College Sports

February 16, 2014

Winston is FSU’s proven closer in multiple sports

The O’Brien winner envisions two-sport pro career in football, baseball.

Regardless of the season, quarterback Jameis Winston is the guy Florida State counts on in crunch time.

Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner who led the Seminoles to a national championship as a redshirt freshman, also is the closer for FSU’s baseball team.

When the college baseball season opened Friday, Winston and his 95 mph fastball became the first Heisman recipient to suit up for his school’s baseball team since Auburn’s Bo Jackson in 1986.

Winston will take a break in his baseball schedule Monday to receive the 2013 Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award during a dinner ceremony at the Fort Worth Club. Then it’s time to rejoin his teammates for a Tuesday game in Jacksonville, Fla., and further his efforts to become a two-sport professional athlete like Jackson (outfielder, NFL running back) and former FSU star Deion Sanders (outfielder, NFL cornerback).

“You can do anything you put your mind to,” Winston said of his two-sport dream in a recent interview. “People are going to say, ‘No way. He’s a quarterback.’ But the one thing I always seem to do is gain the trust of my teammates. Even being in the NFL, if I can convince those guys I can be your quarterback, I can go play baseball.”

The irony of Winston’s impending trip to Texas is that the Hueytown, Ala., product could have played one or both sports in the Lone Star State if different decisions had been made earlier in his career. Winston, 20, was selected by the Texas Rangers in the 15th round of the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft but chose to accept a football scholarship and be a two-sport athlete at FSU.

If he’d generated more response on the recruiting front from former Texas coach Mack Brown, Winston (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) has said on multiple occasions that he could have been a Longhorn because of his fascination as a teenager with Vince Young, the dual-threat quarterback who led the team to a 2005 national title.

Before the Seminoles’ 34-31 victory over Auburn in January’s national title game, Winston said: “Texas was my favorite. Through the whole recruiting process, I said to my [high school] coach, ‘We’ve got to get Texas on the phone.’ When I was young, I looked up to Vince Young. I always wanted to go to Texas … It didn’t work out. Obviously, I’m glad I’m at Florida State.”

Although Winston said he tried to call Brown “a couple of times” and had his high school coach reach out on his behalf, the calls were not returned. Brown has said his recruiting sources told him Winston was destined to sign with Alabama or Florida State, causing Texas to focus on in-state prospects they considered more likely to head to Austin.

At this juncture, the bottom line shows Winston headed to Fort Worth to collect the O’Brien Award and the Texas football program making a fresh start under first-year coach Charlie Strong. For Winston, who led the nation in passing efficiency (184.4 rating) while leading FSU a 14-0 record as a first-year starter, the postseason accolades are something he cherishes.

“These are once in a lifetime opportunities, so you’ve got to enjoy the moment. You never know if this comes around next year,” said Winston, who can enter the 2015 NFL Draft as an underclassman but has indicated he plans to play two more seasons in college. “I go into every day wanting to get better at every single thing. I don’t have any area where I think I’ve reached my potential yet.”

That applies to football, where Winston threw for 4,057 yards with 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, as well as baseball, where he held opponents to a .176 batting average in 27 innings last season (1-2, 3.00 ERA). He also spent time as an outfielder and designated hitter.

Florida State football coach Jimbo Fisher said Winston’s focus and approach in crunch time makes him unique. Winston excelled on the field last season despite being implicated in a 2012 sexual assault case in Tallahassee, Fla., that drew national headlines. On Dec. 5, Florida’s state attorney announced no charges would be filed against Winston.

The next week, Winston won the Heisman. In the national title game, Winston completed 14 of his final 20 passes during an FSU comeback and directed a game-winning, 80-yard touchdown drive capped by his 2-yard pass to Kevin Benjamin with 13 seconds remaining.

“When they have a chance to win the game at the end, the great ones know there’s a moment in front of them and go play,” Fisher said. “I’ve always believed he was a great player.”

So does former Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, who was wowed by Winston’s take-charge style during FSU’s 51-14 rout of the Tigers during a top 10 matchup in Clemson, S.C.

“The way he throws the ball, controls the game, manages his players and the poise that he’s got in the pocket … it’s impressive,” Watkins said. “He’s definitely a complete player.”

The stats suggest the 2013 O’Brien Award winner is a pretty good baseball player as well.

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