Sunday, July 21, 2013
ACC's QBs eagerly await Winston's debut
By David M. Hale
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Clemson's Tajh Boyd might be basking in the glow of preseason Heisman hype, relishing his role as one of college football's top quarterbacks, but he knows his limitations as an athlete.
Football, he's got down pat. Baseball, on the other hand, was never his thing.
Even rival ACC quarterbacks are eager to see redshirt freshman Jameis Winston in action.
"I was kind of terrible at baseball," he said.
So when Boyd saw highlights of FSU's two-sport star, Jameis Winston, launching a rope from right field to gun down a runner at home a few months ago, he took notice.
"That was unbelievable," Boyd gushed.
Of course, the baseball highlights weren't Boyd's introduction to Florida State's presumptive starting quarterback. The buzz surrounding Winston has been ubiquitous this offseason, despite the fact he has yet to throw a pass in a college game. He made waves on the baseball diamond, dazzled during Florida State's spring game, and among preseason pundits, he even has garnered his own share of Heisman talk.
All that hype with so few college credentials might've been reason for some animosity at this week's ACC Kickoff event, but Boyd said he simply is excited to see what else Winston has in store.
"I got to watch him in his spring game," Boyd said, "and I think Jameis Winston's going to be a really good quarterback."
That seemed to be the universal opinion from Winston's veteran colleagues around the conference.
North Carolina's Bryn Renner already has done some research on Winston's status as the ACC's most discussed cult figure. He is friends with Winston's baseball teammate, Brett Knief, who transferred from UNC after the 2011 season. Knief was happy to regale Renner with Winston's baseball exploits and left little room for doubt that he could hold his own on the football field, too.
"I've heard a lot about him," Renner said. "[Knief] was talking about how good a player he is. I'm excited to see him play. You always keep interest in every team around the ACC, so I'm looking forward to it. I've heard great things."
Duke's Anthony Boone heard the rumblings, too. Like Winston, Boone was a two-sport star in high school, but he passed on a chance to play baseball for the Blue Devils because he didn't want to split his attention during the spring.
Managing both sports seemed like a nearly impossible task, he said, but from the buzz surrounding Winston, he's not doubting Florida State's quarterback/outfielder can manage it.
"I'm almost positive he's going to do a great job there," Boone said.
Playing on Florida State's veteran-laden offense certainly doesn't hurt Winston's chances for success either, and Boston College's Chase Rettig said location might have as much to do with all the hype surrounding the redshirt freshman as anything.
At FSU, attention comes with the territory for quarterbacks. That's a spotlight Rettig said he wants to develop at Boston College, too -- with Winston adding a bit of inspiration.
"My goal is to get our team back to that platform where, in the future, those quarterbacks will be the Jameis Winstons," Rettig said. "Florida State's in a great position right now. They win a lot of games; they're on a national platform."
Of course, that spotlight can be a double-edged sword, and Boyd said that's the real danger for Winston.
After a stellar spring game and a strong debut on the diamond, it has been nothing but smooth sailing for Winston. There will come a time, however, when success doesn't come so easily, Boyd said, and that's what will separate the hype from the reality for Winston.
"The position that Jameis is in, with so much surrounding him and taking over for a guy like EJ [Manuel], it'll be important for him to have his teammates support him, to have those older guys take him under their wing," Boyd said. "It's a tough game. It can be brutal, man."
Renner echoed a similar sentiment. He has been thrown into the spotlight himself, and it didn't take long to realize that all that goodwill can disappear quickly against equally talented competition.
"You've got to take [the hype] with a grain of salt," Renner said. "The biggest thing I learned really quick was college football is a different game. You're playing with a lot of big guys out there. You're playing against 11 guys that want to rip your head off -- and they're fast. It's a humbling game. You throw a touchdown and the next one's picked and everybody hates you."
So far, it has been Winston who has humbled the competition -- at least in practice. But if the buzz has reverberated throughout the rest of the ACC's quarterback class, his teammates say Winston isn't paying much attention.
"You wouldn't even know that guy is getting all that publicity with the way he works and the way he is around his teammates," said cornerback Lamarcus Joyner. "What he does and the passion and the attitude he comes out there with, you can tell it's not getting to him. He's getting better, and he knows he needs to get better."
The legend might be taking hold even before the season gets started, but even Winston's competition is buying into the hype.
Sure, it's a long road between preseason buzz and in-season success, but at least one Heisman candidate is convinced it's a trail Winston can traverse.
"I'm sure he's going to do fine," Boyd said. "I don't think his coaches will put him in a situation where they feel like he won't succeed. So I'm excited to watch him."