Sept. 11, 2013
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- As the world gets a little more hectic around him as hype and expectations continue to extend towards seemingly unreachable heights, Jameis Winston doesn't need a reminder to keep a level head.
Even if Florida State's budding star at quarterback wasn't already wired with a team-first mentality, Winston gets plenty of help when it comes to keeping things in perspective.
He doesn't need his coach barking at him at practice every day to "do it again" in his quest for practice-field perfection -- but that's exactly what he gets. He doesn't need his elite group of wide receivers chirping in his ear about what he may have done wrong on a certain pass play -- but that's exactly what he gets. And he doesn't need visual evidence as two individuals he has looked up to most -- one as a youth and one more recently -- did battle in an NFL game this past weekend -- but that, too, is exactly what he gets.
When Buffalo and New England squared off this past Sunday, Winston watched as former 'Noles quarterback EJ Manuel led the Bills to a narrow defeat at the hands of the mighty Tom Brady-led Patriots.
For Winston, the game was special. On one team was the rookie quarterback whom he learned so much from last season as he watched Manuel lead FSU to a 12-2 record, ACC Championship and Orange Bowl victory. On the other team was his boyhood football idol. In both, Winston sees what can be accomplished with hard work and strong leadership qualities.
"I always liked Tom Brady because he was so fluid and he was so smooth and then he was the underdog," Winston said. "I always looked at myself as being the underdog, even if people held me to this certain type of status because I knew if I felt that I was the underdog I knew that I would be able to persevere and get better every day."
But with his second career game Saturday looming, it's tough to imagine how Winston can do much better than his headline-grabbing debut at Pittsburgh on Labor Day. Breaking the school record for completion percentage, tossing four touchdowns and having just two incompletions on 27 pass attempts while running for another score and turning broken plays into big gains in a runaway victory doesn't seem to provide much room for improvement wiggle room.
Even 'Noles coach Jimbo Fisher struggled at his weekly press conference to find an example of a critical Winston mistake in the 41-13 thrashing of the Panthers.
"You think people are going to stumble but maybe not," Fisher said. "Maybe they play well all the time, keep things in perspective, remember why they're doing things and stay true to the process."
Winston, of course, is quick to point out that he still has a long way to go, no matter what the statistics reflect after one game.
"There's always things when you watch film that you see that you can do better," Winston said. "From a team standpoint, we have so many places where we can grow. Like on my [naked bootleg] I made a big mistake. I went the wrong way so that's something that I have to avoid those mental errors."
Of course, Winston's example of a mental error refers to the first play of the second half at Pittsburgh that actually resulted in a 42-yard Kenny Shaw completion. But staying true to the process means recognizing and correcting a negative even if the outcome is positive.
And the notoriously competitive Winston is thriving in an atmosphere that is built on Fisher's FSU process. Because the process of intense preparation creates an environment in which he and his teammates are always on the same page -- even if he is a first-time starting rookie being protected by upperclassmen, handing off to upperclassmen and throwing to upperclassmen.
"It's the trust. I knew everyone else would be in their right positions so I was like, 'Hey, I can't panic,'" Winston said. "Just keep doing what I need to do and Kenny Shaw was wide open and he made a good play for me."
Winston maintains that his demeanor on the football field -- whether things are going well or not -- has a lot to do with instincts and one can surmise that there's some similar internal mojo working as he continues to navigate the potential pitfalls of his growing celebrity.
While the infrastructure is in place, the personal relationships are there and the real-life examples of what it means to be a great teammate and leader are just a televised NFL game away, Winston is still his own gregarious self that is ultimately responsible for, as Fisher likes to say, eliminating the clutter.
"Either you're going to let it go to your head or you're going to be the same person," Winston said. "And me, obviously we are looking forward to Nevada week so I am focused on this. And I know for my team's sake and I know for everybody that's looking around this program, it's one game so you've got to move on. You can't just live in the past."
Added Winston: "When you see the players around you that have been through [recruiting hype and expections], you're like, 'Man I can't be the guy to be different from these guys. I've got to stay grounded.'
"It's for the team."