Anytime a young up-and-comer is taken under the wing, he’ll usually come out having learned a few tricks for managing the perilous flight towards the ground.
Florida State’s quarterback, Jameis Winston, is no different as he begins his third season underneath head coach Jimbo Fisher’s wing. And if Winston were leaving the nest tomorrow, he wouldn’t come out empty handed. He’s learned a few things along the way.
It seems like a lifetime ago, the day that five-star recruit Jameis Winston stepped onto FSU’s campus. Fisher, already aware of the possibilities he had with Winston, immediately took the young whippersnapper under his wing and began molding the freshman quarterback out of Hueytown, Alabama into a player that could handle anything on the football field.
But it wasn’t just a player that the mad scientist was creating -- Winston came out a coach as well. And this has become more and more evident when talking to his teammates.
It’s no secret that the redshirt sophomore quarterback took time out of his time-off to get together with his receivers in an attempt to build chemistry. Young and old, the receivers met with Winston, running the same route dozens of times in order to pick up on any tendencies a receiver may have before he breaks off the top of his route.
This sort of thing – taking time off during the summer to run the same route over and over again can’t be fun, but they know it’s something they have to do.
"[Winston] had all the receivers out there doing that," Kermit Whitefield said. "We were going over all kinds of routes, going over and over for like two hours. He helped us, I mean, knowing how to run and how to read a defense, different coverages. I mean, yeah, we do [get tired of running the same routes], but we just gotta do it. We don’t wanna disappoint him."
It’s that extra time spent trying to get better every day that Winston wants to share with his teammates.
"I don’t want any of my teammates to think they gotta handle something by themselves," Winston said. "I’d rather all of the pressure be on me and take the pressure off them."
Communication has been the key for Winston during his time at FSU, especially during his time as the starter. His ability to get through to and communicate with his teammates enamored most people during Winston’s National Championship and Heisman Trophy run in 2013, leaving them puzzled as to how a redshirt freshman could get seniors to follow his lead. But he never faltered, reaching his teammates any way he could.
Seen here in this now famous pregame speech prior to taking the field in Death Valley against Clemson in 2013, Winston captures the attention of his teammates and the hearts of his fans. My favorite part of this, and the part I hope you guys will notice, is the look on the faces of the upperclassmen once the camera pans over. It's quick, and I urge you to hit the pause button, but telling nonetheless.
"The way I communicate with the players is kind of the way Coach Fisher communicates with me, you know -- when he was building me up to be this ‘good quarterback.’ So I try to be easy and simple with them and try to guide them the right way. You can’t really make them go the right way, but you kind of guide them and try to get them ready, and you always have confidence in them."
When confidence is given, confidence is what you’ll see in return.
Winston, during his first of many press conferences FSU will hold throughout the 2014 season, indulged the media with a brief story from camp, further defining his role with his young receivers and the way he attempts to guide them.
"Ermon [Lane] came to me one time," Winston said, "he had a practice where he just dropped about three balls. And he said, ‘man, do you still trust me? I said, ‘of course I trust you, because there may be one practice where I make three bad throws.’ Guys have to accept that everyone makes mistakes, but that’s why we have a team - and when we play together as a team, that’s when we’re gonna be better."
Most college football fans – if not all college footballs fans – know what kind of player Winston is on the football field, but few get a glimpse into the kind of leader he has become in the huddle, on the sidelines, or during their summer vacation. Not many know the impact he has on his teammates and their development, or the impact he has on his coaches and the way they go about their jobs.
But if you look hard enough, you can see it right before your very eyes -- Winston using those tricks of the trade that Fisher once whispered in his ear as the media exited the field or as the stadium lights inside Doak flickered to a halt. You see the same unwavering determination in Winston that you see in his head coach.
Winston has been given the necessary tools to soar at a height few have been able to accomplish before him -- not just as a player, but also a teammate; a leader; a coach.