The quarterback they call Famous Jameis became the youngest Heisman winner and the second straight freshman to win the trophy Saturday night, earning college football’s most prestigious individual trophy award with a performance so dominant even a criminal investigation couldn’t derail his candidacy.
“I cannot explain the feeling that I have inside right now,” Winston said. “I’m so overwhelmed. It’s awesome.”
When his name was announced, he popped from his seat and quickly made his way to his mom and dad for hugs and kisses. He smiled and laughed through most of his acceptance speech.
He talked about trusting in the “process” on the field and in life and “after all the things I’ve been through this past month.” He got choked up a bit when talking about his parents.
“When you see your mom and you see your dad and they’ve been struggling through this whole process and now you see a smile on their face, it comforted me,” he said later.
Winston received 668 first-place votes and 2,205 points. He finished 1,501 points ahead of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron for the seventh-largest margin of victory in Heisman history, despite being left off 115 of the 900 ballots returned.
Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch was third, followed by Boston College’s Andre Williams, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Auburn’s Tre Mason.
Manziel was the first freshman to win the Heisman last year, and was trying to join Ohio State’s Archie Griffin as a two-time winner. Instead, Winston made it two redshirt freshman winners in the 79-year history of the Heisman. He also became the youngest winner at 23 days short of 20.
The 19-year-old also was investigated last month for a year-old sexual assault complaint, but no charges were filed and the case was closed four days before Heisman votes were due.
“I really believe that people actually just trusted me. People obviously saw us play. But that comes from my team, too,” Winston said.
Winston is the nation’s top-rated passer and has led the top-ranked Seminoles (13-0) to a spot in the BCS championship game against No. 2 Auburn on Jan. 6, his birthday. The former five-star recruit from Bessemer, Ala., made college football look easy from his very first game. On Labor Day night, on national television, Winston went 25 for 27 for 356 yards and four touchdowns in a victory at Pittsburgh.
“I can’t explain how truly intelligent he is,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He always wanted to know why he had success or why he had failure so he could either repeat it or fix it.”
There wasn’t much failure on the way to becoming the third Seminoles quarterback to win the Heisman. The last was Chris Weinke in 2000.
Winston and Florida State were cruising toward an undefeated season when news broke of an unresolved sexual assault complaint against him made to the Tallahassee Police Department last December.
The dormant case was handed over to the state attorney’s office for a full investigation. A female student at Florida State accused Winston of rape. Winston’s attorney said the sex was consensual.
During three weeks of uncertainty, Winston continued to play sensationally, while other contenders stumbled or failed to distinguish themselves. If voters were looking to Manziel or McCarron or Lynch or Williams or even Marcus Mariota of Oregon to give them a good alternative to Winston, it didn’t happen.
The Heisman Trust mission statement says: “The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.”
It’s a statement that has put the Heisman in awkward situations before. In 2010, Cam Newton played the season under the cloud of an NCAA investigation. He had also had legal troubles while in college. But like Winston, there was no doubt he was the best player and he won the award.
Reggie Bush had his 2005 Heisman stripped after the NCAA determined he had violated its rules during that season. But the Heisman trust did not ask Billy Cannon and O.J. Simpson to return their Heismans after they were sent to prison.
The accusations against Winston were serious and documents released by the police with the accuser’s allegations were not flattering to him. It probably explains why so many voters left him out of their top three. Last year, Manziel appeared on 92 percent of the ballots. Winston appeared on 87 percent this year.
“Everyone has their own opinion,” Winston said. “It’s basically a numbers game and I was blessed to have the majority vote.”
There was no doubting his on-the-field credentials. Winston is on pace (190.1) to break Russell Wilson’s record for best passer efficiency rating in a season and set FBS freshman records for yards passing (3,820) and touchdown passes (38). Florida State’s average margin of victory is 42 points, and Winston has spent most of the Seminoles’ fourth quarters resting.
The investigation has taken some of the shine off Winston’s Heisman coronation, at least for some people. But if the question is simply who was college football’s best player in 2013, Famous Jameis was the clear answer.