THIBODAUX — Presumably Jameis Winston won’t be pulling a Johnny Manziel here this weekend.
While making a post-midnight run to Bourbon Street (or whatever exactly it was that got the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner sent home early from the Manning Passing Academy), would be far from the worst thing the 2013 Heisman winner has been involved in, it still wouldn’t be the kind of publicity the sophomore quarterback from defending national champion Florida State needs either.
“Johnny’s a great player who had a lot of success in college, and he’s a person I admire. Johnny’s going to have a great time and he’s going to have a great career in the NFL,” said Winston, who, along with about 40 other college quarterbacks, is serving as a counselor at the camp, the same role Manziel had last year before he was excused, “in everyone’s best interests because he was feeling ill,” according to the official statement issued by the camp.
But then, perhaps thinking about calling Johnny Football a role model might not be the best idea, Winston observed, “It’s my job to hold myself to a certain standard.
“And I’m very aware that I am in the spotlight. So when people do look at me, they should see a young man whose parents raised him right.”
Unfortunately, Winston’s brushes with negativity have been far more troubling than Manziel’s off-the-field actions, which many see as just youthful shenanigans that seem to have morphed into an image the ex-Texas A&M Aggie believes he has to live up to.
In November of last year, late in Winston’s stellar season that garnered him every national Player of the Year award, including the Heisman, he was named in a sexual assault complaint from an incident nearly a year before.
While subsequent irregularities were reported in the investigation, authorities in Tallahassee, Florida, declined to bring charges in the case. Winston went on finish the season, including an MVP performance in the Seminoles’ 34-31 victory against Auburn in the final BCS Championship Game.
Then, in April, Winston was issued an adult civil citation for shoplifting crab legs from a Tallahassee supermarket. That resulted in a short suspension from the baseball team, on which Winston is a relief pitcher, but no punishment from Florida State football coach Jimbo Fisher.
So Winston goes into the Seminoles’ Aug. 30 opener against Oklahoma State with a clean slate and the twin goals of repeating as national champions and Heisman winner very attainable. He was even honored with a “Jameis Winston Day,” last week in his hometown of Hueytown, Alabama, where his high school and youth football jerseys were retired.
But he’s far from home free.
NFL analyst Mike Detillier of WWL-AM says Winston’s “character issues” are going to be a factor in the draft process.
Right now, Detillier rates Winston, who could enter the 2015 draft as a third-year sophomore, as one of the top three quarterbacks for next year along with fellow Manning attendees Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Bryce Petty of Baylor.
“It’s going to matter for Winston as much off the field as it does on it,” Detillier said. “Those were some pretty serious charges against him, ones that reflect very poor judgment.
“Look at what happened to Manziel in the draft (he went 22nd to Cleveland and many teams reportedly took him off their boards entirely). They may not admit it, but they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be 19, 20 or 21 and they did not want to take on that kind of negativity, especially with a quarterback.”
Winston certainly is aware of that.
“The quarterback is always going to be scrutinized for whatever he does,” he said. “I’ve got a lot to live up to.”
Certainly Winston is intelligent, engaging and is still enough of a kid to talk about how he’d play football for nothing, although professional riches await him.
And if Winston wants a couple of role models, he needs to look no further than two of his current hosts.
Peyton and Eli Manning both had brushes with notoriety in their pre-TMZ college days (Peyton mooned a female trainer at Tennessee and Eli was cited for underage drinking as a freshman at Ole Miss), but in the NFL, even with Peyton becoming the greatest quarterback of his generation and Eli playing in the fishbowl of New York, they have led scandal-free existences.
“You’ve got to understand that some people are trying to catch you doing wrong,” Eli said. “You’ve got to be smart.
“You can enjoy yourself, have fun and let loose at times. But you’ve got to be aware of your surroundings that’s somebody’s always watching you.”
Peyton stressed responsibility to teammates.
“It’s all about your commitment to the football team,” he said. “Being a disciplined football player doesn’t mean just when you’re on the football field.
“There’s a responsibility when you’re a football player, especially when you’re a quarterback.”
For his part, Winston seems to get it. He talks of admiring the way Peyton and Eli conduct themselves, even in the casual atmosphere of a football camp.
“I’m looking forward to having a great season and maybe taking things from Eli and Peyton that I can use in the future so that 10 or 15 years from now I can be a guy that’s viewed like them,” he said. “I’m just having fun living my life and I know I’m blessed to have this opportunity.”
And lest Winston, or any of his fellow counselors, feel tempted to break curfew this year, Archie Manning has emphasized what’s expected of them.
“All in all quarterbacks are pretty dependable, accountable and responsible people — most of the time,” the family patriarch said. “We talk to them every year, but unfortunately last year we have a couple of people who weren’t there when we were talking to them. This time we’re making sure they all hear us.”