FSU QB Winston shines on biggest stage

CLEMSON, S.C. -- The game was over, but for the final seconds still waiting to tick off the clock. A horde of Florida State fans were all that remained of a sell-out crowd in Death Valley. They cheered their quarterback's name from the edge of the stands, while a few overwhelmed security personnel held signs asking them not to climb the wall.

It didn't matter.

The game ended, the crowd poured onto the field and surrounded Jameis Winston, their conquering hero.

Winston talked to television reporters, then escaped to the locker room to change into a perfectly tailored gray suit with a purple tie. He emerged like a politician at a rally, eyes bulging and arms waving as he regaled the assembled media with the rhetoric of practice and preparation and the will to be great.

This is what has galvanized Florida State's fans, Florida State's players and Florida State's coaches.

Jameis Winston, the quarterback, was exceptional in dismantling No. 3 Clemson 51-14 on Saturday. He completed 22 of 34 passes for 444 yards and three touchdowns, adding a fourth on the ground. His lone interception was the fault of a broken headset that resulted in a bad play call, coach Jimbo Fisher said. In four ACC games, Winston has topped 300 yards and three touchdowns every time. He helped FSU score the most points a visiting team has ever tallied in Death Valley.

But it was Jameis Winston, the leader, who was front and center Saturday.

"You see what he does every week," cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said. "It's to the point where we come into an environment like this and we say, OK, we know what Jameis and the offense is going to do. Everyone looks up to that guy."

For two weeks, Florida State heard about the noise in Death Valley. The Seminoles were asked to relive five straight losses here. They were told, again and again, that this game would define their season.

Winston slept on the bus ride to the stadium.

"One in a million quarterbacks act like that," receiver Kelvin Benjamin said.

When he arrived, Winston was all energy, of course, but he was hardly bothered by the 83,428 fans berating the Seminoles from the opening snap. Winston stepped into the huddle for FSU's first drive, and he grinned a familiar smile.

"I said, 'Guys, we don't play against noise,'" Winston said. "'We're playing the Clemson Tigers.' And we played our hearts out."

Florida State scored on that drive, and then eight of the next 11. Winston was electric on every one.

Asked after it was over for the difference between last year's Seminoles -- a team that lost two games and often played down to its competition -- and this year's group, Winston offered a simplistic, yet utterly reasonable answer.

"We've got that swag," he grinned.

That swag comes directly from the freshman quarterback with a fiery competitiveness and overwhelming confidence few players his age share. But what sets Winston apart from even the best of his competition is that through it all, playing football remains immensely fun.

"He throws jokes," Benjamin said. "If you look at us a lot of times in the huddle, we're laughing. It's like pee-wee football all over again."

Winston laughed in the locker room with teammates. He danced on the field during warm-ups. He soaked in the rabid Clemson fan base, and he relished the moment.

It's simply who he is, but his teammates took notice.

"He's not coached up to be a leader that way. He's being himself," Joyner said. "When someone is genuine like that -- it's very rare in this culture to have someone that's genuine at heart like that, so we respect it and we go off that. Guys walk around all serious, and you see Jameis all goofy before a big-time game like this, it's like, 'OK, let's do this, man.'"

It's all fun for the Seminoles at this point. With Saturday's win, they boast a resume worthy of consideration as the nation's top team. Several players suggested they were, in fact, No. 1, but Winston stopped just short.

There's more work to do, Winston assured, but if his team prepares the way it has, the Seminoles can play with anyone.

"Our team is legit," he said. "Too legit to quit."

He's serious, and he's not. He means every word he says, but he's also enjoying every moment he gets to address a crowd and embrace the spotlight. The stage on Saturday was immense, and Winston couldn't wait for his chance to embrace it.

"I've got so much confidence in that kid, just him being himself," receiver Rashad Greene said. "I knew he wasn't going to let his teammates down."

The performance figures to vault Winston to the forefront of the Heisman discussion. Greene said that's exactly where he belongs. But Florida State likely has seven more games to play before then, which means the award isn't likely to be much of a consideration.

"I know he's not worried about a Heisman," Greene said.

Instead, Winston said he was just looking forward to food and sleep when it was over.

"One game at a time," Winston said. "We're not doing the partying or the rah-rah stuff."