NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Jameis Winston whispered and giggled with teammate Kenny Shaw on the dais as two Florida State coaches answered questions, many about him. The Heisman Trophy winner and his star receiver looked at times like a couple of kids trying not to laugh in the library.
When the questions were directed to Winston, he was his usual gregarious self, humbly deflecting credit on one hand, supremely self-confident on the other.
In the second interview session Friday, the Heisman Trophy winner had a platform all to himself and the biggest crowd of reporters around him.
There is no doubt Famous Jameis is the star of the show this week in Southern California.
It has taken one season for Winston to become one of college football’s biggest attractions, right up there with Johnny Manziel. He has set records and was the subject of a criminal investigation.
The 19-year-old, who turns 20 Monday night when the top-ranked Seminoles play No. 2 Auburn in the BCS championship game at the Rose Bowl, has dealt with both fame and scrutiny. He maintains that through it all he’s still the same person he was a year ago, when he was a promising freshman working with Florida State’s scout team.
“Nothing has changed,” he said.
Winston covered plenty of ground Friday.
— He doesn’t think he’s ready for the NFL nor is he in any rush to get there. “No, I got to get better at everything.”
— When he was in high school, he wanted to play for Texas. He even tried to reach out to Mack Brown, but it never went anywhere. “I tried to call him a couple times because I really like Texas.”
— He has joked around with Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher about recent speculation and reports that Fisher might replace Brown in Austin. “Even if Coach Fisher goes to Texas, I’m going to ask him, ‘Can I go with you?’ Yeah, I’m serious. He’s my coach.”
— Though he grew up in Bessemer, Ala., in a family mostly made up of Alabama fans, save for his mom who roots for Auburn, he never chose sides in the heated rivalry. “When you’re born in that state, you have to be either this or that. Obviously, when I first started football, Oklahoma winning, ‘Boomer Sooner’ baby. I just roll with that.” Though he did concede that playing the Tigers is a “rivalry game” for him.
In Tallahassee, Fla., Winston was looming on the horizon all last season after he came to Florida State as a five-star recruit. He is also a baseball star and FSU gave him the opportunity to play both sports for championship contending teams. Seminoles fans dubbed him Famous Jameis before he threw a pass in a game and he had them giddy after a spectacular spring game performance.
Around the country, most college football fans found out about Winston on Labor Day night, when in his start he completed 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards in a victory at Pittsburgh.
“Honestly, I wasn’t really surprised,” quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders said. “I was a little bit in awe, I think, like a lot of people, just the poise and composure that he had. 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.”
Winston went on to break freshman records for yards passing (3,820) and touchdown passes (38) as Florida State crushed opponent after opponent. He sees no reason that has to stop against Auburn.
“Where in the rulebook does it say we can’t blow out every team we play?” Winston said. “Because it’s a championship game? We can do anything we want.”
His problems this season came in November, when a year-old sexual assault complaint against him became public and was passed along by Tallahassee police to the Florida state attorney’s office for a full investigation. A female Florida State student claims Winston raped her. Winston’s attorney has said the sex was consensual. Prosecutors did not find enough evidence to charge him with a crime and the case was closed two days before the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
Winston credited his teammates for helping him to stay focused on football during the investigation and said, again, that he knew he had done nothing wrong.
“Looking at the situation from the outside in, you would think it would hurt the team, but we used it as a time to get stronger,” Shaw said. “We stayed close to Jameis because we knew the allegations wasn’t true and all that. But we just got stronger and we didn’t miss a beat.”
A year in which character has been a much-covered talking point in college football — Johnny Manziel, Urban Meyer and Jadeveon Clowney have also been part of the discussion — has been capped by plenty of debate about whether Winston’s character was Heisman-worthy.
“What people think outside of this and what people are trying to do, I can’t control none of that,” Winston said. “I just go out there and play football because I enjoy it and I love it and it’s my passion, and I’ve got these boys around me, and that’s what we love to do, go out there and play Florida State football.”
He has one more chance to shine on the biggest stage yet.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP