By Brendan Sonnone
Orlando Sentinel (MCT)
---- — NEW YORK — Jameis Winston held his breath behind a podium, waiting for another question from the room full of reporters.
When none came, he exhaled, let a loud “wooo” and exited stage right.
The Florida State freshman quarterback was done answering questions. At least for the night.
Winston, 19, became the youngest player to ever win the Heisman Trophy, college football’s top individual award, on Saturday in New York. The next few days will be filled with a short media tour that includes appearances on the Today show and The Late Show with David Letterman.
He will return to Tallahassee in the middle of the week when his team begins preparation for the BCS National Championship Game versus Auburn. Winston is longing to start practicing again, to get back to some sort of routine and normalcy.
“The football field is my sanctuary, man. I love all the things about New York, I love the big city. I’m honored that my family is down here with me,” Winston said. “But when you’re on the football field, it’s just a whole different mindset. I’ve got a big smile on my face because I’m doing something I love.”
But life in Tallahassee will never be the same for Winston. Not after this past month. And he knows it.
On Nov. 13, Winston was first publicly linked to a sexual assault investigation in connection with an altercation in December 2012. Soon, as details emerged, it was revealed Winston was the main focus of an assault inquiry involving a former FSU student.
The Heisman Trophy became part of the narrative, with analysts speculating that the assault investigation could push Winston out of the running for the coveted award. The state attorney’s office announced Dec. 5 the case was closed and no charges would be filed against Winston.
“This last month, is probably that humbling moment you’ll have in your life,” Winston said. “I was talking to (receiver) Rashad Greene, who said ‘God is always going to challenge you, no matter what it is.’ That was my humbling moment.”
It was no longer a question of if the case would impact Winston’s position as the front-runner to win the Heisman, but whether character should be considered in the voting process.
The closed investigation and the Heisman are closely intertwined, which was apparent in New York.
Reporters would ask Winston one question about football and the Heisman, but they were typically quickly followed by questions about the investigation.
Finally, as he gave his acceptance speech Saturday, the two collided. Holding back tears, he looked out at the crowd and toward his parents, who looked back with pride.
“I ain’t seen that look in their eyes in a long time,” Winston said of his parents. “It’s not that I feel complete, because I’m still hungry because we have a national championship we need to win. But when you see your mom and you see your dad, and you know they’ve been struggling through this whole process and now you just see a smile on their face.
“It comforted me.”
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, who also in attendance at the award ceremony, cried as Winston accepted the trophy and delivered his victory speech.
“It reinforces that the good things happen to the good guys. That everything, the trials and tribulations he went through, and had to stay strong,” Fisher said. “My mark, that’s a true mark of a man, is when you have your own individual issues, but you have a team to lead like a family, and you never let those get in the way of the rest of our players reach their goal as a team.
“Just to know what he went through to get up there on that stage, sometimes as a coach, it just hits you every now and then.”
When Winston returns back to Tallahassee, he said life will be different. He said he knows he can no longer socialize in the same way and cannot “carry myself as a teen.”
“One thing that Coach Fisher always told me, especially through this process, ‘For you to be a man, the kid in you must die,’” Winston said. “I believe that kid in me has died. But I’m always going to have my personality,
“I’m always going to have my character. But I have to become a man, and that comes through the process.”
Winston has already been under a microscope through the season and that was only magnified this past month through the closely documented investigation.
A Heisman Trophy will add to those critiquing him on and off the field.
“Life’s going to change,” said Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who won the award last year. “This is an extremely big deal. Look around right now. There’s a lot of cameras and a lot of mikes, there’s a lot of flashes and a lot of fame coming from all this. So I mean, live it up, enjoy it, continue to be yourself and don’t let anybody take you from that.
“You’re going to have to adapt to how life is going to be after this. ... then you’re going to get the questions next year about hey can you do it again.”