The highlight shot straight to YouTube and later that night made “SportsCenter.” Another week, another magical moment from Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, the Heisman Trophy contender with a habit for transforming the unthinkable into reality.
Here’s what everyone saw Saturday during Maryland’s game at Florida State, what the commentators drooled over and the highlight shows played on loop: Winston dropping back in the shotgun, his backfield emptied as three wide receivers, one running back and one tight end ran their routes. They saw Maryland’s outside linebackers rush off the edge, turn the corner and collapse the pocket.
They saw Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, a junior who two years ago was playing Division II football at a small liberal arts university in western Pennsylvania, bear down upon Winston from his blind side, and leap into the air and drop Winston to the ground. They saw the Florida State’s left tackle stop and the play called dead, because Winston was sacked. Right?
“I don’t even know what I was going for, honestly,” Cudjoe-Virgil said Tuesday. “Just trying to get that man down.”
But one does not simply bring Winston down, especially from above. Maryland defensive coordinator Brian Stewart compared the redshirt freshman to Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger last week for a reason. Both are sculpted like thick slabs of concrete, seemingly impossible to bring down without the proper mixture of force, angle and sometimes luck.
So that’s how Cudjoe-Virgil fell to the grass as Winston slithered away, spinning to his left and dashing into open space. Hounded by linebacker Marcus Whitfield and two other pass-rushers, Winston balanced himself and, still sprinting forward, fired off his front leg at tight end Nick O’Leary. Touchdown.
“It was made because he should have done something else,” Coach Jimbo Fisher told reporters after the game, in which Winston set career highs in passing yards and touchdowns. “He held the ball too long. He thought it was a sack. …He does a good job of finding guys down field as he’s eluding. It was a tremendous play.”
Fans filed it straight into the vault, another legendary story for a young, brilliant career already stuffed with them. The Orlando Sentinel called it “The Play.” Its article, in the same paragraph, compared Winston to Randall Cunningham and Harry Houdini. USA Today used the touchdown as a launching pad to ponder whether Winston deserves the same full-blown hype that enveloped Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. (No, the author concluded, “but we’re close.)
And for Cudjoe-Virgil, the unfortunate Maryland linebacker fortunate enough to have his name buried beneath the mountain of praise for Winston, something he never experienced as an unheralded recruit with zero Division I scholarship offers coming out of high school?
“Great play by him,” he said. “Bad play by me. Not being disciplined. Just have to learn off it.”