By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
@Tim_Linafelt on Twitter
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Perhaps Lamarcus Joyner said it best.
Joyner, a former All-American defensive back at Florida State, had perhaps the best view in the world of Jameis Winston’s introduction to the college football world.
And as Winston’s first pass sailed over Joyner’s head and into the arms of walk-on David Tyrrell for a 58-yard touchdown in the 2013 Garnet and Gold Game, Joyner had one thought.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, Jameis is gonna show the world,’” Joyner said.
He couldn’t have known at the time how right he was.
Since that day in April 2013, Winston has been a force in college football.
His accomplishments are as numerous as they are impressive. Consider that in just his first year a starter, Winston set the conference, school and national record for touchdown passes (40) and set a national mark for passing yards by a freshman (4,057).
He earned a slew of All-America honors, won the Davey O’Brien and Walter Camp Awards and, of course, became the youngest player to ever receive the Heisman Trophy.
Then, in January, he guided the Seminoles on a seven-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to win the BCS National Championship.
By the time it was over, Winston had inserted his name into the FSU quarterbacking canon of Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke, a feat once thought unattainable.
“His No. 1 attribute is his ability to process information and throw the ball with accuracy,” Weinke said last year. “Sometimes you don’t see veteran guys — third- and fourth-year (college) guys be able to stay within themselves.”
And as good as he was as a redshirt freshman, Winston the sophomore may be playing even better.
Under his guidance, Florida State has averaged more than 45 points per game and has eclipsed the 30-point mark in each of his 21 starts.
More importantly, with Winston at the helm, FSU is undefeated entering the regular season’s final month and closing in on another national title.
“He’s special,” Fisher said. “He’s extremely special … from the top of his head to the tip of his toes.”
‘A bigger role’
Yes, Florida State’s offensive numbers are down from a year ago. The Seminoles score 38.4 points per game (Compared to 51.6 in 2013) and their average margin of victory is down to 15.6 points (39.5 last year).
As a result, Winston’s numbers have been affected, too. He’s posted increases in completion percentage (66.9 to 67.2) and yards per game (289.9-325.6), but is also on pace for fewer touchdown passes and more interceptions.
Meanwhile, Winston is playing more. FSU’s lopsided score lines in 2013 allowed him to watch several second halves from the bench. Not so this year.
Those numbers, though, belie a bigger point – Florida State is still undefeated through eight games. And Winston is almost undeniably the biggest reason why.
“I think I have a bigger role this year than I had last year,” Winston said. “Because, last year, I had a lot of great players around me and they kind of just accepted me as being their quarterback. But I was young.
“This year I’m actually the top guy and I’ve got to get a lot of people following me.”
Winston entered the season missing some of his most reliable teammates. That includes two of his top receivers (Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw), his top running back (Devonta Freeman) and center (Bryan Stork).
Without them, Winston was tasked with leading a receiving corps that, outside of senior Rashad Greene, had plenty of talent but not much experience.
“Being a leader, it’s not really just a coach saying, ‘Hey, you’re the leader, you’ve got to go out there and lead,’” Winston said. “It’s not just being vocal. These guys have got to see me perform. They’ve got to see me caring about them. All the players know I care about them.”
‘He has a drive to win’
It’s no secret that Florida State has survived a few close calls this season. Whereas last year’s Seminoles were overwhelming in their dominance, this year’s team, which lost 13 players to the NFL, has shown a little more flair for the dramatic.
FSU has trailed at halftime in four of its eight contests, and into the fourth quarter in three.
And, quite simply, that’s when Winston has been at his best.
For his career, Winston is 168 of 246 (68.3 percent) for 2,226 yards, 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions when the Seminoles are behind or tied.
He’s led comeback victories over North Carolina State (from down 24-7 in the first quarter), Notre Dame (where the Fighting Irish led on five separate occasions), and, most recently, last week at Louisville.
After throwing two interceptions in the first two quarters and another to start the third, Winston led five touchdown drives in the second half. He finished the game with three TD passes and a season-high 401 yards.
“Being down,” Winston said, “is nothing when you have heart and you persevere.”
“He has a drive to win,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Drive for greatness. Not because of him, but for his team. He really does.”
“Those young guys,” Winston said, “have just been stepping up every single game.”
‘He loves football more than anyone’
As natural as he makes it look, Winston said his success on the field isn’t automatic.
It requires relentless preparation that he says includes at least two hours of film study a day.
The reason for this is two-fold: One, he feels it’s the only way he can be truly prepared for that week’s opponent.
And, two, he wants to make sure his teammates see the commitment required to win.
“I want this team to be as successful as it can be,” he said.
“And I know if I carry myself a certain way, and I know that if I can get the team to think how I think and to play how they are capable of playing, we’re going to be successful.”
It’s hard to argue with his results.
But Winston’s devotion to study and preparation has trickled down to his teammates, too. No more so than the week leading up to Sept. 20.
With Winston suspended and a visit from rival Clemson on the horizon, backup quarterback Sean Maguire was suddenly thrust into the spotlight.
No sooner did he learn he’d be starting than Maguire received a text message.
It was from Winston, telling Maguire that the two would watch film together every day to make sure he was ready.
Maguire said that their review sessions would sometimes last past 10 p.m.
“He kind of showed me a whole different way to watch film,” Maguire said. “What to look for and how much he really does prepare.
“You’re not going to just sit there and watch games. You’re rewinding plays eight times, nine times. … It’s just focusing on the little things that people who don’t know football would ever think to look at.”
Maguire might not have been Winston – he finished with 304 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions– but he was good enough. FSU rallied from a seven-point deficit to beat the Tigers, 23-17, in overtime.
“Ever since then, that’s how I watch film, too, on my own,” Maguire said. “Deep down, (Winston) loves football more than anyone. His preparation – people don’t see it, behind the scenes, how much he really does care.”
Winston isn’t much for game-day superstitions. He says his only requirements are that his socks are pulled up “real high” and that he’s got his trademark headband.
He’ll listen to his favorite song before taking the field – currently “Go Get it” by gospel duo Mary Mary – and then it’s game time.
And that, as he’s shown time and again, is when Winston shines.