TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jameis Winston grabbed the microphone and bolted, nearly ripping the cord from the camera and leaving the man holding it in his wake. He careened through reporters and teammates and then hailed down Mario Pender, a relatively unknown name to the Florida State Seminoles faithful.
"We know about your blazing speed, your great looks and that's a great number you have there, sir," Winston improvised, mimicking on-air personas with an inflecting interview voice. "Tell us a little something about yourself."
He spent less than 30 seconds with Pender before flagging down assistant coach Jay Graham. Graham managed 12 words before Winston cut him short and moved on. He finished by tracking down the linebackers, pestering the unit for an interview and convincing Reggie Northrup to do the Chappelle's Show robot. All the while with the media chasing Winston down, snapping pictures and shooting videos.
It was Winston at his most relaxed, in a comfort zone buffered by his more than 100 teammates. It was Winston unchanged, and for months he's asserted he will largely be the same person he was despite the media microscope.
Except we saw a much more measured Winston two hours later when he walked to the podium for his media sessions, reporters now scaling the bleachers, having replaced his teammates. Admittedly, I haven't been around the team as long as others on the beat, but it seemed Winston was much shorter with his answers than normal. Not rude. Not any more careful. Just short. I asked around and others agreed that Winston's responses were unusually abbreviated.
"I did have to learn I got to be more guarded," Winston said about halfway through his 12-minute session. He would eventually expound on his answers, but not until he was asked to talk about his teammates.
It was a poignant contradiction, both from his actions earlier in the day and his comments as he insisted he's still the same person he was 12 months ago when his fame didn't extend much farther than the Sunshine State. It's not all that unexpected either that Winston didn't bloviate at the dais considering the notoriety the past year has brought. With his teammates surrounding him in every direction, Winston was gregarious, parading around with a cameraman's mic. In a traditional media setting with a room full of reporters, many analyzing every remark, Winston offered the bare minimum.
Sunday possibly offers a glimpse into how Winston dealt with the scrutiny from media and fans over the course of the past year and still produced unprecedented results. While he is peppered with questions each interview, behind closed doors the Florida State team still feeds off his energy, using it to cut the tension during big games and even bigger moments. He's previously mentioned how the support of his teammates helped him through the off-the-field controversies, but it was on full display as he ran around the field after the team photo. He's referred to this field as his sanctuary, but it's those kneeling next to him in the pews -- Pender, Graham, the linebackers, his teammates -- that offer Winston the platform to be the affable person he contends he is.
"I'm always going to continue to be myself and that's never going to change," he said. "As long as my teammates see that, people can have their opinions about me."