GREENSBORO, N.C. -- A few hours before the Heisman Trophy presentation last December, Jameis Winston said his coach Jimbo Fisher had told him, "To be a man, the kid in you must die." Winston won the Heisman and went on to lead Florida State to the national title, but then a few months later, the freshman QB made headlines again after being cited for shoplifting crab legs. Winston called it "youthful ignorance."
On Monday, when asked by FOX Sports if he's worried whether Winston -- who last year also had faced rape allegations, which ultimately didn't result in charges being filed -- has gotten the message, Fisher elaborated on the crab legs story, calling it "an honest mistake."
The coach said he wanted to explain what really had happened with Winston that day at the Publix supermarket.
"I think he did get the message," Fisher told FOX Sports. "There was no malice involved. It was an honest mistake because when you go back and look at it, after he leaves, he's actually ordering wings from a local wing place two doors down. He walked back in, and he's used to going to Winn Dixie (supermarket), where he always paid -- and we checked this out. But when he came back, he was in a hurry. They were late. They waited on him. People started coming around him.
"You're not trying to be malice (sic) when you walk out beside a sheriff carrying the crab legs in your hand. You're not trying to hide it. There was no malice in what he did. It was an immature mistake, 'cause he walks two doors down and pays for the wings. See, people didn't know that. He made a mistake but it wasn't like he was trying to steal something. That's part of growing up. He got his suspension in baseball, which is very critical to him. And we move on. He'll educate himself. He'll learn from that, but Jameis is a tremendous human being. He is a great people person. There is no ill will or malice in his body. There's really not.
"I say the child must die (in him) as far as decision-making, but at the same time, I like the child in him because you see the fun-loving (side) of him and the joy from playing the game, and I don't want that to ever go out of him."
The charismatic Winston has become the most polarizing player in college football, which stems from a series of off-field incidents as well as his gregarious personality. He's also rubbed some folks wrong with comments he's made or even the way he's made them. In fairness to the 20-year-old, he's also come across as engaging and playful with the media.
He makes eye contact when he's been faced with some thorny questions. And many of those moments have come outside the glare of the live TV spotlight. Fisher spent a good portion of his time at ACC Media Days Monday talking about his star QB and raving about his intelligence as well as his character.
"It's not only his football intelligence," Fisher said. "But he is also an extremely, extremely intelligent human being. In the classroom, he's a tremendous student. He can see things and pick things up when you talk to him. He compartmentalizes things and processes things. It's natural for him, not just ball though. And he is driven. So it's a heckuva combination.
"The thing about Jameis that no one knows, and I think you got it (Sunday), he's a genuine people person. He enjoys who he is. 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. He understands that. His ability to learn, his intelligence level, not just as a football player but as a person, as a student, all the things, he's a true student athlete.
“I think from that standpoint, his ability to learn is why he will always continue to grow and be successful because he understands mistakes, he's willing to accept them, he learns from them, he moves on, but he won't make those same mistakes twice. And I think his character and down deep who he truly is, is remarkable, and the more you're around it, the more you're amazed by him."
On Sunday when it was Winston's turn to speak to the media, he said he understands if some outsiders are skeptical of him and don't buy what he says: "But I know the type of person that I am, and I know that I have support from my teammates and I know that I was raised by a great family. So that's the least of my worries what people think of me."
* He said he wasn't in favor of college athletes being paid, that he felt, "We're blessed to get a free education, so that is enough for me," adding that if things go well for him, he realizes he'll get paid down the line when he's ready for the NFL.
* In the BCS title game, when the Noles were struggling with Auburn and Winston wasn't sharp, there was some talk about his long wind-up (something the standout pitcher says probably comes from playing baseball). Winston said he has worked to hold the football higher and shortened up his motion. He also said he makes too many throws off balance, or relying on only his arm, and is trying to get his entire body more into his delivery. And that he'll be more diligent in checking the ball down.
* Asked if he gets nervous, Winston said he gets butterflies before every game, "But nervousness? That's cowardly to me. I don't like being nervous at all and I know people got different definitions of nervousness. My definition of nervousness is being scared. ... I've never been scared. I don't fear anything but God."
* It was curious to see there were several instances where Winston seemed to zone out while surrounded by some 50 print reporters at one of the media sessions Sunday while being asked questions. Then again, it was an hour-long session. Winston chalked it up to his "ADD kicking in."
* The 6-foot-5 Winston told me he got up to 252 pounds after hitting the awards circuit in December. He said he has shed 20 pounds since and learned for next year: "It'll be only salads for me then."
* One ACC coach I spoke to Monday said he was blown away by what he saw from the Noles last year and suspects that about half the league's teams do not have one player who would start for Florida State right now based on what he sees on film. He also doubted whether many of the players the schools brought with them to Greensboro would be good enough to start for the Noles this year. "That team is ridiculously talented," the coach said.
* After a dazzling freshman season where he produced a record five kick returns for touchdowns, North Carolina's Ryan Switzer is primed for another big year, says Larry Fedora, although the UNC coach suspects most teams won't kick the ball to him. Still, Fedora plans on getting the 5-9, 185-pounder around 15 touches a game and will use him similarly to how he used his old Conference USA star Tracy Lampley, who he said Switzer reminds him of -- only the West Virginia native is faster.
* Clemson DE/OLB Vic Beasley told me he will drop into coverage a lot more this season. And that is probably a good thing for the NFL prospects of the 6-3, 235-pound edge rusher.
Speaking of the Tigers, I'd asked Dabo Swinney who he expects will replace the great Sammy Watkins as their go-to guy and the first name he mentioned was big Charone Peake. The former blue-chipper is coming off an ACL injury but Swinney said Peake's burst is back, having clocked a 4.31 40 last week despite being 6-3, 210.
* The two most impressive players I talked to at ACC Media Days (I did not get a chance to speak with every one) were Duke OG Laken Tomlinson and Louisville DE Lorenzo Mauldin. Tomlinson is an aspiring doctor, who also happens to be a projected second- or third-round pick. Mauldin said he bounced around to some 12 foster homes in his life and told me that he was physically abused when he was around five in one of them. He said the low point in his life was actually after he came up short on his ACT for the fourth time before he was able to get tutoring help. He will graduate this winter with a degree in Communications.
* Bobby Petrino raised some eyebrows when he compared the quality of the ACC Atlantic to his old league, the SEC West. It may sound crazy, but the top part certainly holds its own with FSU and Clemson (both won BCS bowls last year and the Tigers did beat Georgia but lost to South Carolina). After that, there's Petrino's Louisville team, which has won a lot of games the past two seasons. But then there's a lot of drop-off with some average to very mediocre teams, who I think are inferior now to Texas A&M and the Mississippi schools if you go off the premise that Bama, Auburn and LSU rivals FSU, Clemson and Louisville.
As part of our extended sit-down with Fisher (which you can see soon on FOX Sports 1), I broached the subject of the respect factor with the ACC and how much it's grown of late.
"We were irrelevant for 10 years and now we're relevant again," the FSU coach said. "Clemson just won a BCS bowl. No conference has ever had as dominant a year as the ACC had last year. Most award winners of all time for one league. Eleven teams had winning records and went to bowl games. We won a national championship. All of those things enhance that, but to me you have to continue to prove your product. But at the same time, it's all about marketing and perception. What you hear all the time is what you believe. If you say it to yourself enough, you believe it.
"I think we have had tremendous success in basketball so people have seen us as 'a basketball conference.' Well, the SEC has to be 'a football conference' because basketball isn't very good. Look at the numbers of players in the NFL's Top 150. ACC 32, SEC 26. We actually had better players. I think getting that marketed out is a critical thing. I think it's just a matter of getting people educated."
Bruce Feldman is a senior college football reporter and columnist for FOXSports.com and FOX Sports 1. Follow him on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB.