- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
Before he was the Heisman Trophy winner, the national champion, the controversial and cocky king of college football, Jameis Winston was a high school kid standing on a practice field in northwest Austin, Texas.
The top quarterback recruit in the country was in town as a member of Team USA, here to play in the International Bowl on signing day. Only problem was he couldn't play or practice because of a shoulder injury.
And so he stood on the sideline on Jan. 29, 2012, watching and waiting. And talking. The kid loves to talk, though everyone knows that now.
Winston was days away from signing with Florida State. Back then, he was a young man with a lot on his mind.
In a previously unpublished interview with ESPN.com, Winston opened up about his dreams and his burdens. The 18-year-old didn't have goals. He had a plan. That plan led him to Florida State.
"Can I lead this team to a national championship?" Winston said then. "That's the most important thing."
Two years later, that's just one of the countless questions he answered.
• • •
If Winston cared so much about national titles, why did he leave home?
Alabama and Auburn had been recruiting the in-state phenom since his ninth-grade year. Both won championships during his time at Hueytown High School. Winston's family was and continues to be filled with Crimson Tide fans.
Why, then, would he pick a school that hadn't won a BCS title since 1999? Why move 300 miles away when the champions are in his backyard?
"I'm on a mission to change a program," Winston said proudly.
Winston was enamored with a challenge: Why join the dynasty when you can start a new one?
"Florida State has been down for a couple of years," Winston said. "I'm going to be able to help rebuild another legacy. At Alabama, hey, I'm from the state of Alabama, that's the best program. I'm aware of what's going to happen at Alabama. They got the top recruiting class coming in. They're going to win no matter what. But who's going to be the person who steps up like Cam Newton?
"Really, I just want to bring the swag back to Florida State, like Deion and Charlie Ward back in the day. Just bring that swag back. Start something new. Start a new trend. It's a new year. It's time for another program to get back."
One year and 11 months later, Winston ascended to that throne. Auburn beat Alabama again. And Winston beat Auburn, in the VIZIO BCS National Championship, completing a perfect 14-0 season that has the Seminoles poised to become the kind of elite powerhouse he envisioned.
Even as a high schooler, Winston understood the magnitude of these championships.
"If you can lead your team to a national title and go down in history … ain't nobody going to forget about the national titles," he said. "People forget about Heisman Trophies. If I can lead my team to the national title, I'm going to have a good chance of winning the Heisman."
Winston had an unmistakable admiration in particular for Newton back then, particularly for how he carried himself and maintained a grin "even when people tried to bring him down." He said he'd model himself after Newton, not knowing then how similar their breakout seasons would end up being.
But even at 18, Winston aspired to be more than a program-changer like Newton or any other quarterback of this generation has accomplished. He had an unbelievable dream that he maintains to this day.
He planned to be the next Bo Jackson. The next Deion Sanders. He didn't just want to be a two-sport pro athlete. He wanted to be the best in the game at two sports.
"To be honest with you, my mind is so big because I dream so big," Winston said. "I don't think about none of the little stuff. I think about playing with the Atlanta Braves and the Atlanta Falcons. Doing it big with the Philadelphia Phillies and the Philadelphia Eagles. Living the life."
His favorite quarterback growing up was Randall Cunningham, his favorite ballplayer Ken Griffey Jr. He wanted to be both of them. He still does.
The kid never lacked conviction. Winston knew this to be his destiny.
• • •
But destiny doesn't come without some doubters. Even in your own hometown.
"Haters," Winston calls them all. America knows this now, though for entirely different reasons and circumstances. Few things get Winston fired up more than feeling disrespected. But you don't know where that comes from.
Back home, Winston's personality didn't leave much room for middle ground for the locals, Hueytown football coach Matt Scott said. You either love him or you don't.
His cockiness was his strength and his weakness. What others called arrogance, Scott considered confidence.
"People want him to go out there and make those spectacular plays," he said. "What they don't like is sometimes that competitive spirit boils over. What they don't understand is, you can't get one without the other."
That misunderstanding bothered Winston throughout his high school years, and by January 2012, he was glad his time in Alabama was coming to an end.
He calls nearby Bessemer, Ala., the place he was born and raised. Hueytown, a suburb of Birmingham with 16,000 residents, just happens to be the city he put on the map.
"I just get no love from them. What's wrong with these people?" Winston said back then. "That's a big motivation. I'm doing all this stuff, and you can't give me no credit? Can't show me no love? Golly."
Winston didn't feel like the big man on campus at Hueytown. He'd admit he was impatient growing up and had a temper. He didn't always get along with teachers. Still, he and his parents believed jealously played a role in the rift.
"If I had to give you a percentage on our support, out of 100 percent, it might be 30 percent in Hueytown," said Antonor Winston, Jameis' father. "But we take that and we run with it."
He said he and wife Loretta watched several of their son's high school road games from the wrong bleachers. That's how strained the relationship had become. To them, it beat the alternative.
"We couldn't stand our fans," Antonor said. "We would rather sit on the other side with the people saying, 'Kill 'em! Get the quarterback! Tear him up!' than sit on our own side. Isn't that terrible? We actually enjoy ourselves on the visitors' side."
Jameis carried this burden throughout high school and struggled to understand it. Maybe he was too young to recognize the part he'd played. Dismissing it as hate was easier.
Winston was the most competitive player Scott has ever seen. That mentality got him this far, and he won't apologize for it. He never felt appreciated, yet he can't appreciate how Hueytown made him.
He wants to be liked and he wants to win at all costs. He craves support but finds motivation from any person or situation that stands in his way.
"At the end of the day, he doesn't think there's anybody better than him," Scott said. "And usually, there's not."
• • •
Winston was, despite it all, a kid trying to get by.
He wanted to someday give back to his parents. They come from modest means and raised Jameis in a strict household. Antonor still works in traffic maintenance. Loretta works in Social Security.
They've always bought into their son's grand dream. Conquering college football was step one, and even Antonor admits now he didn't think it would happen this quickly. Now that he has done that, it's easy for others to misunderstand the greater goal. What a young Jameis wanted everyone to realize was this: He loves football and baseball equally. Long before he was hoisting the Heisman, his concept of greatness was becoming the very best at both sports.
"I'm a football player when it's football time. A baseball player when it's baseball time," Winston said. "I'm two different people."
Football was his best sport, baseball his hardest. Winston loved that he can control a game as the quarterback. He admired the humbling nature of baseball and that it sets him up to fail. One demands his fire, the other requires calm patience.
If you know Winston, you're not surprised he's now back in the batting cage less than a month after the BCS championship.
"You can't take either sport away from me," he said. "It's easy to like both equally, because it's me. It's my choice."
He's already the runaway favorite to be the No. 1 pick of next year's NFL draft, but to Winston that's not enough. That's not maximizing his potential. He's serious about playing both games as long as he can.
"That's still his plan," Antonor said recently. "That's his dream."
Winston's remarkably ambitious plans are coming to fruition. His father admiringly called this the "blueprint." Only Jameis knows what will come next.
But that's how it's always been. Before he walked off the Texas practice field in 2012, days away becoming a Seminole and embarking on his unstoppable future, Winston offered up one last answer that proved as prescient as the rest.
"I'm just ready to step right in the door and kick it in," he said. "Get this party started. I've got a long life ahead of me."
In high school interview, Winston laid out plans to revive Seminoles, dreams of winning national title, future dreams of playing baseball.