Despite having yet to throw a pass in a college football game, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is the sport’s version of "The Most Interesting Man in the World." He’s the one newcomer that fans across the nation are the most anxious to see.
But the lasting impression that he left on the coaches and counselors at the 2011 Elite 11 camp (for the nation’s most highly touted quarterback prospects) had little to do with what he accomplished on the field.
Instead, one Elite 11 staffer detailed how Winston’s defining moment came from his willingness to raise his voice when others in a room wouldn’t.
Former Super Bowl-winning quarterback and Elite 11 coach Trent Dilfer was in the middle of delivering an emotional speech the day before the camp’s finale. The climactic monologue focused on Dilfer’s personal tragedy in losing his son, Trevin, who passed away at the age of five after a battle with heart disease.
In the middle of Dilfer’s impassioned pleas to get the group of two dozen quarterbacks in attendance to seize the moment and rise up to meet their enormous potential on the field, Winston—who went on to win the camp’s MVP award—calmly stood up and delivered a message that will forever be ingrained in the hearts and minds of those in attendance.
“I think I speak on behalf of all 23 quarterbacks and everyone here in this room,” Winston said to his mentor. “You may have lost a son, but you have 24 sons right now.”
While it’s a message most people inside of that room wanted to deliver, the Elite 11 staffer shared that moment as a testament to what makes Winston one of the most fascinating student-athletes in recent memory.
Fast-forward two years, and we are mere days away from Winston taking the field as Florida State’s starting quarterback in his first college game.
The buzz surrounding the former 5-star recruit has been simmering for months, and as Ira Schoffell of USA Today points out, it exploded after he stole the show at Florida State’s media day—in part, as Jim Weber of Lost Lettermen notes, because of a widely misinterpreted quote about Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel—earlier this month.
However, this is hardly Winston’s first brush with celebrity.
Winston was the No. 15 player in the 2012 class by the 247 Sports Composite rankings. According to his biography on Seminoles.com, he was also a standout baseball prospect who was rated as the 22nd-best player in his class by Perfect Game.
Selected in the 15th round of the 2012 MLB draft by the Texas Rangers, Winston passed on turning pro. He instead chose to play as an outfielder and pitcher for the Seminoles’ nationally ranked baseball program. His first season on the diamond in Tallahassee made him a YouTube sensation, with his exploits making him a mainstay on message boards throughout the offseason.
Two-sport athletes are rare, and few come along who are as gifted as Winston.
The Dude Qualities
“At Elite 11, we never try to use the word “it factor” because there’s no way to describe it. We call it “dude qualities” or “DQs.” Dude qualities are when a guy can walk into a huddle and has immense respect from his teammates. He’s a guy who walks into a huddle extremely prepared and prepared to lead no matter what situation is put in front of him and Jameis did that.” – Yogi Roth, Elite 11 counselor, Pac-12 Network Analyst
There’s a vibe that Winston brings whenever he walks into a room, huddle or field.
It’s instantaneous. Regardless of whoever is around him, they can feel his presence, and it’s not because he’s flaunting his abilities either.
Winston’s personality is infectious. Just study the tones and the number of giggles from the throng of reporters surrounding Winston during the Seminoles’ media day. Most of them had no idea what to expect from a player with so much hype, and their skepticism faded with every one-liner Winston zoomed past them.
Despite his inexperience, when you combine his personality with his immense physical gifts, Winston has already separated himself from a number of signal-callers on the college level.
“There are 124 starting quarterbacks in Division I, and there might be 15 that have that (presence) at that type of level,” said Roth, who worked with Winston at the Elite 11 camp. “Jameis is clearly one of them. It’s really impressive when you get around it. I think you can teach anything, but that’s a hard skill to teach.”
However, don’t be fooled by his mild-mannered antics in press conferences. When the lights come on, Winston’s competitive fire sizzles as much as the 95 mph heaters he delivers from the mound.
Matt Scott coached Winston at Alabama’s Hueytown High School for three seasons before taking over at Gadsden City High School in January. He knew he had something special when he witnessed Winston, then a sophomore, chew out a senior who was the team’s best receiver for dropping a pass in a summer workout.
“Jameis went up and grabbed him by the shirt and said, ‘You’re a senior, catch the ball!’ I said to myself then, man, this is a different dude,” Scott recalled.
Roth recalls a similar tale at the Elite 11 camp. Winston played receiver when teams were running short of bodies in 7-on-7’s, and while he was dominant in that spot, too, he suffered a hip injury in the process.
Instead of packing it in, Winston moved back to quarterback, and on the final drive of the camp, he led his team to a touchdown in the two-minute drill.
“That’s when you saw the grit and the determination and really the competitive mastery that Jameis Winston has,” Roth said.
It took his first snap in FSU’s spring game—a 58-yard touchdown strike that torched All-ACC corner Lamarcus Joyner—for Garnet and Gold faithful to be convinced that Winston was their quarterback of the future.
The 6’4”, 227-pounder finished the game 12-of-15 for 205 yards with two touchdowns. After months of message board buzz about Winston’s future, it was a performance signaling that the tremors emanating from Tallahassee were legit.
While Winston is a dual-threat quarterback with the desired physical measurables, there’s another aspect of his game that has analysts such as Roth excited about his potential.
“He has incredible neural agility, like Russell Wilson,” Roth said. “When I say that, I mean the ability to take in a lot of information, process a lot at a fast pace without getting too frazzled when it happens.”
While Winston’s package of attributes has already garnered attention from his coaches, teammates, media and fans across the country, the question remains: How long can he continue to handle the pressure of excelling in two sports?
Is Winston the Last of a Dying Breed?
“He can go out and play a football game, then pick up a baseball up and go out there and be one of the best players on the field, regardless of whether he’s practiced or not. It just all comes so natural for him.” – Former Hueytown High coach Matt Scott
Mention Winston’s name in his home state of Alabama, and those familiar with his prep career instantly react to the comparison to another former two-sport standout from the Yellowhammer State: Bo Jackson.
Scott said that his former star pupil is already in the rarefied air of athletic phenoms who have found success playing two sports at the highest level.
“I know he’s hasn’t accomplished the things that these guys have yet, but he’s a Bo Jackson- or Deion Sanders-type athlete,” Scott said. “He’s already shown us a little bit of what he can do baseball-wise.”
Winston told Ben Glicksman of Sports Illustrated that he aspires to follow in the footsteps of Jackson and Sanders and play both sports as a pro.
“Jameis Winston doesn’t think he’s doing anything miraculous or out of the ordinary ” Roth said. “For him, playing football and baseball is what he’s been doing since he was eight years old.”
Training for football and baseball are year-round endeavors, especially at the college and professional levels. Roth said that Winston’s time on the baseball field will help him on the gridiron because it has allowed him to get valuable reps in competitive, high-pressure environments.
“To get those types of reps that require focus and refocus of quieting your mind on big stages and making that normal for who you are...I think will really allow him to play beyond his years when he gets under center as FSU’s starter this fall,” Roth said.
The stakes will undoubtedly be raised if he has a big year on the gridiron. The focus will then shift to how long he can continue to do both, and whether he can manage and devote enough time to improving his skills in both sports.
“The sky is the limit for what he can do,” Scott said. “I heard he threw a football over a sorority house. I was surprised it wasn’t a condo. No big deal (laughter). There’s no doubt that he’s wired differently than anyone I’ve ever been around.”
"I know what's coming. I know the kid at Florida State, Jameis Winston, will be an absolute rock star. He'll be the first pick of the draft if the first pick goes to a team that wants to run the pistol, zone-read and have a passer. He's that kind of kid." – ESPN NFL analyst Trent Dilfer to Tim Graham of The Buffalo News
With one quote from a Super Bowl-winning quarterback who had worked with him for one week, the expectations for Winston’s FSU career immediately skyrocketed.
Seminoles fans have more reasons to crown Winston as the next great Noles passer. For starters, they remember that FSU won national titles under Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks and two-sport stars such as Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke.
To add more fuel to the fire, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher has a lengthy history of grooming quarterbacks into touted NFL prospects. His last two quarterbacks, Christian Ponder and EJ Manuel, were both first-round draft choices.
As Roth notes, that the Seminoles run a pro-friendly offense that is similar to what NFL teams run will make him more attractive than true spread-type quarterbacks in the NFL draft.
Considering his skill set as a dual-threat passer and the proliferation of mobile passers finding success in the pros, the stage is set for Winston to realize his seemingly limitless potential.
“I think he’s going to be the first of his kind,” Roth said. “I think GMs are going to drool over him. He’s accurate, he’s competitive, and he’s been thrown right into the spotlight and he hasn’t flinched. He’s had a no-flinch attitude ever since I first saw him when he was 15 or 16 years old.”
As for the baseball part of the equation, Winston finished a freshman season that was modest statistically. He hit .235 and had an ERA of 3.00 in 27 innings of work as a reliever.
However, as the replays of his mesmerizing highlights capture, he’s already established himself as a big league-caliber outfielder with the instincts and arm to be a force defensively.
Winston will not be eligible for the MLB draft again until after his junior season, which means he has two full seasons to improve his draft stock.
Although he’s shown he has the tools to be a prototype player in both football and baseball, what makes him a potential once-in-a-generation type of athlete is his mental makeup.
“He’s the blueprint for student-athletes coming out who want to play college football or college baseball,” Roth said. “He’s always understood from a young age who he is as a competitor and what drives him and what his purpose or role is in competition.”
While most familiar with Winston’s aspirations acknowledge the difficulty his journey presents, they all agree there are no limits to what he can accomplish athletically.
Of all the accolades and attention that Winston has received this offseason, Roth offers a glimpse into what type of legacy he could leave in football.
“If I’m a young student-athlete right now, and I had to put my eyes on someone in college football to watch or mold their spirit or work ethic after, Jameis Winston, hands down, is one of the young men that I would make sure who would be up on my wall or iPad or phone or computer screen every night,” Roth said.
*Sanjay Kirpalani is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.