Commentary

Doing it his way

Jameis Winston always has followed his own plan, even on national signing day

Updated: February 1, 2012, 10:53 PM ET
By Max Olson | ESPN RecruitingNation

AUSTIN, Texas -- On the day that should be one of the biggest of his life, Jameis Winston is standing on the sidelines.

In more ways than one, actually.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Miller Safrit/ESPN.comJameis Winston decided to sit out national signing day, but he has a plan in place when he returns back home from the International Bowl.
While his peers spent the day basking in the temporary glory of national signing day and celebrating the end of an exhausting process, the No. 1 quarterback in the nation took the day off.

Winston is a member of Team USA in third-annual International Bowl. The game was played Wednesday night in northwest Austin, Texas, but it didn't feature Winston. He sat out the game and all but one of the practices leading up to it to rest an injured shoulder.

And while more than 50 of his USA teammates lined up at 7 a.m. Wednesday to fax out their letters of intent, Winston declined. The Florida State commit from Hueytown, Ala., wants to wait until Friday -- or perhaps even next Wednesday -- to make his plans official.

"I'm not ready to go home," he said with a chuckle. "I'd like to stay here as long as possible."

As the ballroom of the South Austin Marriot filled with recruits and their family members, Winston sat quietly at a table with Stanford linebacker signee Noor Davis, sporting a USA jersey pulled over a pink and white polo and -- unlike the rest of the high schoolers in the room -- no college hat on his head.

He watched the mock signings and clapped along, but for most of the morning Winston kept his cell phone out and ready, checking Twitter and checking in on friends.

His focus?

Florida State had some big-time targets still available.

First came Eddie Goldman, the top-ranked defensive tackle from Washington D.C. The fact he picked FSU was no surprise to Winston -- he found out Tuesday night. He wasn't surprised by defensive end Dante Fowler Jr.'s last-second decision to flip from FSU to Florida, either.

But he did have one target left on his big board: Ronald Darby. Winston gave the nation's No. 3 cornerback a call right after the ceremony got over to catch up.

There aren't a lot of things Winston will miss about his arduous recruiting process, but he did enjoy the time he spent recruiting other guys and selling them on his vision: Florida State as an annual national title contender.

"I just want to bring that swag back to Florida State, like Deion Sanders and Charlie Ward back in their days," Winston said. "Start something new, start a new trend. It's a new year. It's time for another program to get back."

A little while later, Winston took advantage of a brief appearance on ESPNU to give Darby a live shoutout and make him know how much FSU needed him.

Davis and fellow touted Stanford signee Alex Carter watched from nearby. They're not giving up on Winston, even if the quarterback has conceded he'll likely sign with Florida State whenever his papers do meet a fax machine.

"I have no clue what he's going to do," Davis said. "He keeps it very close to the vest."

Make no mistake about why Winston is putting this all off, though. This isn't an act of indecision, and he isn't trying to drag his decision out the way Terrelle Pryor infamously did in 2008.

Winston isn't trying to ask for more attention. He just wants to be back home when he becomes a Seminole for good. He wants to be with his family, the people who had his back even when he decided he needed to leave the state of Alabama for college.

"They've been there through this whole process with me," he said. "I would feel more comfortable with them being there and being able to look at their faces when I get done."

For now, he's just enjoying the opportunity to make some friends and take a little vacation from the hectic life of a two-sport star. He got closer with Davis, a pal he's known for more than a year now. Winston admits a last-second switch to Stanford would "shock the world," and on Wednesday both schools got even more appealing.

Florida State did snag Winston's recruit a few hours after that phone call. Darby was sold on the chance to carve out a similar path as Winston: he'll play football and run track in Tallahassee. The Seminoles finished with ESPNU's No. 2 recruiting class, and Winston would be their third signee ranked No. 1 at his position.

But Stanford was another star of signing day.

In signing-day steals Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy plus Joshua Garnett, the Cardinal locked up three of the country's best offensive line prospects. Add in running back Barry Sanders and it's easy to see why Winston would enjoy lining up under center in Palo Alto.

"He's the biggest priority we have," Davis said. "I'm trying as hard as I can. We'll see what happens."

On Wednesday night, at least for one night, he got to ignore that pressure and focus on football for a little while. Winston didn't sit back and relax on the bench.

He stood at the front of the sidelines. He whipped his white towel around, screamed, shouted, high-fived. He acted like the injured star, not the kid enjoying a free vacation.

"Jameis is a very good leader," Davis said. "He's going to be a great leader wherever he goes."

And when the International squad escaped with a 35-29 victory by running the clock out, Winston couldn't wipe the scowl off his face.

"Of course I care, man. I absolutely hate losing," he said. "This is my passion."

On Thursday, Winston will head home, meet with his parents and come up with a plan. No more standing around on the sidelines. It's time to make a decision.

Max Olson covers University of Texas for ESPN's HornsNation. Follow HornsNation's coverage on Twitter: @ESPNHornsNation

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