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Florida State’s Jameis Winston doesn’t shrink from spotlight’s glare

A year ago, Jameis Winston introduced himself to the nation.

With a lighthearted reference to “Manziel Disease,” at Florida State’s 2013 Media Day, Winston went from freshman quarterback hopeful to national newsmaker in a matter of moments.

The quote spread across the Internet within minutes, the headlines followed not long after and Winston’s first steps toward becoming America’s most famous college athlete were complete.

In the next few months, Winston took the college football world by storm. First with his on-field performances that culminated with a Heisman Trophy and a national championship and later with a stream of off-field controversies that made him a target for criticism and ridicule.

With his second season fast approaching, the spotlight isn’t likely to fade. That much was evident during Winston’s turn at this year’s Media Day, where he stood alone, front and center, to field questions from dozens of reporters.

Such is life for Winston. Not that he’s complaining.

“It’s a good life, man,” Winston said. “All eyes on me.

“I don’t really [have] much to prove, but I’ve got a family that needs me, and I’m going to take care of the name on my back. Believe that.”

Throughout a 12-minute interview session, Winston insisted that he’s unfazed by the constant scrutiny. But he allowed that he learned a few lessons the past year.

Specifically that he has to be more guarded and aware that every thing he does will be “under a microscope.”

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Community service spent with area children, Winston said, highlighted the importance of setting a positive example.

“I'm like, ‘Bro, I've got an opportunity to change these little kids that come from where I came from’ — the bad neighborhoods, the negative influence,” Winston said. “When they see me, they're like ‘I want to be like Jameis Winston.’”

Being Jameis Winston, though, likely isn't going to be easy.

Scrutiny and criticism for Heisman Trophy winners is nothing new. Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel can all attest to that. But the intensity seems to have increased for Winston.

So said FSU quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders, whom Winston said was there for him “through everything,” last year.

“As a quarterback, you live in a glass house,” Sanders said. “Everything you do is looked at. But he's taken it to a level where he doesn't have curtains or blinds to close.”

Which, despite everything the last year has held, Winston can't help but embrace.

Following his session at Media Day, Winston made his way over to FSU's Fan Day event, where the line for his autograph wrapped around the Tallahassee Civic Center by 9 a.m. — more than three hours before Winston appeared.

The line later had to be closed, and reports surfaced that police needed to break up fights among fans waiting for a signature.

But Winston signed for everyone.

“He's a genuine people person,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He loves being in front of people. If there's 300 people in a line, he'll sign every autograph before he leaves, shake every little kid's hand.”

Armed with the lessons and experience of the last year, Winston and the top-ranked Seminoles will begin their quest for another national title later this month.

He's plenty aware of what people think about him, and the intense glare that the limelight promises to bring once the season begins.

But he's not planning to change because of it.

“I'm always going to continue to be myself,” Winston said. “That's never going to change. And as long as my teammates see that, people can have their opinion about me. But it's about Florida State football.”

This story was originally published August 13, 2014 5:13 PM.

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