Jameis Winston flashed a wide smile as he took the stage at the 2013 Heisman Trophy ceremony at the Best Buy Theater in New York. For now, this was Winston’s moment. Yet with the sport’s most prestigious award in hand, Winston, for once, couldn’t find words. “I was speechless,” the Seminoles’ redshirt freshman quarterback said. “I had to shake everyone’s hand twice. I didn’t know what to do.”
That was unusual for a quarterback whose poise largely defined his remarkable campaign as a first-year starter, one who displayed the leadership of a senior rather than the mistakes of a freshman. But perhaps that’s becoming more common in college football these days. The redshirt freshman Winston became the second straight freshman to claim the Heisman Trophy, only one year after Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel won the award in 2012. Winston claimed a whopping 668 first-place votes, ninth all-time, and 2,205 total points. He bested runner-up AJ McCarron of Alabama by 1,501 points. That margin was the seventh-largest in Heisman history, leaving little doubt who the country considered the best player in college football.
The victory by the 19-year-old Winston, the Heisman’s youngest winner ever, is perhaps the latest example of a gradual change taking place across the sport’s landscape. One season ago, Manziel’s victory was considered a barrier-breaking moment in Heisman history. He was the first freshman to claim the award, but there was no telling how much of an impact that broken barrier would have on college football. Yet that effect feels palpable only one year later thanks to Winston.
“There’s no age limit on being a great player,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We’ve broken down those barriers. If they’re the best players, we’re now accepting them into our society … Like we say, a play doesn’t care who makes it. There’s no age limit on being a great player.”
Winston, a redshirt freshman, ripped through his competition all season long as a first-year stater, but he did so as the headliner of the country’s eventual No. 1 team. He set national freshman records with 3,820 passing yards and 38 touchdowns, and he finished the year as the country’s leader in passing efficiency (190.1). In October he tossed for 444 passing yards and accounted for four scores in a 51-14 rout of Clemson in Death Valley, perhaps the biggest road win of the year in college football. Moreover, his Seminoles reached the BCS title game opposite Auburn. This all occurred with Winston replacing a first-round NFL draft pick at quarterback in E.J. Manuel. So much for a learning curve, right?
Winston becomes the fourth Seminole to be named the ACC Rookie of the Year after finishing the regular season ranked first nationally in passing efficiency (190.1) while leading the ACC in passing yardage (3,820) and touchdown passes (38). The first Florida State player to be named ACC Rookie of the Year since Chris Rix in 2001, Winston has fueled an offense that ranks second nationally in scoring (53.7 point per game) and seventh in total offense (526.1 yards per game).
Winston’s 3,820 passing yards are an ACC rookie record, and his 38 touchdown passes beat the conference single-season mark by two. He threw for 1,162 yards and nine touchdowns in three wins over ranked opponents, and was named the ACC Rookie of the Week seven times and the ACC Offensive Back of the Week on three occasions.