But after a while it's gonna get wild."
Loretta: "It did get to be a bit much."
Antonor : Only me and Jameis knew. Because we knew the plan. We did this together. If he'd have said, 'No dad, I don't want to do it that way, I'd have said, 'OK, but you've got to find a way.' So when I said Dameyune Craig did that.
You've got to realize that Alabama and Auburn were recruiting him before that. And he's seen these coaches. But they weren't talking to mom and dad."
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