Jameis Winston's 'goofy' leadership style works, ex-FSU teammate says

"He had me nervous a little bit," James Wilder said of Jameis Winston in the national title game. "I'm like, 'Jameis, let's focus, let's focus.' He goes, 'No. We got this. We gonna do it big.'" MCT via Getty Images/Joe Burbank

CINCINNATI -- The more Jameis Winston talked, the more anxious James Wilder Jr. got.

Flashback to Florida State's sideline with about three minutes remaining in the 2013 national championship game. With his Seminoles trailing Auburn by four, Winston was walking up and down the sideline cracking jokes. He carried those same jokes into the huddle just before FSU's final drive began.

"He had me nervous a little bit," Wilder said. "I'm like, 'Jameis, let's focus, let's focus.'

"He goes, 'No. We got this. We gonna do it big.'"

Winston marched his teammates seven plays and 80 yards in a 1-minute, 6-second drive that ended when Kelvin Benjamin caught a touchdown pass that effectively won the Seminoles their third national title. When Wilder shares a field with Winston on Monday night for the first time since winning that championship in Pasadena, California, he expects to see the exact same quarterback, only in a new uniform.

Wilder, the Cincinnati Bengals running back who spent all of his first NFL season on the practice squad, believes Winston's playful, "goofy" nature will actually make the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie an effective leader in the league.

"That's just his personality. He’s not going to change it," Wilder said. "That's a big part of his success; keeping people calm and collect."

Monday night's ESPN-televised game in Tampa between the Bengals and Bucs will be Winston's second chance to sway doubters. In last Saturday's preseason-opening loss at Minnesota, he went 9-for-19 with 131 yards passing and an interception.

One year Winston's senior, Wilder was a true freshman at FSU when the quarterback was being recruited there. As Winston's "player recruiter," Wilder knew Winston long before the signal-caller arrived in Tallahassee, Florida.

Wilder will never forget the time he first believed Winston could be an effective leader. It happened during a team meeting within days of the quarterback arriving on campus. At the time, Winston was redshirting and EJ Manuel was still the team's starter. During the meeting, Winston opened his mouth.

"With freshmen, you don’t see people stand up and kind of take over a meeting," Wilder said. "We kind of laughed like, 'Man, you're just a freshman.' But still, that was a big moment. To see that happen and he wasn't even the guy yet?"

Sure, these anecdotes may sound like tall tales. Wilder gets that. But the Tampa native and son of a former well-known Buccaneers running back has been paying attention to what Winston's current teammates and coaches are saying. Much of it sounds familiar.

"They're all saying he's a special guy, that he's the last person out the locker room," Wilder said. "He's been like that since I met him in college.

"He's very determined. He's one of those guys who's going to get it no matter what. He has what it takes and he'll give what it takes to be that guy."