Is this kid serious?

November, 12, 2013
11/12/13
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This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Nov. 25 QB Issue.

Before anyone else knew
In early March, as Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher insists that replacing EJ Manuel will be a wide-open four-way battle, offensive tackle Cameron Erving is not the only Seminole who's not sure Jameis Winston is ready to be QB1.

"He's just so goofy, man," the redshirt junior tells his roommate, senior corner Lamarcus Joyner, in a debate that has been ongoing since the Noles beat Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl in January. The two go back and forth in the weight room, between classes and at their off-campus apartment, usually hitting on the same theme.

"I don't see how he can be serious on the field," Erving says.

Don't get Erving wrong -- he likes the kid. For a redshirt freshman, Winston is smart, lights up any room he's in, loves to play ball, but ...

Joyner stops Erving right there. "I've seen it," he says, "and I'm telling you: Jameis is a natural leader. The kid is special, man."

Erving, on the other hand, has barely seen Winston play. Jameis spent most of his time the past fall on a different field, running the scout team, pretending to be the quarterback of FSU's next opponent, guiding a bunch of walk-ons, mostly, against the first-team defense. But Joyner went up against him day after day after day.

"He's making throws right now," Joyner says to Erving, "that I didn't see EJ make until his fourth year."

Joyner marvels at Winston's decision-making and mechanics, his mastery of all that arcane playbook minutiae. He talks about getting challenged, burned even, by the scout team, which Is. Not. Supposed. To. Happen.

But none of that is what most impresses Joyner. Big-time recruits who get stuck on the scout team tend to pout or go through the motions for a year. From the start, Winston embraced the job.

"Here's an 18-year-old kid," Joyner explains to Erving, "playing against some of the best defensive players in the country, right?" NFL-bound guys like Bjoern Werner, Xavier Rhodes, Tank Carradine, Timmy Jernigan, Telvin Smith, Christian Jones and, yes, Joyner. "From the very start, Jameis is out there with the attitude of Let's get better. He's coaching defensive guys up. Like, watch the back shoulder -- whatever." Joyner shakes his head. "I can't believe I'm taking this from a freshman. But I did. We all did. I can't really explain it, but we all did. That's when I knew."

"That he'd be our quarterback?" Erving asks.

"That he's a natural leader," Joyner says.

Erving nods. But he's still trying to picture how, in practical terms, it could work, having a goofy teenager like Jameis Winston at quarterback.

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