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Douglas Kroll | | January 6, 2014

Kroll: The year of Winston

jameis, winston, florida, state

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- We should’ve seen all of this coming from Jameis Winston.

The Heisman Trophy. Playing for the BCS Championship. All in his freshman season as the Florida State quarterback.

He completed the first 11 passes of his career en route to going 25 of 27 in a Labor Day night win at Pittsburgh. It was the highest completion percentage for any FSU quarterback with a minimum of 15 attempts. And it was how one of the best offenses in the nation got its start.

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“I was a little bit in awe, I think, like a lot of people, just the poise and composure that he had,” FSU quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders said. “You saw it every day in spring practice, through the summer, through the fall. But for it to show up on game day that way; that was nice to see. And he had two incompletions, one of them was a throw away, and the other one could have been ruled a completion on the sideline.”

Winston finished with 356 yards and tossed four touchdowns in welcoming the Panthers to the ACC in front of a national television audience. Not every coach knew it was going to be that great.

“I would say the Pittsburgh game,” FSU wide receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey said of when he knew what he had. “Going into the season with a freshman quarterback, not really knowing what to expect, yeah, we saw some good things in practice, but actually going into that game and seeing the performance, seeing how well that not only the quarterback played but the receivers, the backs, special teams, just everything we felt right now if they continued to just work hard to get better each and every week, we had a chance to have something special.”

And special is what they have.

Florida held the Seminoles to 37 points – their lowest output of the season for a group that surpassed 50 points in seven of their 13 games for a nation-leading average of 53.0 points per game.

They average 7.81 yards per play. Think about that and let it digest …

Every single one of their 90 offensive touchdowns looked as if it came with relative ease. All with a kid doing it for the first time at the collegiate level.

“We've got a team and the coaching staff that we've got, it looks easy,” Winston said. “But people don't look at the behind closed doors and how much hard work we put into this. We prepared ourselves for situations like this and we prepared ourselves every day at practice and the things we do every single day.”

Winston has done more than just win 13 games and a Heisman Trophy and the hearts of the Seminole country. He’s changed lives.

Take Winston’s position coach Randy Sanders. He came to Tallahassee after a woeful three-year stay at Kentucky as offensive coordinator.

“What he's done is amazing,” Sanders said of Winston. “You asked has his life changed? Well, he's changed mine. Last year at this time I was 2-10 and out of a job. So to be here at Florida State in the national championship game is a dream come true for me."

Famous Jameis was close to never becoming a thing in the Florida panhandle. Being a great baseball player in addition to a freak quarterback meant he had options. Not just other schools but the MLB draft.

There was LSU and Alabama. Stanford, too. But Florida State’s baseball staff, led by Mike Martin, told him not to worry about the draft. He should come to Tallahassee to prepare for it instead.

Even then, Winston had dreamed of playing for Texas. Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher should thank the Texas staff every day.

“Texas was my favorite time,” Winston said. “Through the whole recruiting process, I said to my coach, ‘We got to get Texas on the phone.’ When I was young, I looked up to Vince Young. I always wanted to go to Texas. I tried to call a couple times because I really liked Texas.”

Winston said he never talked to Mack Brown.

But it’s all worked out just fine so far in a freshman season that has seen him set FBS freshman records for most yards passing (3,820) and touchdown passes (38) and seen his team blow out every opponent they've faced.

“I said, ‘Guys, where in the rule book does it say we can't blow out everybody that we play?’ Winston said. “We took that mentality and ran with it. The NCAA has all these rules, but it does not say you cannot blow out everybody you play. That's the mentality we took.”

Now he’s prepared to take on Auburn for the national championship on Monday night at the Rose Bowl.

“This is going to be a real tough game for us because Auburn holds the ball all the time with their dynamic running game,” Winston said. “Alabama blew out Notre Dame in the championship game last year. We can do anything we want to do.”

Winston will spend his 20th birthday playing in the national championship game, and the way things have gone -- he'll win it.

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