NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.
Some players sneak into the room. They hang back against the wall, just one of the crowd, and you never know they are there. They become part of the furniture. Jameis Winston is not one of those players. Winston bursts through the door, and the air pressure changes. There is a new energy to the room. The camera lights bounce off his teeth as he smiles, and his voice booms throughout the room, and suddenly, there is no one else to notice. It is Winston's room, just like all of the others, and you cannot look away. He is a live wire, Winston, and his personality is always on. He talks a mile a minute, daring you to keep up, and he grins relentlessly. At times like this, you forget how young Winston is — he turns 20 today — because he seems so completely in control of his surroundings. "Before we played Clemson, before we played Florida, before we played Miami, we put together the team," Winston is saying. "I said, guys, where does the rule book say you cannot blow out everyone you play? The NCAA has all these rules, but it does not say you cannot blow out everyone you play. In the championship game (last year), Alabama blew out Notre Dame. We can do anything we want to do." And away he goes. With Winston, confidence oozes from every pore. He believes he will play well in tonight's championship game. He believes his team will play well. It doesn't matter what you believe. Winston believes enough for everyone around him.
It is odd. He has not thrown a touchdown pass in weeks. He spent most of December picking up trophies in this city and that one. The Heisman. The Davey O'Brien. The Walter Camp player of the year. The AP player of the year. There is celebrity to deal with, not to mention a month-long layoff.
In other words, there are a lot of reasons for Winston not to play well in the title game. After all, other Heisman winners have struggled in the title game. Ohio State's Troy Smith. Oklahoma's Jason White. Nebraska's Eric Crouch. FSU's Chris Weinke.
Mention that to Winston, and the grin breaks out again.
"One thing I can tell you about history," he says. "It's in the past. I'm not worried about what history has said. I'm worried about what's happening today, what I have to do to prepare myself to do well in this game.
"History said that a freshman can't win the Heisman Trophy. But Johnny Football (Johnny Manziel) did. Never see another freshman win this award. I did. History is history. There are great players who did great things back then. But we live in today."
That is part of the charm of Winston. You cannot tell him no. If he's talking about playing professional quarterback and major league baseball, he doesn't want to hear you say he can't do it. If you tell him he hasn't been in a close game all season, he leans forward and tells you how much fun it might be.
"He has tremendous confidence without arrogance because he truly loves the game," is the way FSU coach Jimbo Fisher puts it. "He loves what he's doing. He loves his teammates. He plays to win. He just loves competing and everything that goes through it.
"When he hits these big moments, he truly believes he belongs here, so they don't overwhelm him. He has an infectious attitude that affects our team. It's just an inner confidence that he has."
Oh, let's face it. With Winston, some of the confidence is outer, too.
And why not? This year, as a redshirt freshman, Winston had one of the greatest seasons a quarterback has ever had in college football. His team shredded the opposition in almost every game. Winston had seven 300-yard games, and eight in which he threw for three touchdowns. He threw 38 touchdown passes. In other words, there was a reason for the grin.
And since arriving in California on Tuesday, Fisher said Winston has been "laser focused." It's hard to imagine him not playing well against Auburn.
"I'm more than ready," Winston said. "The football field is where I do my thing. I'm not the best talker, not the best communicator or anything like that. But the football field is where I do my work.
"Our team is amazing. I know our team is the best team in the country. We go out there and do what we do, we're going to be hard to beat. I don't have to have a great game. I have to do my job."
He goes on that way. With Winston, a news conference is another excuse to laugh and tease and grin. The loopy grin never leaves his face. It is a defense mechanism he says, a device to make sure no one can ever look at his face and see something wrong. He keeps talking about how much he loves playing the game.
"I haven't reached my max goal," Winston said. "At the end of the day, I want to be the last person on that field. I want to be holding up that crystal ball and all the awards an individual can receive. Nothing is more important than holding that crystal ball up with your team singing We are the Champions."
Ah, but will it really be a blowout? Winston backs off a bit.
"They're a bunch of beasts, specimens running around on that field. They're a great team. They have a lot of heart.
"Winning big is always our goal. There is nothing wrong with that. But in this game, Auburn isn't going to allow that. We're looking for a football game, not blowing them out."
He pauses. Again with the grin.
"Nothing wrong with blowing them out, at the same time."
The thing is, you never get the feeling that Winston is trash-talking. He just likes to grin. And let's face it: Auburn has the 89th ranked defense in the country. A lot of quarterbacks would be confident.
It's odd. Sometimes, Fisher is such a hard guy that Winston's playfulness seems as if it softens him. Not so, says Fisher.
"That's the way he lets the pressure off," Fisher said. "He has fun and enjoys it, but he's a very driven guy. He and I are probably much more similar than we are different. I have tremendous confidence in him, because I know how he prepares and how he competes."
Sometime tonight, there will be more of that. Winston will look into the cameras, and he'll shrug. He'll look at the crowd, and he'll make a joke to a teammate. He'll stare down the pressure, and then he'll ignore it.
Then he'll grin.
And he'll take over the night.
Monday, January 6, 2014 , Section C |