Auburn Coaching Staff's Long History with Jameis Winston

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Auburn Coaching Staff's Long History with Jameis Winston
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Jameis Winston had plenty of people to thank.

Florida State's sensational redshirt freshman quarterback had just won the Heisman Trophy, becoming the youngest player ever to win college football's most prestigious award.

He stood in front of Best Buy Theater in Times Square, New York—in that moment, the center of the college football universe—accepting the award and speaking about his trust in the "process" that led to his success.

Winston had already thanked the Heisman trustees, his high school coach and his mother and father.

Then the new Heisman winner cracked a wide smile.

"I trusted the process with my main man, Coach Craig," Winston said, his voice breaking. "I still love that man to this day."

Winston's "Coach Craig" is none other than Dameyune Craig—co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach at Auburn and former quarterbacks coach at Florida State.

Craig recruited Winston to Tallahassee and coached the young quarterback during his redshirt season in 2012 and up until Craig's departure in January—when he left to join Gus Malzahn's staff on The Plains and return to his alma mater.

As Winston said, "He left for Auburn for the job of his dreams."

Now, just a year later, the two will be pitted against each other as No. 1 Florida State takes on No. 2 Auburn in the BCS National Championship Game on January 6.

For Winston, the game will mark the completion of a long journey from his hometown of Hueytown, Ala.—one that could not have been possible without Craig.

"Coach Craig and (Jimbo) Fisher brought me into this school not only for me to become a great quarterback but to become a great person," Winston said moments later in a post-ceremony press conference, via Alex Byington of the Opelika-Auburn News. "That's why I shouted out Coach Craig in the speech, because that man was an important part to me coming to Florida State. Obviously he left, but we still talk and he's still a very important part to me in my life."

But Craig isn't the only man on the Auburn coaching staff familiar with the Heisman winner.

Growing up just outside of Birmingham, Winston was a coveted recruit in the state of Alabama and the target of an intense recruiting battle between the Tide and Tigers.

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"I was pretty familiar with him," Malzahn said Monday. "I recruited him. I got to know him and his family, so we know each other pretty well."

But it's Craig that maintains the closest relationship with Winston.

Craig, a former quarterback at Auburn and a Tigers legend in his own right, managed to pull Winston out of the football-mad state of Alabama in the spring of 2012, even after the Tide and Tigers had kept the BCS National Championship in the state for three straight years.

This January, the two were split after Craig returned to Auburn. Still, the two stay in contact to this day—and it's apparent the move has worked out well for both of them.

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"He's a good kid, a hard worker and a great leader," Craig said last week, via AuburnTigers.com. "He's a very competitive kid. He'll be prepared for this game. He'll be excited about it. He has a lot of friends who play for Auburn.

"He kind of figured out (conference championship week) that he would be playing us. I've been telling him that for the last two or three weeks. We'll definitely get his best game."

Whether Craig knows any secrets to solving college football's most outstanding player—or whether Winston will be able to put his best foot forward facing one of his home-state teams—remains to be seen.

But January 6, Winston and Craig will be on the same field once again, albeit on different sidelines.

"I'm sure we'll speak in Pasadena," Craig said. "I'm proud of him. We've built a great bond through this process. He trusted me enough to take a chance and come to Florida State. He tells me he appreciates me all the time.

"The way I look at it, if it wasn't for Jameis, I wouldn't be here. If it wasn't for me, he wouldn't be at Florida State."

 

Justin Lee is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @byjustinlee. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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