Jameis Winston could be a Florida State great -- if he chooses football
With less than a minute remaining in the first half of Alabama Hueytown High's Sept. 16 matchup with McAdory (Ala.), clinging to a 21-7 lead, senior quarterback Jameis "Jaboo" Winston set up in shotgun. He handled the snap, hesitating in the pocket while surveying his options. He rolled to his right, then cut left. He released.
It was one play. But it offered a glimpse of something people in Birmingham, Ala., already know: Jaboo Winston has it all.
Winston has become a local legend of sorts. He landed scholarships to Alabama, Auburn and Georgia Tech by his sophomore year. He hit home runs from both sides of plate during a baseball game last March. As a junior, the 6-4, 205-pound passer led Hueytown to its best record in school history (11-2), throwing for 2,342 yards, rushing for 870 and collecting 26 total touchdowns. "He's the total package," said head coach Matt Scott.
He certainly hasn't lacked recognition. Following his commitment to Florida State in August -- another high-profile recruit for second-year coach Jimbo Fisher -- he set the Tallahassee campus abuzz. And why not? Analysts are likening him to a young Cam Newton. He has all the makings of a Seminole standout.
But there's a catch: Winston also has the makings of a perennial MLB All-Star, and will likely be selected in the first round draft of the 2012 amateur draft. And that makes matters infinitely more complicated.
Thing is, Winston is equally dominant on the baseball diamond. He's just as versatile, doubling as an ace pitcher and outfielder. He recorded an 8-3 record, 92 strikeouts, a .424 batting average and seven home runs last season, earning an invite to the AHSAA All-Star Game, where he went 4-for-5 with a grand slam, seven RBIs and three runs scored.
Besides recognition, his stats have prompted the thorny, ever-present question: Football or baseball? It's an enviable decision. But it's one he doesn't want to make. "Hopefully I'll be another Deion Sanders or Bo Jackson," he says. "I want to try to maintain two professional leagues."
Athletes with true two-sport potential are rare. Ones that pursue both are even rarer. Besides Sanders and Jackson, there was Brian Jordan, and eons ago, Jim Thorpe. The list doesn't extend much longer. Winston has the skills to potentially join that elite fraternity. And he doesn't want to settle.
Winston chose Florida State over other college suitors -- including Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma and LSU -- because it provides the best opportunity to play both sports. He cites the working relationship between Fisher and Mike Martin, the Seminoles' baseball coach, as his decisive factor. It's an ideal situation in theory. But history has proved it can be unrealistic.
Take last year's two-sport phenom, Kansas' Gardner-Edgerton High's Bubba Starling. Starling faced an identical dilemma, forced to choose between playing quarterback at Nebraska or outfielder with the Royals, who selected him fifth overall in the 2011 draft. He inked a three year, $7.5 million contract with Kansas City in August. Though similar scenarios, Winston -- at least for now -- plans to travel down a different career path. "No quarterback plays two sports," he says. "I wanna make a name for myself."
His saga will be ruthlessly tracked, his every move scrutinized. Each of his comments will be interpreted and reinterpreted. He'll be asked the same questions and offered the same pleas. The process has already begun. "We routinely have cameras at practice," says Scott.
But Winston has time to weigh his options. The 2012 first-year draft isn't until next June, and the signing deadline until next August. The Alabama 5A playoffs kick off in November. Baseball season begins in February. For now, those are more pressing concerns.
He's also worried about persuading people to call him Jaboo (pronounced J-boo) instead of Jameis. The moniker was given to him as a toddler, and he hopes to carry it to campus. "That's what my parents have been calling me my whole life," he says.
For the rest of the nation, talent trumps title. As Winston continues to dissect opposing defenses -- he has 883 passing yards, 390 rushing yards and 16 total touchdowns (one receiving!) through five games in 2011 -- whether he's dubbed Jaboo or Jameis becomes increasingly irrelevant. All that matters is his looming decision: Football or baseball?
The question omits a third possibility.
"I also want to be a podiatrist," says Winston, who carries a 4.0 GPA. "I always wanted to be a foot doctor."
A five-star recruit, coveted MLB draft prospect
• An under-the-radar key to Winston's emergence may have been the hiring of head coach Matt Scott. Since taking over in 2009, he switched the offense from a Wing-T to zone spread approach, taking advantage of his quarterback's dual threats. The team has benefitted, too: Following a 5-0 start, Hueytown captured its first Class 5A No. 1 ranking in the program's 90-year history.
• For all the praise bestowed upon Winston, wideout Cameron Broadnax also deserves his due. The 6-3, 185-pounder has quickly become Winston's favorite target, racking up 25 catches, 402 yards and seven scores in 2011. He's being recruited by Alabama, Auburn and Oklahoma -- not bad considering he missed his entire junior season after transferring from Homewood (Ala.).
• Winston is just part of Fisher's 2012 recruiting haul. Florida State also has commitments from Rivals' top-ranked defensive end (Mario Edwards), linebacker (Ukeme Eligwe) and third-ranked running back (Mario Pender). The Seminoles also remain in the running for Eddie Goldman, the top-ranked defensive tackle, and Landon Collins, the second-ranked safety.