COMMENTARY — The last time I saw Jameis Winston in person was March of 2012. It was, shall we say, an inauspicious occasion.
It was the championship game of the Jefferson County Schools Baseball Tournament, played between Gardendale and “Jaboo” and his Hueytown team at Samford University. The senior prodigy played shortstop most of the game, and was being harassed incessantly by a group of Rocket fans — mainly boys who were students. Nothing out of line, mind you, just the usual bunch of rowdies giving the opposing team’s star player a hard time.
In the bottom of the ninth inning with no outs and a 4-4 score, Rocket coach Pat Keedy engaged with a little trickeration and called for a double steal. The ploy worked, giving Gardendale runners on second and third.
Golden Gophers coach Rick Patterson got into a heated argument about whether or not the runner at third was safe, and was tossed from the game. But before he bid farewell, Patterson sent Winston to the mound to try to get Hueytown out of its predicament.
It didn’t go well for Winston. He threw one pitch, which Bryce Jay sent deep to left field. It was deep enough for Rocket shortstop Chris Blakey to score from third, and Gardendale won the big trophy.
Winston was not happy, to say the least. He started jawing with the Rocket rowdies, and had to be restrained by his Gopher teammates. It was an indication, though a minor one, of a temper that Winston had displayed before in various ways and in various sports.
The assumption by most sports reporters then was that Winston’s future would be in professional baseball, even though his talents on the gridiron were enormous. He lost the Mr. Football balloting to his good friend T.J. Yeldon in 2012, but just barely. We all knew he was great at football, but better on the diamond, and would be a superstar if he stayed healthy and kept out of trouble.
Yet on Saturday night, in a theater in New York City, it was Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston who held aloft the Heisman Trophy as the best college football player in the country. And no one — not even the biggest Jaboo fan around — saw that coming, especially not so early in his career.
There is no denying that Winston is the best player in the country this year. He came out of nowhere to lead a Seminole team that few expected to reach the final BCS title game.
So for now, Jameis Winston’s potential seems to lie in football, though baseball certainly isn’t out of the picture. There stands a good chance that he might go the route of Bo Jackson, who grew up just miles away in McCalla, and try both sports on the pro level.
More concerning is Winston’s personal life. I’ve alluded to his temper, but the bigger issue is the one that nearly derailed his Heisman hopes — the investigation into charges that he sexually assaulted a woman in Tallahassee. Police cleared him of the accusations, saying there was not enough evidence to file charges, though the accuser’s attorney is still making noise about a civil suit.
Even after Winston was cleared, the lingering worries about his personal conduct were enough for 115 of the 900 Heisman voters to omit him entirely from their three selections. Given his performance on the field, his off-field issues can be the only legitimate reason to leave Winston off a ballot.
There’s not a doubt in my mind that Jameis Winston has the talent to be one of the great superstars of our time, barring a major injury. But that lingering question about his personality and conduct will continue to haunt him, unless he makes a very public effort to keep his nose clean.
I hope very much for his sake that Jameis Winston does exactly that.