December 15, 2013

Winston uniquely equipped for Heisman winner hype?

NEW YORK - A day before hoisting the Heisman trophy, Jameis Winston arrived in New York and sought out Johnny Manziel

"I asked him a few questions," Winston said before the ceremony. "Obviously I want to try to ask him 'Hey, what happened' because I'm curious just like everyone else. But the main thing he told me, 'Just enjoy the moment' and that's what I plan on doing."

It's not without irony that Winston would seek out Manziel for advice on how to handle fame. At Florida State's media day to open the season, Winston told reporters to hit him over the head with their microphones if he ever caught "Manziel Disease."

Turns out, Winston didn't catch Manziel Disease. Manziel Disease caught him all on its own. And it's a good thing that Winston hasn't shied from the spotlight: it's not going anywhere.

Exceeding expectations

Antonor Winston sat in his living room in Hueytown, Ala. this summer and shook his head at the hype surrounding his son.

"They start talking about the Heisman, you know now I don't believe that now," Antonor said. "Those jokers, I don't believe that, you know what I'm saying. And I think the kid is pretty good. But not no Heisman. Not the first year."

Mr. Winston was wrong.

At the time, his son, Jameis, had not even taken a snap in a college game, hadn't even been named FSU's starting quarterback, but even then, expectations - and hype - were sky-high.

Winston exceeded all of it. His parents, Antonor and Loretta, were in Death Valley when Winston led the Seminoles to a 51-14 shellacking of then-No. 3 Clemson to vault into contention for a national title.
Antonor was beside himself with joy outside the locker room after the game. Seeing his son perform so well on such a big stage is exactly what Antonor Winston had prepared him to do.

When he saw Jameis bowling over kids twice his size in Pee Wee football as a four-year-old, Antonor knew: this kid could be special. And he knew what came with being special.

So he'd wait until Jameis was asleep, or tired after a long football practice, and surprise him with an interview. How'd you play today? What coverages was the other team running? Make sure to thank your offensive line.

"Your first impression kind of means a lot," Antonor said this summer. "I always tried to get him - 'Your first impression, everyone wants to judge you. You have no chance to make it back up, ain't nobody going to give you a second chance,' lying to him basically. You just can't do it so you're first impression has to be off the hinge."

Still, Antonor knew Winston's personality was inherently goofy, and worried about how that might come across.

"Jaboo may go in somewhere being Jaboo, just hollerin', (people saying) 'what's wrong with you?'" Antonor said. "That's how he is, now. If you talk to any of his teammates, he is silly, he wants to have fun."

Winston, his teammates and his coaches have all reiterated the same line through the entire season: Jameis is still the same. Jameis hasn't changed. When asked Friday about a sexual assault investigation that clouded his future for several weeks before investigators announced he wouldn't be charged, Winston gave a measured answer. He said he'd done nothing wrong, that he stayed silent during the case for his family.

It was just one more example of Winston appearing unflappable when so many others are. Winston stayed cool even when FSU sports information directors hauled him out of interviews, and remained that way when they brought him back in the room shortly thereafter.

"Your life will change"

Manziel made no bones about how winning the Heisman Trophy will affect the winners.

"Life is going to change," Manziel said to the reporters who crowded around on Friday. "This is an extremely big deal. Look around right now. There's a lot of cameras and a lot of mics, there's a lot of flashes and a lot of fame coming from all this."

It's one thing when a player wins the Heisman and then heads to the NFL. But in Manziel's case, as in Winston's, the spotlight intensifies when a players wins the Heisman and then comes back to college for another year. How does one top a Heisman-winning season?

"You're going to have to adapt to how life is going to be after this," Manziel said. "Whether it's Jameis coming back or Tre coming back or guys coming back to school. Then you're going to get the questions next year about, 'Hey can you do it again? Hey what does this mean?' Blah blah blah."

Manziel also knows about off-the-field controversy. While he's had nothing like a felony investigation, Manziel's offseason was spliced together with video clips with him at fraternity parties, massive magazine stories, and a brief NCAA investigation.

"I learn from some of the stuff that happened to me last year," Manziel said. "I wasn't prepared for it and I don't know if you can be prepared for it. … There's a lot of scrutiny if you don't walk a fine line. I was a little uncharacteristic and a little bit out of the box. I caught some flak for it but figured it out a little as the year went on and continued to live my life and life as I went on."

That scrutiny starts now, as Winston turns his focus to the football field and the national championship game. He deflected questions about the future by saying FSU still has one more game to play. He added that as of yet, he doesn't usually get bothered on campus by students or fans. But Winston said he's already taken some lessons from past month.

"One thing I've learned is that I can't go out anymore," Winston said. "I can't carry myself as a teen. Coach Fisher says all the time that for you to be a man, the kid in you must die. … I have to become a man."

Winston also said his father's influence has been important as well, and the frequent family Q&A's growing. father have been helpful in handling the hype that's surrounded him since he arrived on campus.

"My dad always had something to say all of the time, so I always found something to say back to him," Winston said. "Just mentally preparing me for everything. I think that's why I'm so mentally strong, because he definitely did prepare me for that."

Winston showcased some of that mental strength in New York, as he fielded questions about the investigations and came away unscathed. The way he handled the hype has even impressed Manziel, who said Winston's ability to remain focused stood out to him from afar. Manziel told multiple outlets that he voted for Winston No. 1 on his Heisman ballot as well.

I'm proud of the way that, because I had to go through some controversy and some things, to see him at such a young age to put his head down and focus on his teammates and where they are," Manziel said. "I do give him a lot of credit for that."

As impressive as Winston has been, Fisher said after the ceremony that FSU has a plan to minimize Winston's distractions and delegate as much as possible so Winston doesn't get overwhelmed.

But the burden of the incumbent Heisman trophy winner shifted from Manziel to Winston soon as Winston hoisted the Heisman trophy over his head on Saturday night. Before he was announced as the winner, finalists were warned to be careful - the trophy can be pretty heavy.


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