Winston must mature under spotlight

Jimbo Fisher is fond of offering a bit of wisdom to his younger players, advice he repeated again and again last season as Florida State worked its way to a national championship. To become a man, Fisher says, the child must die.

It’s advice Fisher is likely hammering home to his star quarterback in the wake of Jameis Winston’s latest legal problems.

Compared with last year’s assault investigation, the news that Winston was cited for shoplifting seafood at a local supermarket is just a blip on the radar. But for a quarterback so clearly in the national spotlight, the latest controversy underscores a need for Winston to be more aware of his celebrity and handle himself off the field with the same maturity and poise that, on the field, helped him win a Heisman Trophy and a national championship.

In fact, it was just last August when Winston was grilled by reporters about the off-field antics of the previous Heisman winner, Johnny Manziel. Winston joked then that, should he repeat Manziel’s off-field blunders, reporters should smack him in the head with their recorders.

The quote was an early taste of Winston’s gregarious personality and charm that endeared him to the college football world for the next few months. Since allegations of a sexual assault first came to light in November 2013, however, the tone surrounding the star quarterback has changed dramatically.

After an extensive investigation by the Florida state attorney, no charges were brought against Winston for the alleged sexual assault, but the police reports and witness affidavits painted a less-than-favorable picture of the star QB.

During the course of the investigation, reports also surfaced that Winston had been in trouble with police for his role in a BB-gun fight and theft of soda at a local restaurant.

Earlier this month, The New York Times also published a report that another woman had sought counseling after a sexual encounter with Winston. The woman did not suggest a crime had occurred, but she said she was shaken by the experience.

It is important to note that, given all that history, Winston has never been arrested. The latest shoplifting incident, which left Winston suspended from Florida State’s baseball team and will require restitution to the supermarket, as well as community service, is the first time the quarterback has faced any significant punishment for his alleged actions.

But, as Manziel showed a year ago, the spotlight already shines brightly on Heisman quarterbacks, and Winston’s history only serves to heighten the attention. Silly mistakes and minor lapses in judgment that might've gone unnoticed elsewhere now become national stories, and Winston needs to understand what’s at stake.

"I realize that I am in the public spotlight and my conduct needs to be above reproach," Winston said in a written statement. "Over the last year I've learned that my accomplishments on the fields can be a wonderful thing for my school, teammates, friends, and family. At the same time, I must realize that my mistakes are magnified and can bring great embarrassment to all those who support me every day."

The words sound good, but with Winston, they always have. What he needs to show moving forward is that he’s ready to back up the winning personality and immense talent with his actions away from the field, too.

Florida State has a legitimate chance at another national title. Winston could win another Heisman. Beyond the 2014 season, NFL riches surely await. But as Fisher has warned so often, those lofty goals can be easily sidetracked by immaturity.

It’s a lesson Fisher has reminded his team of routinely. It’s a lesson Winston learned again Wednesday.