Commentary

Jameis Winston's moment

After coming to the Elite 11 finals unprepared, he turned things around in one night

Updated: July 21, 2011, 4:17 PM ET
By Mitch Sherman | ESPN Recruiting

MALIBU, Calif. -- The moment Jameis Wintson distinguished himself from the other quarterbacks at the Elite 11 finals didn't come in a practice, as he displayed that gifted right arm or elusiveness under pressure.

It wasn't in the classroom or during film study, where his curiosity and desire to learn earned Winston widespread praise this week among 24 of the nation's top players at his position.

No, the moment happened at 1:12 a.m. PT on Tuesday -- hours after the first practice at Pepperdine University. Winston fared fine in the opening drills, but realized that many of his competitors arrived here more prepared than him.

Jameis Winston
Courtesy of Tom HauckJameis Winston, who is also a big-time baseball prospect, has narrowed his school choices to Alabama, FSU and LSU.

"I was lazy," Winston said. "I didn't prepare. I had the playbook for two weeks."

The nation's No. 2-rated QB and 15th-best prospect overall out of Hueytown, Ala., Winston had an excuse: He's been playing baseball all summer. A premier two-sport athlete, he wants to play both in college and rates as an elite prospect for the professional baseball draft next June.

"If I'm going to find a way to balance it in college," Winston said, "I've got to get it done in a situation like this."

By midweek in Malibu, Winston had emerged as one of the most notable quarterbacks in camp, with his undeniable skills, competitiveness and a buoyant personality. The staff ranked him as the No. 1 performer through Thursday. The Elite 11 MVP, given to the top QB, is handed out on Friday.

But back to that game-changing first night. Winston sat on his bed, exhausted, and studied the playbook. When Trent Dilfer, the former Super Bowl-winning quarterback who serves as head coach to Elite 11 participants, made a second round of bed checks, he found Winston engulfed in the pages.

Dilfer made a note of the time: 1:12 a.m.

"He manned up," Dilfer said. "The next day, his eyes were bleeding he was so tired. But he was killing it. He didn't have to say anything, but his actions told me, 'Let me show you I'm not just a gifted athlete. I'm a surgeon.'

"I think the kid's the real deal. I didn't know ratings going into this. I could care less about the perception. To me, they were all high school quarterbacks. I don't care how famous they are. He's earned my respect. If I'm a college coach, I want that guy."

College coaches want him, all right.

At 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, Winston has sorted dozens of scholarship offers to reach a final list of Alabama, Florida State and LSU.

All three schools, he said, are prepared to let him play football and college baseball. It makes a difference that LSU has a history of successful two-sport athletes. Chad Jones and Jared Mitchell played on national championship football and baseball teams in Baton Rouge over the past five years.

And LSU coach Les Miles, while at Oklahoma State, allowed quarterback Josh Fields to play baseball. Fields eventually rose to the big leagues.

"It puts [LSU] on a different level," Winston said. "Florida State had Deion Sanders do it. Alabama hasn't had anyone like that, but Alabama is my home state. I could be different. I could be the first one."

Winston plans to announce his college decision on Aug. 3. He said he's torn between the three schools -- not to mention the two sports.

In baseball, he pitches and plays outfield. He needs the constant competition, he said, to keep a balance. Without baseball, he would struggle to relax, though football ranks as his first love.

Brandon Weeden can relate. The 27-year-old Oklahoma State quarterback played five years of minor league baseball after the Yankees drafted him in the second round out of Edmond, Okla., in 2002. When an arm injury derailed his baseball career, he settled at OSU.

Weeden threw for more than 4,500 yards as a junior last year and he's working at the Elite 11 event as a counselor to the high school quarterbacks.

"Every kid is different and every family is going to have different priorities," Weeden said. "My situation, it was too good of an offer to turn down. If he's a first-round guy and he loves the game of baseball, give it a shot."

The situation complicates Winston's recruitment. For instance, Alabama wants him, but it also wants No. 1-rated QB Gunner Kiel of Columbus, Ind. And if Winston commits first, Kiel likely would turn elsewhere.

"It's a scary notion," ESPN national recruiting director Tom Luginbill said. "You're drawn to him, because he's such a high-end talent. But the reality is with baseball, you run the risk that he could never play for you."

He's worth the risk, though, according to Luginbill.

"I think he's probably the best combination of athleticism and pure arm talent that's in the [Elite 11] group," he said.

And there's more to Winston, who produced 3,100 yards and 28 touchdowns as a junior.

He wore the coveted red jersey on Wednesday as the top man in film study.

"That red jersey says a lot of about his personality and character," said Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel, another counselor here.

Clearly, Winston is serious about all aspects of the quarterback position. In a question-and-answer session with Kansas City Chiefs QB Matt Cassel on Wednesday as the entire Elite 11 staff and participants watched, Winston inquired about the balance necessary to maintain your personality as a quarterback but still exhibit the leadership necessary to gain all your teammates' respect.

Heads nodded among the college quarterbacks as he spoke. Cassel talked at length on the subject. Dilfer piped in, too, saying it took him seven years in the NFL to understand that he had to "be himself" in order to succeed.

Winston gets it at age 17.

"He's got this infectious personality," Dilfer said. "A lot of people use the term leadership, but I like guys who are comfortable in their own skin. That's Jameis. He came in a little unprepared, and he admitted it. But he's got a real presence to him. I've been real proud of him."

Mitch Sherman is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mshermanespn@gmail.com.

Follow Mitch Sherman on Twitter @mitchsherman