Back Winston is Next in Line for Fisher, FSU

Back To ACC

Winston is Next in Line for Fisher, FSU

By BJ Bennett
Follow us at  Become a fan at the Facebook Page

Florida State is a place where some of the most recognizable names in the game have stepped under center. Still months away from kickoff, Jameis Winston is already under those bright lights.

As a heralded two-sport star at Hueytown High School in Alabama, quarterback Jameis Winston drew national press as the top quarterback prospect in the country. At 6'4'' with skills that fit the prototype, the baseball and football standout fielded offers from his choice of premier programs. LSU burst through state lines. Ohio State and Stanford came south with strong sales pitches. History figured Alabama, roughly 50 miles from Winston's hometown, wouldn't even have to.

Nine out of the last ten years, the top prep prospect in the Yellowhammer State has obligatorily signed with the Crimson Tide. Under Nick Saban, that grip has only strengthened. In August of his senior season, Winston went against the grain by choosing Jimbo Fisher and Florida State. His decision to turn down the Tide, one he admitted would be unpopular, was the first by a consensus top-five-at-his-position prospect since Mobile's JaMarcus Russell, the state's all-time leading passer, picked LSU in 2003. That season, Fisher was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Saban's Tigers.

Though Florida State's head coach was an already well-established commodity during his time in Baton Rouge, his pursuit of and progression with Russell helped him later become offensive coordinator and, more importantly, head-coach-in-waiting under Bobby Bowden at FSU. While Russell has struggled as a professional, the number one pick in the 2007 NFL Draft was the 2006 SEC Player of the Year, winner of the Manning Award and a Sugar Bowl MVP. Russell finished his LSU career with a 25-4 record as a starter and ranked in the top five in every major career passing category, despite leaving as a junior.

Fisher recently enjoyed his most successful season as a head coach. Florida State claimed its first ACC Championship since 2005 and won its first Orange Bowl since 1993. In April, a new school record was set as FSU had eleven players selected in the NFL Draft. Among them was quarterback E.J. Manuel, who was chosen 16th overall by the Buffalo Bills.

Manuel's rise is yet another feather in the cap of Fisher, who has shown a consistent ability to develop quarterbacks during his coaching career. Starting at the begin of his FBS tenure at Auburn, Fisher tutored the likes of Stan White, Patrick Nix and Dameyune Craig on the Plains. Fisher taught Josh Booty, Rohan Davey, Craig Nall, Matt Mauck, Russell and Matt Flynn on the bayou. The former Division III National Player of the Year as a quarterback at Samford has helped both Christian Ponder and Manuel become first round picks at FSU.   

It appears as if Winston, Fisher's hand-picked prodigy from greater-Tuscaloosa, is the next-in-line.
Make no mistake about it, the two are now hooked at the hip. Winston turned down a chance to be A.J. McCarron in an attempt to become Charlie Ward. Fisher, for better or worse, will likely turn to the redshirt freshman now after projected starter Clint Trickett decided to transfer to West Virginia after spring practice. Clint, son of FSU assistant Rick, surprisingly left the program after 106 pass attempts through his sophomore year. Perhaps the talented gunslinger from Tallahassee simply saw the writing on the wall and left for the home state of both his dad and head coach.

While Winston has never taken a live college snap, hype isn't waiting for affirmation. Prior to him even signing with FSU, Winston was taped throwing a football over a campus frat house while standing 30 yards away from the front door. ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit recently nabbed Winston a darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate, saying he could be this season's Johnny Manziel. Others, including analyst and trainer Trent Dilfer, have already looked ahead to his down-the-line pro potential.

"I know what is coming," the former Super Bowl champion stated this past winter. "I know the kid at Florida State, Jameis Winston, will be an absolute rock star. He will be the first pick of the draft if the first pick goes to a team that wants to run the pistol, zone-read, have a passer. He is that kind of kid."

For now, however, Winston's most immediate transition will be much more modest. His responsibilities last fall were simply to hold a clipboard and watch. In addition to handling already-skyrocketing expectations, Winston must fend off skilled sophomore Jacob Coker. Another Alabama-native, Coker is the only FSU quarterback on the roster with in-game experience. He attempted five passes a season ago, throwing one touchdown, and is entering his third year in the system. Most have penciled in Winston as the sure starter, though Fisher is extremely high on Coker's potential as well.  

As Florida State's high-profile Labor Day season-opener at Pittsburgh approaches, it's hard to imagine any freshman being more prepared. Winston has the obvious trust of a noted quarterback guru in Fisher. He spent his redshirt year learning from the savvy veteran Manuel. Around him, all five offensive line starters return for the Seminoles, as well as two of the team's top three rushers and five of the team's top six receivers. 

In his lone Florida State performance, this past April's Garnet and Gold Spring Game, Winston was 12-of-15 passing for 205 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.

"He came in there and he took advantage of opportunities. That is what you got to do. You have got to go make plays and he has done a nice job of making plays," Fisher explained after the scrimmage. "He took the opportunity to take the day with the stage he had and I thought he played pretty well for the most part. We will have to take a look at the film. I thought he stepped up and played well."

Of his throws that afternoon, Winston found receiver Rashad Greene multiple times, including once on a 20-yard scoring strike. After catching 57 passes for 741 yards and six touchdowns from Manuel in 2012, Greene was in rhythm with Winston in the final scrimmage of 2013.

"Jameis, he looked real good out there. He had a couple drives that he moved the ball down the field very quickly. For a young guy it showed a lot of leadership. Some of the things he was doing in the huddle as far as calling plays, it showed a lot about his leadership and how he wants to win and go out there and compete and get better. I really enjoyed playing with him today," Greene added.

Winston has been active this football off-season. He played outfield and pitched for a Seminole State baseball team that advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals. It's been his pigskin potential, however, that has generated the most discussion. Florida State is a place where some of the most recognizable names in the game have stepped under center. Still months away from kickoff, Winston is already under those bright lights.  

Reports, to date, have been glowing. Winston's athleticism acknowledged, observers have also raved of his cerebral studies and tireless preparation. The consensus is that Winston is mimicking many of the traits of Manuel, his record-setting predecessor. As Winston's responsibilities grow, though, so must his personality and his tools.   

Florida State is prepping for fall practice with the fewest returning starters of any team in the ACC. New names will have to emerge, new leaders, like Winston, will be forced to step in. At this point, his talent remains unproven. The stage and the storyline is not.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: / Twitter: @BJBennettSports