National spotlight hasn't hindered Winston

November, 8, 2013
11/08/13
11:00
AM ET
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The playful chiding started around campus the day after the game. Students stopped Jameis Winston, stood a few feet back, then asked if he could see them.

The joke quickly caught on in Florida State’s locker room, too. Rashad Greene, the Seminoles’ star receiver who has hauled in 45 catches, including eight touchdowns, from Winston this season, pestered his quarterback about his eyesight.

“Man, you can’t see,” Greene told him.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesWhile everyone focused on Jameis Winston's squinting, the Florida State QB doesn't even look twice at all the attention.
Winston grinned, then offered the obvious retort.

“How do I see you down the field then?” Winston replied.

The Heisman hopeful laughed off all the jokes this week, but the mere fact that a few on-field squints caught on camera during last week’s win over Miami garnered national attention underscores just how big the spotlight is on Winston these days.

The truth is, Winston has been squinting toward the sideline for the past four years, and it hasn’t affected his game much. In high school, a contact popped out mid-game, and he finished up with just one. He completed all but four passes, his father, Antonor, said.

Since then, the squinting has been little more than a quirky side effect of Winston’s competitive spirit. He’d rather take an extra look toward the sideline to get the play from his coach than miss any of the action because a lens was scratched.

“He’s a different cat,” Antonor Winston said. “Jameis is the type of guy that, if one of those contacts come out, he doesn’t want to be going to the sideline with people wanting to know what’s wrong. He doesn’t want to come out of the game. He’d rather win and can’t see.”

But for Winston, the latest headlines have less to do with his eyesight than the bubble he’s been living in since his exceptional debut against Pittsburgh on Labor Day.

In the 10 weeks since that game, Winston has become a national celebrity, and virtually anything he says or does is liable to garner national attention. There was the preseason hoopla when he repeated a reporter’s question about “Manziel disease,” and a mini-drama erupted from media wondering if Winston had insulted Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. There was Winston’s quip about a Nevada player’s haircut that quickly made the rounds on Twitter and became its own Internet meme. The pregame speeches, the postgame interviews -- it’s all news simply because Winston said it.

“That's one thing, my face has always been shown,” Winston said. “If you see the other players, they squint for the sideline, too. People say I squint worse, but if you're squinting, you're squinting.”

Winston actually visited an optometrist on Monday -- complete with a photo on Twitter as evidence -- but he said that was a coincidence, an appointment scheduled long before the Miami game. And if he was somewhat defensive about his vision, he certainly wasn’t upset at all the attention.

“It's just life, man,” Winston said. “Sometimes people can change things into big things. But that's fun things. There's nothing bad about that.”

That mindset is a distinct departure from Manziel’s response to the media frenzy that surrounded him after his Heisman win a year ago. Manziel was photographed at fraternity parties, interviewed while attending NBA games, mobbed in public places around Texas A&M’s campus. In June, Manziel responded to all the attention with a tweet saying he “can’t wait to leave College Station.”

For Winston, however, life in the fishbowl hasn’t been nearly so stressful.

“It doesn’t bother Jameis a bit,” Antonor said.

Winston countered the vision concerns by insisting reporters pick out distant signs for him to read. He followed up on the attention given to the Nevada player’s haircut by seeking out Brock Hekking after their Sept. 14 game and introducing himself. For all the cameras continuously surrounding him, Winston hasn’t tempered his personality much.

He’s always wanted the big stage, and all the attention comes with the job.

“When you’re an elite guy like that, you’ve got people that want to follow you,” running back Devonta Freeman said. “And when you say great things, people are going to follow.”

Still, the spotlight can be harsh at times, and Fisher said Florida State works to prep its players for that reality. Programs are developed and guest speakers are brought in to educate players on dealing with the media, handling success, shrugging off failure.

In spite of all that training, though, Winston hasn’t changed much. He laughs and jokes and shows off when he feels like it, still deflects as much attention to his teammates as he absorbs.

That’s been the true test of his character, Fisher said.

“Success reveals more about somebody than failure. Who you really are continues to show when you have success,” Fisher said. “He’s exactly the same guy.”

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