CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Folks around Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala., know Ricky Rabb as the best friend of Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, and the inquiring minds all ask same question: “Is he really that good?” By now, Rabb knows how to answer. He heads to the Internet and watches the mouths droop open.
“It takes me a couple clicks on the keyboard to pull him up on YouTube and hit play,” Rabb, a high school classmate of Winston, said in a telephone interview last week. “After that, it’s over with. I just look at them the whole time and laugh. Yeah, he really is that good.”
That much has been abundantly clear this season. Winston’s freakish athleticism has made him a regular presence on highlight reels. His unflappable composure is apparent both in the pocket and the classroom, where he had a 4.0 grade-point average at Hueytown High School in central Alabama. His polished cool was unleashed upon the world at Florida State’s media day earlier this year, when he danced like MC Hammer and offered up quotes such as, “The worst thing is a rainy day with no laughs.”
With the No. 8 Seminoles preparing to host No. 25 Maryland on Saturday, few chapters of the Jameis Winston story have clouded by sadness. Instead, the redshirt freshman known as Famous Jameis has lived up to every inch of the hype.
“It’s not just because he’s talented, but his mentality and approach is different than anybody I’ve ever been around,” said Matt Scott, Winston’s high school coach. “That’s where he’s most comfortable, in that environment. That’s not hard for him. That’s not to say he doesn’t work at it hard and all those types of things. But that’s always come easy for him. As I always say, I’ve never seen him in awe of anybody or anything.”
In his collegiate debut on Sept. 2 at Pittsburgh, Winston shattered Florida State’s completion percentage record by completing 25 of 27 passes. His accuracy, passing efficiency, touchdown rate and yards per attempt all rank in the top 10 nationally. Last weekend at Boston College, Winston almost single-handedly erased a 17-3 deficit, in part by throwing a 55-yard touchdown bomb as the first-half clock expired.
“It looked like a miracle,” he said, “but we do that in practice all the time.”
After the game, Winston deflected credit onto his teammates, because without them, he said, none of this would have been possible.
Indeed, Winston is surrounded by a tall receiving corps and an offensive line that features five veterans, all at least juniors. But much of his success is the creation of the 19-year-old himself, the one Scott often warned college recruiters about, because those who gave him the same old tired pitch would be “eaten alive.”
“Jameis, when he first came in, from Day One you knew he was hyped and ready to play,” Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin said. “Even when he redshirted, he was the hypest person on the sideline. We already knew he was going to live up to the expectations.”
Then there’s Jameis Winston the joker, smiling through his mouthpiece, punting footballs to ease the tension in huddles at Hueytown practices, slapping Rabb’s behind after a crucial turnover and telling the linebacker, “Give me my ball back.” His personality has, in the eyes of many, helped him ward off what he described as “Manziel disease” at media day, a reference to the off-field scrutiny faced by Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
“To me, he’s the coolest kid,” Rabb said of Winston. “Schoolwork? Never rattles him. Relationships? Never rattles him. He always had it planned out. Relationships, sports, never seen him rattled. He’d come in the game, take over the game. I can honestly say I’ve never seen him so rattled where he can’t focus on anything else.”
Well, maybe once. Several years ago, Winston wanted to impress a pretty girl from the nearby high school before a first date, so he dialed Rabb for fashion advice. They drove to the local mall, where he bought new jeans, Ken Griffey sneakers, a bedazzled cross necklace and a polo shirt, purple with gold hues because, back then, Winston was into LSU. He took her out, and they still date to this day.
Asked about the coolest thing Winston ever did, Rabb tells this story. For once, the player who absorbs everything that his coaches and opponents throw at him was at a loss, and Famous Jameis needed to ask for help.