Top QB Winston Also Excels In Baseball




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Jameis Winston is used to making decisions.

As the top-ranked quarterback recruit in the country, he's had to make countless split-second decisions on the football field. The decision that awaits him this summer, however, will require a lot more thought. As one of the best athletes in the draft, Winston is also a highly-regarded baseball prospect, mostly as an outfielder, although he does also pitch. Depending on where he gets drafted, Winston could have the tough choice between signing with a major league team to pursue a professional baseball career or heading to Florida State to juggle both sports.

"If I don't go in the draft, then I'm playing both in college," Winston said. "Because my ultimate goal is to be one of those special players like the Bo Jacksons and Deion Sanders of the world, playing in the NFL professionally and in baseball professionally. . . It's going to be difficult—and it's going to be difficult anywhere—but the best place for it to be is at Florida State. That was one of the big, key factors in my decision."

Winston—"Jaboo" to his family and friends—has been playing baseball and football since he was 4 years old. But football took off first and most of the attention he's received so far as an athlete has been for his accomplishments and talent on the gridiron.

Last year, Winston threw for 2,424 yards and 28 touchdowns. He added another 1,065 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground. He was Alabama's Gatorade player of the year and was the MVP of the Under Armour All-America football game.

Learning Curve

Jameis Winston (Photo by The Birmingham News/Butch Dill)
Baseball has come more gradually.

His natural athleticism was always evident on the baseball field, but catching up to more experienced year-round players in terms of skills and knowledge about the game took some time. When Winston was 13, he started training at the Alabama Baseball Academy and playing for Team Alabama.

It was around that time when Winston moved from shortstop to center field and when the natural righthanded hitter began switch-hitting.

"The coaches there helped me take my game to a new level," Winston said. "Playing with the good players in the organization helped me push myself because it showed me where I was at with everybody else and motivated me to work harder.

"I always had the athletic ability and I usually just played baseball off my athletic ability. But when I got to ABA, I actually started learning the game and learning how to play it the right way and started understanding the game mentally and understanding situations."

The transition was a process. For his first two years with Team Alabama, Winston played on the B team because he needed to play everyday and learn more about the game.

When Winston turned 16, Team Alabama head coach Rusty Riley sat him down and told him he thought he was one of the best baseball players in the country. He had seen glimpses of it the previous summer and knew there could be a lot more if Winston focused on baseball. Leading in to Winston's junior baseball season, Riley asked him to dedicate himself to baseball training. Winston accepted the challenge and worked on his baseball skills several times a week that winter and into the season.

"That's when he just skyrocketed onto the scene," Riley said. "I knew he had it, it's just that he never really dedicated that much time to baseball because of football. The future is the brightest for him. I don't think he's even tapped into his ability. He's got unbelievable upside in baseball."

Nowadays, Winston stands out on the baseball field with his lean 6-foot-4, 195-pound build. Even though he's been up to 93 mph on the mound, scouts like him better as a position player.

"He's still a little raw, but obviously there's big athletic talent there," an American League area scout said. "He's got some bat speed from both sides of the plate and he's a projectable five-tool guy. I haven't seen the power to give him that tool. . . but there's obviously a lot of dreaming to be done on the guy."

Winston showed how exciting his tools can be on the baseball field this summer at the Perfect Game All-America Classic. After singling off of Max Fried in what wound up being the East team's only hit of the game, Winston stole second, took third on a passed ball and then stole home on a throw back to the pitcher.

Extra Motivation

Jameis Winston (Photo by The Birmingham News/Mark Almond)
There's something special about quarterbacks, so it's no surprise that some of the best major leaguers are former quarterbacks—Joe Mauer, Todd Helton and Matt Holliday, to name a few—and some of the best quarterbacks either played pro baseball like John Elway or turned down the opportunity to pursue football like Dan Marino, Tom Brady and Michael Vick.

The athleticism obviously translates, but so does the mental fortitude and quick-thinking ability.

"When you're at-bat, it's kind of like playing football because there are different things that can happen," Winston said. "It's the same mindset, you're thinking constantly. . . That's why I think a lot of quarterbacks are successful in baseball because having that quarterback mentality as a baseball player helps you out."

With added success comes added attention. There have been numerous articles written about Winston as a football player, he has more than 4,000 followers on Twitter and there's a rap song about him on YouTube, mixed in with the dozens of highlights and interviews.

Of course, with added attention comes added scrutiny.

"Hueytown is a small, real hard-working town," Riley said. "And it's a town that, in my opinion, doesn't appreciate having a kid of Jameis' status in their town. They're almost more against him than they are for him. A lot of people are jealous of him and really want to see the kid fail."

Winston brushes it off like a linebacker coming off the edge. The 4.0 student is humble, gets along well with all of his teammates and uses the naysayers as motivation.

Riley is confident Winston will succeed in whichever path he follows.

"He's the type of kid that steps up when the lights are on," Riley said. "He's got that 'It Factor.' He does things you can't explain, you can't teach, and he doesn't fold under pressure. He accepts it, enjoys it and succeeds in it."