We interrupt this "Johnny Manziel hand-gesture analysis" to offer up the following premature conclusion: Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is an extraordinary football talent.
Don’t wait for confirmation. Don’t listen to the predictable disclaimers, which have been loud and clear. Don’t shy away from the hype. In fact, embrace the hype and celebrate what you know—which isn’t much—and get excited.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being overly enthusiastic about potential, even with an extremely limited sample size; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. There will be ample time to adjust this perception, if and when the perception requires adjusting.
Following Jameis Winston’s first 60 minutes as a starting quarterback on Monday night, the chatter has already surfaced, as Heisman prognostications, ACC title predictions and national championship hopes are being tossed around somewhat casually.
Is it premature? Oh, absolutely. But it’s tough to refute what you see before your eyes in the heat of the moment, especially when the moment was as spectacular as Winston's performance in Florida State's season opener.
With the spotlight all to himself on Monday, social media exploded with each Winston completion and touchdown. There was a lot of chatter, and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant even joined in on the action during the intermission, saying what many were thinking:
This guy Jameis Winston made me a believer after 1 half of football— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) September 3, 2013
While his dissection of Pittsburgh proved to be his ultimate unveiling, his success is far from a surprise for those who have been following the young man over the past few years.
Before he completed 25 of 27 passes on Monday—and one of those incompletions should have been ruled a catch—Winston was striking out ACC batters with a fastball that sits comfortably in the mid-90s. He also threw out the occasional runner who boldly decided to test his arm strength in right field.
Note to baserunners: Don’t do that.
Before that, Winston was throwing a football over the Pike House on the FSU campus, a feat that requires no context beyond knowing that you would shatter a window (or perhaps come up short of shattering a window) trying.
Is this important to his football legacy? Of course it is.
Before that, Winston was one of the nation’s top recruits in the class of 2012, choosing to attend Florida State instead of staying in-state to attend Alabama like many believed he would. It was perceived to be a monster commitment for head coach Jimbo Fisher at the time, and those sentiments have since amplified.
His high school highlights are a window into the future and the present:
Before that, Winston was drawing up ways to beat a Cover 3 defense…in middle school.
ESPN featured this piece of handwritten paper during its broadcast on Monday night, and it highlights the early quarterback mindset of an ambitious Winston as a 12-year-old student:
It certainly beats those stick figures you were perfecting during that same time in your life.
The buildup has come full circle with actual results to analyze now, and the early returns were jaw-dropping. Rarely is this kind of hype approached with such incredible play on the field, although this was the ultimate exception.
With his 356 passing yards and five total touchdowns, Winston shattered even the ultimate optimist’s expectations. So how can he possibly follow up this performance?
He already has.
His postgame press conference on Monday night provided a window into the star’s mindset, and his playful and calm approach was refreshing. Whether he was going for laughs or not, he got them. If this quarterbacking thing doesn't work out, there will likely be a camera or a microphone in his future.
Suddenly, there is life in a team that just sent many key contributors—including its former starting quarterback—to the NFL. There is also life in the ACC, which had as good of an opening weekend as anyone could hope for.
Clemson got the ball rolling by beating its SEC opponent (Georgia) at home on Saturday night, and Florida State closed the week out by dominating Pitt, all while showing off its sparkly new toy.
The Oct. 19 tussle between Florida State and Clemson was already a must-see matchup. Now, it’s taken on new life.
The star cycle is in motion, and it’s a cycle that has been unkind to the game’s most prolific stars in recent weeks. Whether it’s examining Johnny Manziel’s every movement and hastily filling in the context ourselves, or if it is determining if a hunched-over Jadeveon Clowney was actually sick or simply out of shape, this is not an easy crowd to please over the long haul.
The cycle, at least as it sits right now, can bite back.
Jameis Winston doesn’t carry the celebrity status of Manziel or Clowney just yet—nor should he—but this kind of extreme scrutiny may not be far off. If he comes close to matching his debut results over the coming weeks, the scrutiny will only continue to sharpen.
As he has shown in his limited spotlight time, however, the attention isn’t getting to him. He seems to thrive with the cameras on, looking quite comfortable, to say the least. At least he looked this way while just shooting promos with his teammates shortly before the season.
Also, you can add "dancer" to this list of available options if football (or baseball) doesn't pan out for him.
Where it all goes from here is a mystery, and that’s what makes it so fascinating. Winston's unlimited potential is intriguing and has made him a star well before he’s proved it long enough to justify the label.
It’s a label that he’s been able to wear well in limited time, whether he’s impressing a small crowd in front of the frat house, commanding the podium or looking invincible in his first start on the road.
With an actual glimpse of this potential, however, the process has escalated, as have the expectations. Until further notice, Florida State’s charismatic, smiling, dancing, baseball-throwing, quarterbacking sensation is must-see TV, and he'll likely be hard to miss.