TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Jameis Winston envisioned winning the Heisman Trophy well before he signed with Florida State.
He’ll find out whether his dream becomes a reality on Saturday night. The redshirt freshman quarterback is one of six finalists up for the most prestigious individual award in college football.
Winston and his high school coach Matt Scott were in Tuscaloosa on a recruiting trip at Alabama when he took a picture with Mark Ingram’s 2009 trophy. He wanted to be the first at Alabama to win the award, at the time.
“When Ingram won it, I was just like, ‘Well, he won it. So, I’ve got to be the next person from Alabama to win it’,” recalled Winston, who pointed out that Ingram is actually from Michigan.
“Football is so important to Alabama, so any time you have a national achievement it means a lot to your state and your family. You always dream. You’ve got to dream big because if you don’t dream big, there’s no use to dream at all.”
He’ll be joined in New York by Texas A&M’s reigning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, Boston College’s Andre Williams, Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch and Auburn’s Tre Mason.
Winston set Atlantic Coast Conference freshman records for the most yards passing (3,820) and touchdown passes (38) while leading the No. 1-ranked Seminoles to a 13-0 record and berth in the BCS championship game.
Florida State and Winston continued to excel despite a sexual assault investigation that became public last month. The State Attorney’s Office announced that it would not press charges against Winston last week. However, Winston’s legal problems may not be over. The accuser, her lawyer and family have scheduled a press conference today.
There is no doubt about Winston’s talent. He is already being talked about as a potential franchise quarterback in the NFL, even though he can’t be drafted until 2015.
“The one thing that you don’t know about a lot of players is how well, how quickly they’re able to read defenses,” said Gil Brandt, NFL draft analyst. “Once you get into the NFL, reading defenses is paramount. Are you going to be able to do it as quickly as you have at the college level?”
Brandt helped build the Super Bowl-winning Dallas Cowboys as vice president of player personnel from 1960-89. He said Winston has steadily improved and his accuracy is one of his most valuable traits. His 67.9 completion percentage is tied for 10th best in the country. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has lauded Winston’s ability to take what the defense gives and throw to the open receiver.
Brandt said the way Winston dealt with the accusation and the subsequent media coverage is a positive.
“That speaks well from the standpoint of concentration,” Brandt added. “And I think the most important thing for success to a football player is concentration.”
As well as Winston has played, there’s room to improve. Brandt pointed out mechanics of his throwing motion and the movement of his hips. Brandt wants to see incremental improvements across the board during Winston’s sophomore season — completion percentage, the way he adjust plays at the line of scrimmage, game management.
Scott said he and Winston’s family purposely tried to prepare him for celebrity in high school by exposing him to media and events across the country. None of that compared to this season and the coverage of the investigation. That attention will only increase if Winston wins the Heisman. He’s likely to be in the running again in 2014.
“It was different to go from such a slow, small type of small town College Station status where everybody knows you and people run into you, then to take that to a national level where you walk around Times Square and people are running into you and noticing you,” said Manziel, who endured his share of controversy after winning the award in 2012. “Just how big things boomed and spread out across the entire country, world, everything after that was nothing like I expected.”
Seven years ago Winston was first introduced to the Heisman through the NCAA Football ‘06 video game. He was 13 years old, created himself on the game and won the award. Winston could match his digital persona Saturday.
“He’s definitely the truth,” said 1993 Heisman winner Charlie Ward, who regularly texts Winston. “He’s the real deal. His attitude toward getting better and not settling for his last accomplishments is great.
“It was impressive to see him come out and do the things that he’s been able to do as a younger guy.”
2012 Heisman winner Manziel a finalist again
HOUSTON — Manziel isn’t sure if he’ll declare for the NFL draft next month.
But if he does he’s thought a lot about his legacy and how he wants to be remembered as one of the best to have ever played and someone who made a major impact for Texas A&M.
He’s made a pretty compelling argument for both. He’s a finalist for the Heisman Trophy again, with a chance to join Archie Griffin as the second player to win the award twice.
“To be a college football player in a skill position, that’s what you shoot for every year,” Manziel said. “So to get to New York and to be one of the best players in the country and then to be that person to win it, it’s a dream come true for anybody that’s grown up playing Pop Warner Football, that’s grown up playing middle school, high school football.”
Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman in 2012 after setting numerous school and Southeastern Conference records while leading Texas A&M to an 11-2 record and a victory over No. 1 Alabama in its first season in the SEC.
The Aggies were supposed to contend for a national title in Manziel’s encore. But another standout season by the electric quarterback wasn’t enough to overcome a porous defense that was among the worst in the nation. The Aggies finished 8-4.
“This year we definitely had our ups and downs,” Manziel said. “We didn’t have a final record like we wanted to at the beginning of the year. But just the whole season and how it’s been, it’s been a ride.”
That ride for Manziel started when he was suspended for the first half of the Aggies’ season opener against Rice for what the school ruled was an “inadvertent” violation of NCAA rules involving signing autographs.
The quarterback was investigated for allegedly accepting money for autographs from memorabilia brokers, a violation of NCAA rules that could have led to a much longer suspension.
He shook off his early season drama to throw for 3,723 yards and 33 touchdowns and led the team in rushing with 686 yards and eight more scores. He threw more touchdown passes, had more yards passing, a better completion percentage and averaged more yards an attempt than he did in 2012.
He’s third in the nation in total offense with 368.2 yards a game and fourth in pass efficiency.
Manziel dealt with various nagging injuries this season and said this week that he’s getting better as the Aggies have some time off before facing Duke in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl on Dec. 31. His thumb injury is still bothering him the most but he said it isn’t anything that would keep him out of the bowl game.
Manziel continued to spend time with quarterback guru George Whitfield to work on becoming a more polished quarterback.
“I wanted to come back and be a better quarterback, not just a guy who some people say is a good athlete,” he said. “I never wanted to be labeled as that. So to work hard with coach Whitfield multiple times this summer to put in the work I thought… to get where I needed to be.”
Left tackle Jake Matthews has enjoyed blocking for Manziel and said his ability to evade tackles makes his job much easier.
“It’s fun to watch him run around the field and see the things he does to the other guys,” Matthews said. “I just try to give him as much time as I can and let him make the plays.”
Manziel said he thinks he’s ready to play in the NFL but the sophomore insists he hasn’t made a decision about his future. Most assume that he will leave College Station but despite Tweeting that he was growing tired of the town this summer, he indicated that he wasn’t itching to get out.
“I need to take everything in to account,” he added. “I think you take that, how the season went. But more than anything, are you ready for the next level? You don’t want to go be unprepared for the National Football League or leave two years on the table. You don’t want to do that.”
“In the grand scheme of things it all comes down to making the best decision for you.”