And so it ends. The short, brilliant, befuddling and unmistakably controversial college career of Jameis Winston has come to a close. In a statement released by his agency Wednesday, Winston announced he will declare for the 2015 NFL draft, where he is projected to be a high-end first-round pick.
In the coming weeks and months, there will be endless debate about Winston's potential, about whether his upside is worth his history of off-field incidents and about which teams are considering drafting him. But all of that can come later. For now, let’s take one last look back at Winston’s comet of a Florida State career. He blazed through the college football universe, dazzling and bright, beating nearly every opponent in his path and leaving a lot of angry fans along the way. We won’t soon forget him.
The prelude (May 23, 2013)
The buzz about Winston began building before he ever took his first snap. A five-star prospect out of Hueytown, Ala., he arrived in Tallahassee amid tremendous hype before redshirting behind incumbent starter EJ Manuel. That didn’t stop his legend from growing. In April 2013 Winston turned in a glimmering performance in the Seminoles’ spring game, going 12-of-15 for 205 passing yards with two touchdowns. A little more than a month later, the two-sport star fired a throw on the baseball diamond that would’ve made Yoenis Cespedes proud.
In retrospect, this effectively functioned like a bat signal: Winston had arrived.
The debut (Sept. 2, 2013)
As far as first impressions go, Winston delivered an absolute masterpiece. He torched Pittsburgh in his debut, going 25-of-27 for 356 passing yards with four touchdowns. The Seminoles dominated the Panthers 41-13 on Labor Day, and Winston coolly completed his first 11 attempts. He was so good, in fact, he made believers out of some high-profile viewers.
The performance spawned way-too-early comparisons to Johnny Manziel, the former Texas A&M star who won the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman in 2012. It also made it abundantly clear that backup Jacob Coker -- who competed all offseason to be Manuel’s replacement -- would see sparse playing time in ’13.
The rise to stardom (Sept. 14 – Oct. 5, 2013)
Winston’s stats the next four games: 65-of-92 for 1,085 passing yards with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions as the ‘Noles improved to 5-0. The highlight of this stretch came on Sept. 28 at Boston College, when Winston completed an insanely difficult Hail Mary to close the first half. With the score tied at 17 and three seconds remaining before the break, Winston dropped back, escaped a sack twice and uncorked a 55-yard bomb to Kenny Shaw moments before getting crushed.
It was during this span that Winston morphed from an intriguing newcomer into a legitimate Heisman contender. He would be no one-game wonder.
The Clemson game (Oct. 19, 2013)
Up to this point, the excitement about Winston had steadily been rising. In Death Valley, it reached its peak. In a game billed as showdown of ACC heavyweights -- 6-0 Florida State visiting 6-0 Clemson -- Winston led his team to a start-to-finish rout. The Seminoles rolled 51-14, and Winston went 22-of-34 for 444 yards with three touchdowns and a pick.
The most memorable scene may have come before kickoff during Winston’s locker-room speech to his teammates. He didn’t take the same approach as Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday, but his message was every bit as effective.
The investigation (Nov. 11 – Dec. 5, 2013)
On Nov. 11, TMZ requested a copy of a Tallahassee Police Department incident report in which Winston was listed as a suspect in a sexual assault case. The request prompted news of the investigation to become public; a woman first met with police immediately after she was allegedly raped on Dec. 7, 2012, but the case went dormant. The TPD’s flawed handling of the case was widely scrutinized in the months to come.
Whatever your opinion of the case, these are the facts: Winston and the accuser engaged in a sexual act. Winston says it was consensual. The accuser says it was not. After the case was revived, it was sent to the office of state attorney Willie Meggs, who held a press conference on Dec. 5 to announce there was not sufficient evidence to file criminal charges. His job was not to deliver a verdict but to determine whether there was a strong enough case to get a conviction.
The U.S. Department of Education would later prompt a Title IX investigation into Winston under the student code of conduct. Though football issues are clearly secondary in any situation like this, Winston’s playing eligibility wasn’t impacted by the investigation.
The Heisman Trophy ceremony (Dec. 14, 2013)
Less than two weeks after Meggs announced that Winston would not face criminal charges as a result of the investigation, the quarterback won the 79th Heisman Trophy in New York. Winston claimed the prize in a landslide: He totaled 2,205 points in the vote, beating out other finalists AJ McCarron (704), Jordan Lynch (558), Andre Williams (470), Manziel (421) and Tre Mason (404).
It’s hard to argue with Winston's on-field production. He finished the regular season with 3,820 passing yards, 38 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and led the FBS by completing 67.9 percent of his attempts. He dissected Duke in the ACC title game, accounting for 389 total yards with four scores.
The national championship (Jan. 6, 2014)
For all of the impressive things Winston did on a football field over the course of 2013, he never had to rally the ‘Noles from a major deficit. That changed in Pasadena, Calif., where Winston led Florida State back from a 21-3 hole to defeat Auburn 34-31 and secure the program’s first national title since 1999.
The game-winner came with 13 seconds left as Winston faked a handoff, lofted the ball into the end zone and watched Kelvin Benjamin make a leaping grab.
The crab legs incident (April 29, 2014)
This is when the narrative of Winston being in the headlines for all the wrong reasons fully congealed. The Heisman-winning quarterback shoplifted $32.72 worth of crab legs from a supermarket in Tallahassee. The incident was caught on surveillance cameras, and Winston received an adult citation forcing him to perform at least 20 hours of community service. He was also suspended from the baseball team until he completed his community service.
“I went to the supermarket with the intent to purchase dinner but made a terrible mistake for which I’m taking full responsibility,” Winston said in a statement. “In a moment of youthful ignorance, I walked out of the store without paying for one of my items.”
The shoplifting was cause for a lot of jokes but also added to a troubling pattern. In addition the sexual assault investigation, Winston previously had two far more minor run-ins with the law: an incident involving a BB gun battle from November 2012 and a report that he stole soda from a Burger King in July ’13.
The missed Clemson game (Sept. 20, 2014)
Winston missed his first college football game after he was seen jumping up on a table on Florida State’s campus and yelling an expletive-laced phrase. He was originally suspended for just the first half against Clemson, but the school later announced he would miss the entire game once it discovered that he had not been entirely truthful with officials who were looking into the incident.
Florida State won 23-17 in overtime to stay undefeated, but not before Winston was sent back to the locker room for wearing full pads in warmups.
The comebacks (Sept. 27 – Dec. 6, 2014)
A season after Florida State pummeled most of its ACC competition, it developed a reputation for living dangerously. That included six notable come-from-behind victories, the majority of which saw Winston shine in the second half.
• Florida State 56, NC State 41 (Sept. 27): NC State led 24-7 in the first quarter.
• Florida State 31, Notre Dame 27 (Oct. 18): Notre Dame led 24-17 in the third.
• Florida State 42, Louisville 30 (Oct. 30): Louisville led 21-0 in the first quarter.
• Florida State 30, Miami 26 (Nov. 15): Miami led 26-20 in the fourth quarter.
• Florida State 24, Florida 19 (Nov. 29): Florida led 21-19 in the fourth quarter.
• Florida State 37, Georgia Tech 35 (ACC championship game on Dec. 6): Georgia Tech led 21-14 in the second quarter.
This list doesn’t include the Seminoles’ 20-17 win over Boston College on Nov. 22, which required a game-winning Roberto Aguayo field goal with three seconds left.
The conduct hearing (Dec. 3 – Dec. 21, 2014)
Winston was found not responsible for any violations of Florida State’s code of conduct in a hearing held by the university regarding the 2012 sexual assault case. Retired Florida Supreme Court justice Major Harding made the decision.
"This was a complex case, and I worked hard to make sure both parties had a full and fair opportunity to present information,” Harding wrote in a ruling that was obtained by SI.com. “In sum, the preponderance of the evidence has not shown that you are responsible for any of the charge violations of the Code. Namely, I find that the evidence before me is insufficient to satisfy the burden of proof."
The Rose Bowl (Jan. 1, 2015)
Winston took his first loss as a college starter in the inaugural College Football Playoff semifinal. Oregon won by a final score of 59-20, and this happened:
And that’s a wrap. Winston packed more into an 18-month span than any college star in recent memory. There was good, bad, ugly and some combination of all three, the basis for a two-season stint that will be rehashed for decades.
Now it’s off to the NFL, the next chapter of Winston’s complicated and unforgettable football career.