A guiding hand
Manuel's familial mentoring gives Winston patience, deeper knowledge of role
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jameis Winston is all energy, bounding around the practice field, shouting indiscriminate praise at teammates, turning something as monotonous as pre-practice stretching into a dance routine. His smile, not his arm, is his most distinguishing trait.
"We call it a natural high, basically," receiver Kelvin Benjamin said. "He's hyped all the time."
That's what EJ Manuel first noticed about Winston, too -- long before the highly touted prospect committed to Florida State. The two quarterbacks worked together at the Elite 11 camp in 2011. Manuel was a mentor, Winston a prized prospect.
The dynamic hasn't changed. For the past two years, Manuel has been the wise older brother, Winston the enthusiastic younger sibling.
"We're very similar, not just as players but also personality wise, leadership wise," Manuel said. "When you have guys that are similar, particularly at quarterback, you find that bond."
That bond made it a bit easier for Winston upon arriving in Tallahassee.
The top-ranked quarterback in the 2012 recruiting class, he hoped to compete for playing time from the moment he set foot on campus. Within a few days, however, he resigned himself to the idea that Manuel was the star, and he would simply be part of the audience.
If a role on the sidelines frustrated Winston, however, it didn't show. That boundless enthusiasm remained evident at practice, on game days -- the Seminoles had no more vocal cheerleader.
More important, Winston said, was that he could use the time to study Manuel -- not to unseat the older brother but to follow him.
"Just watching him and seeing the way he was playing, seeing our team react toward him and around him, I just admired that," Winston said. "I was more in awe than mad on the sidelines. I learned a lot."
The relationship was perfectly symbiotic. Manuel relished the role of older brother. He'd spent enough time himself waiting for his turn. Passing along the knowledge to his protege seemed a perfectly fitting conclusion to his career.
If Manuel's work on the field wasn't enough to bring Florida State a national championship, he still could make an impact that would carry on after he departed.
"It was important for him to leave with the legacy, and now that I was there, I guess I helped him feel more comfortable," Winston said.
It's not that Manuel was ever uncomfortable as Florida State's offensive focal point, but with Winston looking over his shoulder it became a bit easier to focus on the details of the job. It wasn't simply about getting things right for his own success, but in knowing that Winston would follow in his footsteps.
So Manuel took Winston under his wing in the meeting room and on the field. Manuel provided the template on handling criticism and dealing with the media. He took the heat for bad plays and listened as Jimbo Fisher offered vocal critiques of his performance. He battled injuries without a word, and he worried about his mother's battle with cancer while never ignoring his responsibilities to his team.
"I think Jameis was able to get a sense of what it takes to be the quarterback at Florida State," Manuel said. "Whether people think I was the perfect quarterback or not, I know I wasn't perfect, but I thought I did a good job leading my teammates."
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Manuel wasn't shy about helping any of the younger quarterbacks on Florida State's roster, but with Winston it was personal.
"He liked the fact that he was my mentor," Winston said. "He knew he had to do his job, but he was like, 'I've got a little brother here, let me try to help him out and fill him in on some stuff.' "
Manuel preached about leadership and authenticity, about what it took to galvanize a locker room, that a team works harder for a player they respect. Manuel kept nothing from Winston, and many of those conversations remain closely guarded secrets shared between brothers.
Still, those lessons are frequently on Winston's mind this spring as he works to win the job Manuel vacated after a win in the Orange Bowl.
"I don't have an older brother, but when I say I look up to him, it's not like, 'OK I'll be in his position one day,' " Winston said. "It's like, this man is going through so much that people don't even know about, and he's dealing with so much, this is how it's going to be. This is what it's like at the top."
Manuel isn't predicting Winston will win the starting job this year. He has seen enough of Clint Trickett, Jacob Coker and Sean Maguire to know that the quarterback talent that waited in the wings last season was immense.
But Manuel also knows Winston well enough to be certain that his time will come. And when it does, his little brother will be ready.
"There's a difference between a guy who just kind of talks the talk," Manuel said. "Jameis will be one of those guys who actually goes out there and does it."