December 22, 2013

Insider Report: NC reunion for Winston, Craig

The national championship will carry an extra bit of weight for Jameis Winston - it'll be his reunion with the man credited with bringing him to FSU.

Auburn assistant coach Dameyune Craig was quarterbacks coach at FSU before leaving for Auburn this spring, and he was critical in Winston's recruitment. He was the first coach to call the family and that earned an important leg up for the Seminoles.

He was also close with Winston during Winston's redshirt season, and Winston credits Craig with shaping him as a person.

"He was a good reason why I came to Florida State," Winston said. "He kept me on the right path. When I first got here I was hard-headed, especially at practice. And he told me, 'Jameis focus up.' Him and EJ together just kept me on the right path. I didn't want to waste my year but they made sure I didn't waste it, just staying on me."

Winston said Craig used to call him every day, sometimes as early as 5 a.m., to check on him.

"If he had one of his visions or something, 5 in the morning he'd call me and let me know 'hey Jaboo don't do this,'" Winston said. "Coach Craig has got a lot of visions. If you interview any Auburn players, they'll tell you coach Craig having visions and he'll tell you, 'hey I had this vision last night and don't do this.'"

Winston said when Craig left for Auburn, he felt the sting, but said that he talked to Craig about the decision to leave and said told Craig he supported him.

"It hit me pretty hard," Winston said. "I didn't really express that because I had to talk to coach Fisher about it. I was sad when coach Craig left because it was unexpected."

Winston did say that Craig's departure forced him and Jimbo Fisher to develop a closer relationship, and Winston also praised new quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders.

"Coach Fisher took me up under his wing when coach Craig left," Winston said. "Because coach Fisher knew that I had a real good relationship with coach Craig. With coach Craig leaving that actually brought me and coach fisher a lot closer than what we were."

And while Winston said he and Craig are on good terms, he said he hasn't heard from Craig nor has he tried to reach out leading up to the national title game against Auburn.

"I'm trying to refrain from talking to him because he might try to talk me in to not playing a good game," Winston joked.

Florida State went back to basics this week in practice.

Players compared the first week back after 10 days off to fall camp, and said FSU went through a variety of refresher courses to get back on track.

"When you take a week off of anything that you're doing it's going to be a little hard to get back into it," defensive end Mario Edwards said. "But the more and more we've been repping it we've been good."

That's been standard procedure for FSU for bowl preparation under Fisher, and the results so far are hard to argue with: Fisher is undefeated in bowl games while a head coach at FSU.

That's something we always do," Cameron Erving said. "For every bowl game, we do those camp-type practices. It goes back to a lot of one-on-ones and banging, because you have to get back in rhythm."

Not only that, but FSU has won bowl games as both an underdog and a favorite - the Champs Sports Bowl in 2011 being the best example of the former. Fisher said the preparation is three sets of five-day practices, one before Christmas, one after Christmas, and one after new years leading up to the bowl game. Fisher attributed the system to what he learned from Nick Saban when the two coached together at FSU.

"We worked through a system and with Coach Saban we totally changed it at LSU, it's similar to what we're doing now," Fisher said. "He didn't have much success at Michigan State in bowl games and we changed some things drastically at LSU."

Florida State lies in the heart of SEC country. Most of its players also had SEC offers, and many of them have grown up hearing about the vaunted legacy of the SEC.

But while there's a fitting poetry to FSU potentially ending the SEC's streak of dominance by beating Auburn in the title game, FSU players dismiss that storyline.

"I don't even look at that," James Wilder Jr. said. "I don't think the conference really tells nothing. I feel we're, we do what we got to do, we play our ball game, we'll come out victorious."

That's a sentiment echoed even by FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher, who has denied multiple times that he build FSU in the image of the best SEC teams. Instead, Fisher says he built FSU as a team he felt could win a national title. The Seminoles just happen to resemble the best SEC teams.

"I built a team that I think can win a championship," Fisher said. "I coached in the SEC for 13 years and I know the good and the bad. I know the propaganda and the truth."

  • Devonta Freeman has been limited the past few days in practice. Fisher said it's nothing serious, just a few bumps and bruises. He said Freeman could go if need be, but he wanted to rest Freeman and give a few other running backs some more touches.

  • redshirt freshman running back Mario Pender has returned to FSU practices after being academically ineligible for the first semester. Fisher said he hadn't checked with FSU's compliance office to see if Pender could play in the national title game.

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