Jameis Winston eager to play against hometown hero DeMeco Ryans

TAMPA, Fla. -- When Jameis Winston faces the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, the game will have special meaning for him on multiple levels.

For one, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' rookie quarterback grew up as an Eagles fan. But the trip to Lincoln Financial Field also will give him a chance to play against linebacker DeMeco Ryans, a fellow native of Bessemer, Alabama.

"It was always my dream [that] if I wasn't going to play for the Eagles, [I'd] at least play against them or have a chance to go against them," Winston said Wednesday. "But one thing that is important about this week is I get to go against one of my hometown heroes in DeMeco Ryans.

"Just playing against him and just to see how he has impacted my life and many kids' lives in Bessemer, Alabama, and now we get to play against him. He's an old man now to many of us. But he's still a great role model and just a great person that I look up to. It's bigger than the Eagles right now."

Ryans, 31, is in his 10th NFL season and his fourth with Philadelphia. He appeared in the Pro Bowl as a member of the Houston Texans after the 2007 and 2009 seasons. He has 26 tackles and one interception this year.

Winston is 10 years younger than Ryans, who served as a mentor during Winston's time at Florida State. Ryans offered advice that went beyond football.

"My message to him was just, 'Don't listen to all the outside noise,'" Ryans told reporters in Philadelphia on Wednesday. "It's easy to get distracted, with everybody talking about you, everybody saying bad things about you. It's easy to get distracted, especially when you're such a high-profile player.

"I just told him to stay the course, and understand that his name's always going to be out in front. He just has to stay positive and stay out in front, and continue to do the right things."

To Winston, Ryans offered plenty to admire.

"Not only was he a great football player, he was also a great baseball player -- not only from the athletic standpoint, [but] he was an academic scholar," Winston said. "When you look at the model person that's good in sports and good in school, you see DeMeco Ryans if you're from the area I'm from."