NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Dameyune Craig had an idea five years ago, while on the Florida State staff, that his fellow coaches didn’t share. He wanted to recruit a star high school quarterback out of Alabama and away from both Auburn and Nick Saban.
That player was Heisman winner Jameis Winston, who credits the relationship with Craig as the reason he chose to become a Seminole.
Now the Auburn co-offensive coordinator gets to face Winston from the opposite sideline Monday with the BCS championship on the line.
“I was the only one in that room that felt like we could get him,” Craig said. “We actually had a couple meetings about Jameis and coach (Jimbo) Fisher was really concerned about whether to go full bore on him because he didn’t think, first of all, that we could get him. Second of all, that he would go play baseball.
“But if we get him we got the best quarterback in the country who could possibly be the first player taken and win the Heisman Trophy.”
Today, Winston considers Craig a father figure and the two remain close despite Craig’s change of teams. The two normally talk regularly, but this week has been different. Winston said he deleted Craig from his phone to avoid the temptation to call. The two are so tight that Craig got a shout-out during Winston’s Heisman speech.
“It wasn’t a surprise,” Craig said. “That was part of the plan. I laid out the plan for him when I recruited him. I told him he would win, not only one, but two Heisman trophies.
“It was all about appreciation, the love. That makes me feel good.”
Everything started with the bold idea to recruit the two-sport star in the first place. Then Craig had to gain the trust of the family. He had the built-in advantage of being a former elite quarterback from Alabama who played at Auburn. Mom was an Auburn fan and Craig could relate to Winston’s experiences.
Craig thought he lost the recruit to Stanford when Winston didn’t sign on signing day, but three years of trying paid off — even though Craig lost some fans in his home state. He caught heat from Alabama and Auburn fans unhappy that Winston was leaving the state.
“Just talking to him, meeting his family and everything, I see him as me,” Winston said. “When I grow up, I want to be like him. Obviously, I want to be in the NFL longer.
“When I grow up I have to have somebody in my life. He’s a funny guy. I love his family. I call him Uncle Craig.”
Craig had grand plans for Winston and that included him growing up faster than a normal freshman.
“I’ve never, ever treated a redshirt freshman like I treated him,” Craig said. “At some point I felt like I was being too hard on him.”
Craig was already at Auburn when the sexual assault investigation of Winston became public. The state attorney did not charge Winston, but the investigation was a national story in the middle of the season.
“He handled it a lot better than you would imagine,” Craig said.
“It didn’t bother him. It bothered him, but it didn’t bother him. Like he said, he knew he didn’t do anything wrong, so he didn’t have anything to worry about.
“I didn’t get into great details with him about it, but I wanted him to have my support and know that if he needed anything I was there for him.”