The Jameis Winston You Don't Know, According to Childhood Mentor Otis Leverette

Sanjay Kirpalani@@SanjayKirpalaniNational Recruiting AnalystApril 30, 2015

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Otis Leverette has been training and mentoring Jameis Winston since the summer before his freshman year of high school. A former defensive end in the NFL and at UAB, he currently runs ModernDay Fitness in Birmingham, Alabama. All words are his own as told to Bleacher Report’s Sanjay Kirpalani.

When people describe you with words like phenom and prodigy, you transcend from being a man into a movement. That’s what the last six years have been like for Jameis. The hardships that he has endured over the last couple of years, whether media-inflicted or self-inflicted, were almost essential to his growth.

I don’t know if you can get ready for what he’s about to embark upon if you live a normal life, I really don’t. There’s no coursework in school that can prepare you for the spotlight that shines as bright as it does on a starting quarterback in the NFL. 

There are three types of people who leave the NFL: people who are financially broken, orthopedically broken, spiritually broken or some combination of those three. Realizing the NFL dream is a whale of an accomplishment, but if you don’t have the right perspective when you walk into that game, man, I’ve seen it shred some people. So it’s bittersweet for me. I’m happy as heck and I’ll be cheering for Jameis wherever he goes and whatever pick it is.

But there will always be that sad side for me because of the things I’ve seen the game do to people.

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Leverette is still close with Winston and his family and is even helping organize his NFL draft party in Winston's hometown of Bessemer, Alabama.
Leverette is still close with Winston and his family and is even helping organize his NFL draft party in Winston's hometown of Bessemer, Alabama.Credit: Otis Leverette's Facebook page.

Some people gauge athletes by 40-yard-dash times and height and weight. I don’t. The first thing I look at is killer instinct and the ability to retain information and apply. You got a kid that has a killer instinct and the ability to retain and apply—that’s the starting point for a great athlete.

When it comes to football, Jameis is like that dog over the fence who is wagging his tail, and you think it’s the nicest dog you’ve ever seen, and then you jump over there and he will bite the hell out of you. He’s always had this Will Smith from the Fresh Prince type of personality, but with some Navy SEAL in him, too. If we’re having a water break, he’d act like he was four years old with the other kids. But when he got back on the field, he instantly snapped into a trained assassin. He could do it in a matter of minutes. When I saw that, I knew I had something special.

At the next level, you will find out that the guys who succeed are the ones that can weather the storms and actually take that whooping, mentally and physically. Jameis has been battle-tested in that regard. I think when he first gets to the NFL, the players and the people around him will love him, but I think it will take them a little time to understand the true magnitude and aptitude of this kid.

He doesn’t know how or have the desire to play the game America wants out of their athletes and stars. He will go into an interview and talk to media the same way that he talks to his teammates in the locker room at Florida State right before the interview started.  

It’s that huge personality that makes people want to follow him on the football field. It’s that huge personality that makes marketing people and people who have been around him want to affiliate with him. I just try to make him conscious of a lot of things. From a mentorship perspective, I just try to share my experiences and thoughts with him about life in the NFL and how there’s a smaller margin for error.

I think the impact the media woes and experiences of the last year have had on his family, primarily his brother and sister, affects him a lot. I think that drives him to want to take that next step into manhood.

When he was younger, I told him to study people like Cam Newton and LeBron James because they have dealt with pressure from an early age. I see Jameis as being that same type of polarizing figure. I think he’s that rare guy who only comes along every so often.

I knew it ever since he got out there at a camp in Tuscaloosa as a sophomore competing with 5-star seniors, and anybody with two working eyes could clearly see that Jameis was the best quarterback there. I’ve seen some kids go to these camps and, for lack of a better term, pee down their legs when they get out there with that level of competition. It was like no moment was ever too big for him.  

Another thing people don’t understand about Jameis is that he’s one of the most loyal human beings I’ve been around.

I’ve been running this program for seven years now and I’ve had more than 100 kids sign scholarships, with around 46 or 47 going Division I. Some of those kids signed those scholarships and instantly turned their backs to me. Not Jameis. Just the other day, he says, "Coach, check your mailbox in a couple of days." He sent $3,000-$4,000 worth of cleats and gloves and all kinds of stuff for the other kids in the program.

Ultimately, Jameis will give his team something that 99 percent of the kids in this draft don’t possess: a pure, unadulterated love for football. Today, you have so many Instagram players and guys who like the fame. They got into football almost as a job, and as a better source of fame and income. What separates guys like Jameis is that he’s found a way to hold on to the love he had for football when he was in little league.

Despite all the things he’s had to navigate through on and off the field, he’s held on to that love for the game in its purest form. That kid has a Dick Butkus-, Ray Lewis-type level of love for the game.

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report.