Greensboro, N.C. – On a day in which Mother Nature did the golf fanatics at the 1500 acre, two course Grandover Resort no favors for the majority of the day, an unusually cool, dreary and overcast late July sky at this picturesque setting carved out of the rural forest several miles south of the downtown and Coliseum districts, the focus was instead on college football at the annual ACC Football Kickoff media event, and with the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and national championship quarterback in the house, there was an extra zap of electricity in the air to what was otherwise a pretty nondescript first day of media interaction.
Sure, Commissioner John Swofford praised the expected August passage of NCAA legislation designed to give the so-called “Power 5” conferences the autonomy to invoke changes (additions) to the four year scholarship cycle (“full cost of attendance”) to student-athletes over the course of their eligibility, promoted an early (fall) signing period for football recruiting, and praised his long desired College Football Playoff formula in his annual address, but the buzz during the player photo shoot and in the various interviews centered around Jameis Winston.
Florida State’s sophomore quarterback is no ordinary college athlete, not after you’ve become the second straight freshman Heisman recipient, and youngest ever at 19 to win “the most prestigious award in the sport,” while simultaniously having your name linked more than once to the local police department.
Strikingly athletic, composed and well-assured, yet with a playful side that comes out naturally from dealing with almost daily media scrutiny as both a two-sport (baseball) Seminoles star and for his off-the-field transgressions including a much publicized sexual assault investigation of Winston by the Tallahassee police also involving a first year, female FSU student, and Winston cited for shoplifting this past April at a Tallahassee supermarket.
“As a quarterback, you’re always going to be scrutinized, you’re always going to be praised,” Winston explained to the overflow, five-deep at times, contingent of writers surrounding the Florida State table during his hour-long session.
“It (the spotlight off the field) comes with the territory. (You) always have got to have a smile on your face. Leadership is not only on the field, it’s off the field, too. I know I have a lot of young guys looking up to me, and I know I have a lot of support from my teammates as well.”
While the media’s pre-season poll of the Atlantic and Coastal Division predictions, and who will capture the league title and presumably a spot in the College Football Playoff semi-finals on Jan. 1 is released Monday afternoon, the Syracuse senior players on hand Sunday, expected NFL-bound offensive tackle Sean Hickey and undersized and aggressive linebacker Cam Lynch, have heard all about Florida State and Clemson staring down at the ‘Cuse program in their division, and with old Big East friend Louisville now muscling its way in to boot.
“Usually when I talk about (predictions) I’m pretty realistic,” Hickey said in explaining his agreement with his head coach’s spring time declaration of an eight-win minimum season in year two of the Scott Shafer regime.
“And, I don’t like to say we’re going to be the best team in college football, I’m not going to sit here and say that, but I do believe we are better off than we were last year. We have the same system, basically, and we bring most of the guys back (offensive weapons), so potentially that should translate to more success, and we’ve worked very hard.”
“How can you not like the direction we’re going?” Lynch added rhetorically. “It’s (another) bowl game victory or bust. Nothing less.”