TALLAHASSEE -- If Florida State University’s Jameis Winston doesn’t sound like the typical redshirt freshman quarterback, it’s because he’s not.
“Most people when they think about big games they think, ‘Oh man, let’s get serious, get focused,’ but I just want to bring a different approach because the game that we all love and the game that we all play, it’s about fun,” Winston said. “As long as we’re comfortable in our situation, we’re going to do our job right. So I want everyone to know — team-wise — ‘Hey, let’s have fun, let’s chill, let’s get the vibe going, let’s get our swagger together. Let’s get everything together.’ ”
Try to blitz him and he will pick you apart. Try to drop seven or eight? He can run. All the while he’s never pressing. Not with mounting national attention and Heisman talk pervading his weekly news conferences. Not with rising expectations for his team or talk of him being a future No. 1 NFL Draft pick.
That’s because Winston handles his growing hype the same way he handles the blitz — he faces it before quickly passing the ball — or in the case of the media, the praise — to a teammate.
“He’s one of the guys that doesn’t put himself above [the team],” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “At the same time they have tremendous respect for him for how he does handle [all the attention].”
Ask him about his passing numbers, and Winston compliments his receivers. Ask him about the time he has to throw, and he lists every one of his blockers by name. After every big play and at the end of every game, Winston can be seen walking up and down the FSU sideline thanking his teammates one by one.
That in turn inspires their trust. His play gains their confidence. His personality — well, his personality keeps them loose.
“It’s like no stress playing, no worries. We know we’re fitting to convert on this third down,” redshirt sophomore wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin said. “[Jameis] just like changes his voice around, makes it funny.
“It just keeps you laughing, and it’s kind of good to get your mind off the game when there’s those TV breaks and stuff like that — just get away from the game and stay comfortable.”
Through seven games this season Winston already has thrown as many touchdowns as his predecessor EJ Manuel — the 16th overall pick of the 2013 NFL Draft — did through all 14 of his games at FSU last year.
He also has played on a national stage twice. On Labor Day in Pittsburgh, he went 25 of 27 for 356 yards and four touchdowns. Two weeks ago, he threw for 444 yards — 293 of them coming with a blitz in his face — and three touchdowns on the road against then-third ranked Clemson.
A staggering 52 percent of Winston’s passes go for first downs — tops in the nation — and 30 percent of his passes go for big plays (15 yards or more). He has the best ratio of pass attempts to touchdowns in the country — 12.6 percent of his passes result in scores. And against competition from BCS automatic-qualifying conferences, his quarterback rating is a national-best 213.8. He averages 11.6 yards per attempt and completes just a hair under 70 percent of his passes.
The ease with which Winston commands his teammates’ respect and his ability to impart his own laid-back demeanor onto his teammates has shown on the field this year for FSU.
“If he’s not coming to the huddle joking around, then that’s not the Jameis that we know and there’s something wrong,” senior receiver Kenny Shaw said.
Fisher’s offense looks as potent as it ever has at FSU. The Seminoles are ranked third in the country in scoring and fourth in total offense —and that’s without the starters playing the whole game most Saturdays.
“One thing Coach Fisher always tells me, is if you’re good enough to play, you’re good enough to lead. So it doesn’t matter what age you are, it doesn’t matter [about] your senior status or anything like that,” Winston said. “Leaders are born.”
Leaders may be born, but few come into their own as quickly as Winston has done this year. And perhaps most remarkably, none of it appears forced, nothing has been contrived. What the nation has watched so far this season — that’s just Jameis being Jameis.
“I don’t get that serious at any time. Only time I’m really serious is probably when I’m doing bad because I need the guys to see that it’s not just a joke,” Winston said. “But we’re still going to have fun with it.”
A lot of fun. So far Winston and his teammates are having a lot of fun. And they may not be stopping anytime soon.