TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Jameis Winston displayed poise, avoided the pass rush, was calm and delivered under pressure by completing 92 percent of his passes in his first college game.
His phone displayed nearly nothing, suffering under the weight of a deluge of texts and voice mails from family, friends and quarterbacks wishing the Florida State redshirt freshman congratulations on a 41-13 win over Pittsburgh on Labor Day.
“My phone froze up,” Winston said on Wednesday afternoon. “It was that many messages.”
Winston heard from proud parents and his grandma. Trent Dilfer, who won a Super Bowl in Baltimore and was a mentor of Winston’s at an Elite 11 quarterback camp years ago, called to praise him. So did the man Winston replaced, EJ Manuel, who was preparing for his first NFL game up in Buffalo.
After what was the most accurate game in Florida State history — Winston completed 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards with four passing TDs and one rushing touchdown — the hype machine that has been building since his breakout performance in the Seminoles’ spring game continues to fire away on all cylinders.
Now Winston makes his home debut as No. 9 Florida State (1-0) plays host to Nevada (1-1) on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The game is not a sellout, but Florida State administrators have said that ticket sales spiked considerably in the days following the Pitt game.
“They were a little anxious about starting a new quarterback,” said Jerry Kutz, VP of marketing and communications for Seminole Boosters Inc. “But Jameis Winston’s performance against Pittsburgh alleviated those fears and has FSU fans thinking the ‘Noles have a quarterback who can lead FSU to another championship. The championship hunt inspires people.”
It’s clear that fans want to see what Winston and his teammates will do for an encore and that’s why so many will fill the seats at Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday. And while Nevada is well known for producing San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kapernick and developing the Pistol offense, the Wolfpack often struggle on defense.
UCLA dropped 58 points on Nevada in the season opener and the team is playing with an almost entirely new group of starters at linebacker and defensive back. It could be another big day for Winston and Florida State’s wide receivers. And he thinks the players will enjoy the atmosphere of playing at home for the first time in 2013.
“I’ll probably be more comfortable than being away because we have everybody supporting,” Winston said. “And I think at home our players get more pumped up. It’s really going to be less on me than it was at Pitt because our team is really going to be excited and we’re going to be ready to play in front of our home fans.”
Those fans will be cheering on Florida State, but there will be few No. 5 jerseys in the stands. The school approved Nike’s printing of No. 5 jerseys for the public after coach Jimbo Fisher named Winston the starter on Aug. 23. But those jerseys won’t be available for at least a few weeks.
Fisher and administrators have done their best to insulate Winston from the pressure. With Florida State having an in-season ban on Twitter and other social media, Winston has an easier time blocking out the attention.
And his personality, along with how he handles pressure on and off the field, gives him what he feels is the ability to deflect the praise and the hype.
“When you’re the quarterback of a big university, you’re going to get that,” Winston said. “All eyes are going to be on you. But when you stay grounded, that’s where you gain respect from everybody.”