Winston draws a crowd at ACC kickoff

July, 20, 2014
Jul 20
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GREENSBORO, North Carolina -- Reporters began staking out seats in front of the placard that read "Jameis Winston" more than an hour before the Heisman-winning quarterback was scheduled to speak. When Winston finally arrived, it was with his typical bluster, as he implored the gawkers to offer a round of applause that his Florida State Seminoles had finally wrestled college football's national championship from the clutches of the big, bad SEC.

It was an appropriate entrance, really. After all, it's the SEC that had set the standard for preseason media frenzies, first with Tim Tebow and, at the past year's SEC media days, with Johnny Manziel. But now it was Winston's star power that garnered all the attention.

Winston sat at a small table with his teammate, P.J. Williams, perched quietly at the opposite end. The crowd surrounding Winston grew so massive that reporters were standing on chairs just to get a peek, while the other ACC representatives discussed minutia with spartan audiences. But if Winston stole the spotlight, no one seemed upset by the spectacle.

"He's a great player, a great athlete and a great person to be around," BC defensive back Dominique Williams said. "He's a funny kid. Guys like us, we're just going about our business, and if people want to talk to us, they'll talk to us."

In fact, there were plenty of players just as eager to meet the ACC's biggest name live and in person.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsJameis Winston reminded those at the ACC's preseason kickoff that he and the Seminoles stopped the SEC's string of national titles this past season.
During the day's photo session, Winston smiled and snapped a selfie with Clemson's Cole Stoudt. He cracked jokes with players from Boston College and Wake Forest. When he wrapped up his session with print media, he danced in front of the North Carolina contingent.

"That guy's crazy," laughed Tar Heels' linebacker Norkeithus Otis.

His partner at the dais wasn't surprised. UNC quarterback Marquise Williams first met Winston at a camp five years ago, then he roomed with the Heisman winner at this past week's Manning Passing Academy. Winston's playful demeanor in the face of so much media scrutiny came as no surprise for Williams.

"I've known that knucklehead," Williams said. "I'm impressed with him. He's not like you think, not cocky. He's humble. He's a real down-to-earth guy. You can tell he won the Heisman, so something had to change, but everybody gets better as they get older. They get more knowledge."

That was a theme for Winston throughout. He didn't offer much in the way of contrition for the off-field incidents that have made him fodder for jokes and a headliner on celebrity gossip sites, but Winston did repeatedly talk about maturing in the spotlight and learning from his mistakes.

"You always have to have a smile on your face," Winston said. "Leadership is not only on the field -- it's off the field too. I know I have guys looking up to me, and I know I have a lot of support from my teammates as well."

The smile endeared Winston to the crowd Sunday, but the lingering concerns about last year's sexual assault investigation and this spring's police citation for stealing crab legs from a local grocery store tinged nearly every question Winston received. That too earned the attention of his colleagues around the room.

"He's a kid that made mistakes -- some bigger than others -- but he's doing a good job of handling himself," Miami tailback Duke Johnson said. "He got asked questions that were uncomfortable for him, but he handled himself well."

It was less than a year ago that Winston vaulted into the national spotlight, and he insists that despite all the chaos of a high-profile investigation, a Heisman win and a BCS title, he hasn't changed much. That certainly seemed to be the case Sunday, as he maintained the same air of playfulness and confidence that endeared him to so many Florida State fans from the outset of his career.

But Winston said he also knows Sunday won't be the last time he faces the cameras and answers some uncomfortable questions. Now that he's wrestled a championship from the SEC, he's going to be at the center of college football's universe -- for better and worse.

"I understand my leadership responsibilities for a team that won a national championship and a Heisman trophy," Winston said. "We still have a little fun here and there, and we've still got our mind set on winning another national championship. That's the most important thing."

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