- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher is worried about his quarterback.
Actually, that's not entirely right. Jameis Winston has inspired nothing but confidence -- from teammates, from fans and from his coach. And that's the problem.
Winston has yet to take a snap in a college game, but that's little more than a footnote to a mythology that has fans dreaming of Heisman trophies and national championships. The standards by which Winston is already being judged are immeasurably high, and that's where Fisher sees a need to intervene.
"You keep him realistic, tell him what's real and not real," Fisher said. "You let everybody else be legends and hype."
If only it were that simple.
Winston's career is still in its infancy, but the legend is ubiquitously fully grown. Fisher has tried to temper enthusiasm, but that's only served to provide an air of mystery that has made Winston into something of a cult hero.
He tossed a football over a fraternity house from 30 yards away, with accompanying viral video. He's wowed teammates and analysts who've gotten a behind-the-scenes look at his arm, with some already pegging him as a future No. 1 overall draft pick. After passing on a baseball contract out of high school, he's played a key role on Florida State's baseball team, blossoming into one of the Seminoles' best bullpen arms, touching 97 on the radar gun. He's split his attention between two sports, but still came out on top during this spring's quarterback competition, delivering his closing statement by tossing a 58-yard touchdown past All-ACC defensive back Lamarcus Joyner on his first pass in FSU's spring game.
And so the legend grows, with virtually no expectation too high for the redshirt freshman. Winston is Superman, and fans aren't fooled by the Clark Kent persona Fisher is so intent on creating.
"It's great to write, but you have to be so great that you can't live up to it and you just build disappointment for the guy," Fisher said. "Let's be careful, let him play."
So what happens when Winston actually does take the field?
History offers little precedent for instant success, and Winston is all too aware of the potential pitfalls.
"It's easy to ignore [the hype] because last year I sat the bench for a whole year and didn't see the field," Winston said. "That was the easiest thing to get over. I came on the Florida State campus, and it's like, 'Oh yeah, Jameis, you're going to have to sit the bench.' All that hype and all that other stuff, you've got to prove that."
Instead, Winston spent much of last season proving to his teammates that he was ready for the job.
Despite the redshirt, Winston was a fixture on the sideline for every road trip. Fisher wanted to give him a taste of a hostile environment early, and Winston loved it. He was the Seminoles' biggest cheerleader, sprinting up and down the sidelines and barking praise after every big play.
At practice, he worked largely with the scout team, mimicking FSU's best offensive opponents each week. He'd play the role of Tajh Boyd or Logan Thomas to great fanfare, and slowly his teammates began to see the potential firsthand.
"You could see on the scout team last year, so much confidence, making completions you see guys like EJ [Manuel] make," Joyner said. "You have no choice but to see the talent and the uniqueness that kid has."
It's Winston's confidence that might be the X-factor.
Fisher is right to preach temperance at this point. He's heard the comparisons to Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, who won a Heisman last season as a redshirt freshman, and he's seen the exuberance of fans eager to see Winston follow that same path. That's a high bar to exceed.
But if Fisher's role is to curb the enthusiasm, Winston is happy to add fuel to the fire.
"Jameis is always smiling, like he never has a doubt in his mind that his pass will never hit the ground," receiver Kelvin Benjamin said.
He'll dance during stretching, crack jokes on the sideline, laugh in the huddle.
"He's got energy, always likes to joke around, and guys take to that," linebacker Christian Jones said. "They like to be around a guy like that. He's always in a good mood, always happy, and guys just gravitate to that."
In fact, those comparisons to Manziel might be too conservative. After all, the Texas A&M quarterback isn't playing baseball, too.
Ask Winston for an archetype he hopes to emulate and the responses include Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson. They didn't simply excel on one field, but transcended multiple sports.
"Their mind didn't get pushed in either direction," Winston said. "So that's what I'm thinking."
So as Winston prepares for his maiden voyage with Florida State's offense, perhaps it's not the legend being created by his legions of fans that matters, and perhaps Fisher's pleas for patience don't matter at all.
Winston isn't overly concerned with stardom, but he's immensely confident that he'll get where he wants to be. And if that happens, the legend will only grow, and the hype will become reality.
"Jameis is going to be a great player," Manuel said. "He has the want to to want to be great. It's a difference between a guy who just kind of talks the talk, but Jameis will be one of those guys who actually goes out there and does it."