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While Jameis Winston fever grips Florida State, phenom plays it cool

One of the reasons Jameis Winston chose FSU is coach Jimbo Fisher allows him to play baseball. (USATSI)
One of the reasons Jameis Winston chose FSU is coach Jimbo Fisher allows him to play baseball. (USATSI)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jameis Winston has seen the play. Once. Somebody tweeted him to switch channels during Family Feud.

"Steve Harvey makes it the funniest thing in the world, when people say the craziest answers," Florida State's redshirt freshman quarterback said over lunch.

That's the thing about Famous Jameis. The conversation may start about football. There may be an attempt to steer him toward the obvious subject this week -- the spectacular first half of his first season. But in the end, he reminds everyone that he's a precocious 19-year-old kid. And if he wants to wax eloquently about a game-show host/comedian, well, that's OK.

Jameis Winston is that dual-threat, dual-sport man-child who rose up in the Florida State dugout last season, unprompted, after a lethargic start by the Seminoles against Georgia Tech. The raw freshman demanded his baseball teammates gather around him.

"This is Florida State. No one going is going to come into our house and beat us like this!"

FSU, by the way, rallied to win.

Winston tried the same rally routine with his football teammates on the sidelines at Boston College only to be admonished by a parent in the stands.

"I was trying to motivate my team saying a few words I shouldn't have said," he explained. "There's a parent who says, 'There's kids up here. You shouldn't use that language.' I stopped throwing the football, warming up, and said, 'I apologize.' He couldn't say nothing. It was genuine."

Winston is also a hero worshiper who meekly acknowledges the comparisons to the most famous resident of his hometown of Bessemer, Ala.

"I met him before at Auburn on a [recruiting] visit," Winston said of Bo Jackson. "I was in awe. At some point, his legs are so big you don't want to mess with that guy."

At this point halfway through the season, Winston is a transformative figure who, five games into his college career, already has the blessing of Saint Bobby.

"This young man is as good as anybody we've ever had," Bobby Bowden told ESPN.com.

To some of us he's The Next One, half of perhaps the greatest quarterback duel of the 2013 season Saturday at Clemson. For some of us, it's The Play -- that amazing escape from the clutches of a Maryland defender 12 days ago. Winston emerged from a scrum to throw a touchdown dart to his favorite receiver -- and Jack Nicklaus' grandson -- Nick O'Leary. Within minutes and throughout the day, the highlight went viral.

From there, the play hung in our consciousness during FSU's bye week, part of the run up to Saturday's showdown with the Tigers. But Winston has seen the play once since he instigated it. And only then, when he was prompted to switch away from his favorite game show.

"There was one yesterday," he said, giggling again over Family Feud. "The question was, 'When you are nude, what would a person like on their body?'"

Alrighty then, onto football.

Actually, let's hope he stays this way. No matter what Jameis Winston becomes -- the next Bo or the first Famous Jameis -- we'll always have this time, this initial season. This breakout. At the same time this teenager has gone nationwide, he's still wide-eyed.

"It's just how I carry myself," he said. "Since I was a little kid, I was fun-loving, joking around, don't really care what I said to people. Sometimes I literally just say stuff and I don't care ... [Sometimes] I have to stop being an A-hole."

Not in a bad way but in a 19-year-old "what the hell" kind of way. Jameis Winston commands attention, leads, has meaningful thoughts. And a howitzer arm.

"Nervous," he said, "is not even in my vocabulary on the field."

"The whole mystique of somebody is based upon what you don't know," said Mike Martin Jr., recruiting coordinator for his dad's Seminoles baseball program and one of Winston's closest FSU confidants.

In the tradition of recent media-ravaged superstar college quarterbacks in the Southeast, he is neither Tim Tebow nor Cam Newton. It's almost refreshing that we don't fully know him yet.

One look at that body and you totally believe Winston started playing tackle football at age 4.

"I was playing with the big boys," he said.

Besides that arm, there are those 17 touchdown passes, that 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame. A bit of mystery is probably a good thing to have while tearing up the country -- and just starting to find oneself.

Winston captured our interest opening night against Pittsburgh, completing his first 11 passes, ending 25 of 27. Against Nevada, he completed 13 in a row. There was that Hail Mary moment at BC, the last of three second-quarter touchdown passes.

Against rejuvenated Maryland two weeks ago, Winston threw for a career-high 393 yards and five touchdowns. And to think there was a quarterback battle at Florida State as late as August. The answer to a trivia question-in-waiting is Jacob Coker. That's the guy Winston beat out. Clint Trickett, son of FSU offensive line coach Rick Trickett, transferred to West Virginia in the spring.

There is, thankfully, no baggage at this point. Winston has the game of an adult and the playfulness of a child. After that Maryland contest, he purposefully left the locker room in the suit he wore to the game and waded into a mob of children.

"I like being a role model," said Winston, who has a 6-year-old brother named Jonah. "Coach [Jimbo] Fisher always told the story about Michael Jordan. You never know when people are going to see you. That 30 seconds, they're going to get their image right there."

Just don't let that image be defined by looking down. Winston accented his wardrobe with locker room sandals.

"My feet were hurting," he said.

Winston loves to be a recruiting host because, "anything that I do is going to be a competition." The recruiting battle over his talents came down to Alabama and FSU. It's easy to discern that FSU won out because of Fisher's willingness to share him with Mike Martin's baseball program.

"It's just different coming from Alabama because that's [football] all we have," Winston said.

The kid is humbled when he hears Martin tell Yahoo! Sports, "I honestly thought I would never in my lifetime have a guy come through our program that could match Deion Sanders."

"I don't think there will ever be a player like him," Winston said quietly, "except Bo."

Five games and we're already talking comparisons to Bo and Deion. Five games and absolutely no one is calling BS on it either.

The origin of Jameis' family nickname -- Jaboo -- is a secret. The school's lawyers reportedly tried to stop distribution of a bootleg T-shirt with another nickname ("The Chosen One"). It portrayed the quarterback as Jesus wearing No. 5.

It's not hard to argue there is some sort of magic surrounding a guy who proudly wears Hank Aaron's number in baseball (44) -- deliberately or not.

There's something there, a smile, a twinkle. That man's body, kid's vitality. Defenders and praise drop off of him in equal measure. Those games, that Bowden quote. They're already asking in mixed company if Winston is the best Florida State quarterback ever.

"Over the past few games my teammates are just like, 'Man, I love you. I love you, Jameis.' 'Man, I love ya'll, too.' Just random. During a game," he said.

"Grown men ain't supposed to say that. That means you're doing something right."

That T-shirt depiction may not be far off. Is it much longer before we hear "King Jameis?"

Part of this phenomenon is how stars blow up in this country. Fisher has been careful, exposing his quarterback to opposing defenses rather than the outside world.

"When Coach Fisher gets mad at practice, it's either because I messed up or I'm not controlling the tempo of the offense," Winston said. "He tells me, 'You've got the players around you. It's your job to control the tempo. It's your job to keep the energy level up."

That tempo has FSU averaging the second-most yards per play nationally. Only Baylor's Bryce Petty -- in charge of the nation's No. 1 offense -- is averaging more per pass than Winston. Johnny Manziel has Winston by .014 in completion percentage. Does it matter, though, when you're completing almost three-quarters of your passes?

The howls that Manziel's off-field conduct would keep any freshman from ever winning a Heisman again have died down. Winston may have done more for Manziel's image than ... Manziel. Since that freshman seal was broken, it's OK again to believe kids can handle all the hype and fame. All of it continues Saturday in what might be a Heisman elimination match between Winston and Clemson senior Tajh Boyd.

"Anything is possible," Winston said. "People give Manziel so much heat. That man is living the life. He doesn't care about all the other stuff."

This is the point in the conversation where the Chosen One, King Jameis, merely becomes ... thoughtful.

"People don't realize about college athletes. In the NFL, you're on your own but you're getting paid money. In college you're on your own, you're not getting paid. All you have is your teammates, all ya'll grinding together. They don't know that Johnny Manziel is putting the work in. People try to compare me and Johnny Manziel. There's no comparison, man."

What most don't know is that Winston -- like Bo at this point -- values baseball and football equally. The Texas Rangers drafted him in the 15th round out of high school.

"Baseball is the best sport for a quarterback to play," he said, "because baseball is a game of failure. Playing quarterback you don't want to fail, but you've got to have that baseball mentality. Next time, I can do it -- the next play."

In the spring, Winston will close for the Seminoles with what he estimates to be a 94-95 mph fastball.

"He's being modest," Martin Jr. said. "It's higher -- 97."

With that hulking, streamlined body that can only get bigger and faster. We already knew his right arm was a cannon before he took a snap this season. His throws from right field for the Noles are YouTube staples of their own.

Playing the outfield when not pitching, Winston was quickly switched from left to the more spacious right field in Dick Howser Stadium.

"He's not allowed to run into the wall. The first game, he's playing left field for us and just slammed into the wall," Martin Jr. said. "I about had a heart attack. I could hear Jimbo yell from the stands, 'No!'

Winston harps on baseball's "habit of failure." It's not cool making seven outs every 10 at-bats and being considered successful.

"They think, 'OK, this is just one of those days,'" he said. "I'm like, 'No, this doesn't have to be one of those days.' They put tobacco in their mouths, put seeds in their mouths, sometimes don't even cheer."

So Winston has brought a little bit of football to baseball and vice versa. With one foot on the basepath and one in the backfield, Winston contemplates his next move. For now it is a haircut. He hasn't had one in weeks and friends have begun calling him "Steve Harvey" because the now-bald host/comedian "used to have the most perfect Afro."

Just for fun those friends fussed and picked and styled Winston's 'do into that perfect throwback shape.

"Steve Harvey is the only person who can lay down, go to sleep and his Afro stays the same," Winston said, giggling once again.

Alrighty then, onto football -- onto Saturday, onward in this fascinating dual-threat, dual-sport life just starting for the Chosen One, Famous Jameis. The world is watching for the next highlight.

Just don't call him to switch during Family Feud.

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