Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Colleges

Despite questions, Jameis Winston plays with ease

GAINESVILLE

The voice of the accused is confident and strong. From time to time, it is playful. There is no quiver to it.

The eyes of the accused look you in the eye as he speaks. They are clear eyes. They do not dart around the room.

The hands of the accused chop the air as he talks, shaping football plays into the air. At a time like this, those plays seem very important to him.

In the moments after a big football victory, this is FSU quarterback Jameis Winston. He is 19, but he is still in control. Here, at the front of a news conference, there is no sense of the scandal that has thrust him into the headlines. Here, there is no suggestion that a sexual assault investigation even enters his head. Here, there is football, and only football.

This is not to suggest that Winston is guilty, or that he is not. A lot more evidence than third down will go into that decision, as it should.

On the other hand, if you were in his position, how would your nerves be?

Me? Even if I knew I were innocent, I would be a blithering mess. You probably would be, too. I would be on the telephone to my attorney every three minutes. I would think about the possibility of prison. I would think about the ramifications of a trial. I would hear every whisper, every catcall, every jeer. Athletically, I would be unable to tie my shoes.

Not Winston.

He only seems to hear the roar after another touchdown.

In the aftermath of FSU's 37-7 victory over Florida on Saturday, this was what struck you. One way or the other, the focus of Winston is impressive. Again, this is more of an observation than it is evidence. It is possible that Winston is playing guilt-free because he is, and it is possible that he is merely able to compartmentalize better than most.

Either way, it's hard not to notice that in the three games since the allegations surfaced, Winston has hit 52 of 77 passes for 829 yards and nine touchdowns. He has been calm. He has been efficient.

Against Florida, Winston was at it again. Despite a slow start, he finished the day by hitting 19 of 31 passes for 327 yards, his sixth 300-yard day of the season. By now, Winston is such a dynamic player that this one struck you as a bit of a struggle. His team won by 30, and the first question to Winston was about how hard a day it was for him. The Seminoles went to 12-0, and everyone noticed that, for the first time all year, they didn't score 40.

Maybe that's it, too. Maybe the football field has become a safe haven for Winston, a place where he isn't going to read a blunt headline or see a harsh Internet report.

If that's true, then Saturday allowed him to get lost in a big rivalry game. It offered up a 96-yard touchdown drive. It featured FSU coach Jimbo Fisher grabbing him by the face mask. It allowed him to chuckle after Florida attempted to cover tight end Nick O'Leary with a linebacker. For a quarterback, this is fun stuff.

"Going 12-0 means a lot," said Winston, speaking in a news conference where non-football questions were not allowed. "I haven't gone undefeated. I asked the guys how many of them were undefeated even in high school. We got a couple of hands. It feels so good. It feels so good, doing it here while everybody is on our back and everything is going around in our heads."

Everything?

Pretty much, that was as close as Winston came to addressing the possible charges against him. He praised his teammates. He joked about Fisher grabbing his face mask. He talked about facing Duke in the ACC title game.

As for Fisher, he could not stop talking about what a competitor Winston is, or how Winston responded to getting hit early.

"I think the more he gets (hit), the more the competitor in him comes out," Fisher said. "Some people you hit in the mouth and … there are two kinds of people. One says, 'What's going on?' Then there are the ones who jump right back in the first. He jumps right back in the fight.

"His competitiveness is ridiculous. You get on him, and nothing fazes that guy. He wants me to do that. He likes that. The guy's ability to learn and process information is what sets him apart. He can think. He loves the whys of the game. How it works."

For instance, FSU led only 3-0 in the second quarter when a punt was downed at the FSU 4.

"This is going to define this game," Winston said. "If we can just shove it down their throat and go 96 yards, we will win this football game. Let's do it."

They did. Winston converted a third and 26 along the way, and he hit Kelvin Benjamin with a 45-yard touchdown pass, and FSU was off to the races.

What this proves, of course, is that Winston is an excellent football player. No one ever doubted that.

"My game is to get other players the ball," he said. "If I do that, it's easy for me to calm down."

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