TAMPA, Fla. -- Last season's Pro Bowl wasn’t the first time Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston encountered Seattle Seahawks counterpart Russell Wilson, nor was it the first time Winston gleaned some advice from the Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
Winston and Wilson actually talked on the phone the night before Winston played in the BCS National Championship after the 2013 season. The two were connected by Trevor Moawad, a mental-conditioning consultant for Wilson who also worked with Winston at Florida State. The two young quarterbacks face off against each other Sunday when the Seahawks travel to Tampa to play the Bucs at 4:05 p.m. ET.
“They spoke for 15 or 20 minutes,” said Moawad, who, in addition to working with Florida State, helped both players before the draft. “I just shot Russell a note and just said, ‘Hey, we’re playing Auburn in the national championship tomorrow. Do you have some time to jump on the phone with Jameis and just share some insights on a game of this significance, knowing that you played some big games?’”
“He said, ‘Absolutely.’ And then I think he just reinforced ‘embracing the opportunity,’ and being really conscious of the role he was going to play,” Moawad said. The advice paid off. Winston and the Seminoles defeated the Tigers 34-31, capping an undefeated season.
"We watched a lot of specials on Russell when Jameis was in college, how he approached adversity," Moawad said. They also watched programs on Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Winston had conversations with Warren Moon, Carson Palmer and Cam Newton that year. But Moawad believed Winston and Wilson would have an even closer connection because of their similar psychological makeup.
“Very few people can look at stress positively,” Moawad said. “Both Jameis and Russell love stress, and they recognize that some of the best things you’ll get in life come from fighting through those challenges, that nobody’s going to give you anything that’s not hard. And that’s where I think Jameis really views that as a challenge and Russell views it as a challenge.”
He added, “Jameis looks at pressure as a privilege; Russell views pressure as a privilege,” emphasizing that both have what he calls “psychological discipline."
You can see it when they’re both out on the field. They might be different types of quarterbacks playing in different systems, but each possesses an uncanny ability to escape pressure and improvise when the pocket collapses and plays break down.
“The military calls it ‘adversity tolerance’: your ability to handle tough moments,” said Moawad, who still works closely with Wilson while keeping in touch with Winston. “I think both of them are incredible, off the charts with respect to their ability to tolerate adversity and rise and push through it. And that’s why I thought Russell would be a great mentor for Jameis.”
The two are also very similar in that each is a fierce competitor with an undeniable work ethic. The day after Wilson’s first season ended, when the Seahawks lost to the Atlanta Falcons 30-28 in the divisional round of the 2012 playoffs, after he’d set an NFL record for postseason passing yards for a rookie, he opted to watch film rather than clean out his locker.
“Their effort is unconditional. Their preparation is unconditional,” Moawad said, pointing out that they keep the same approach when others around them have voiced doubts. “Their desire to succeed far outweighs the people around them.”
When Winston’s 2015 rookie season ended, he started working with Michael Jordan’s former trainer, Tim Grover. Winston transformed his body and his diet, losing 20 pounds, and improved his stamina and core strength. Winston credited Wilson with inspiring him to work on his diet so he could improve his performance and potentially boost career longevity.
“They don’t believe that they’ve ever arrived," Moawad said. Winston said as much at the very beginning of training camp this year: “Arrival is a death sentence to an athlete. And that’s really the paradox of success, that if you think you’ve gotten there, it goes quickly.”
Moawad also believes the two are natural leaders. He said Winston has a high level of “emotional competence,” which allows him to relate to teammates and understand when someone needs an encouraging word. “He was very aware of how people felt, very empathetic, but also very competitive,” Moawad said, adding that Winston is an “unbelievably special person."
Last week, Winston wrote a letter to teammates, saying how much it meant to him to be their quarterback and that the season wasn’t over for the Buccaneers (5-5). Heartfelt letters are a page out of Wilson’s book, too. When Manning retired, Wilson published a letter to him on The Players’ Tribune website thanking the surefire Hall of Famer for being an inspiration.
Wilson made no secret this week that he admires Winston, too, and had no problem giving him advice at the Pro Bowl, even if it meant helping a future opponent.
“He’s a great competitor,” Wilson said. “I love him as a quarterback. He’s phenomenal, makes a lot of great plays, a lot of great throws. Like I said, he’s the ultimate competitor. ... I have tons of respect for who he is and what he’s been doing. He’s a great football player, and he’ll be a great football player for a long time.”