Josh Booty knows exactly what Jameis Winston feels: the desire to play — and excel — at both football and baseball.
Booty was a two-sport star in Shreveport, La., in the early 1990s, a record-setting quarterback in football season and a shortstop who could hit for power and average in baseball season.
Twenty years ago this June, Booty was the Florida Marlins’ first-round pick (fifth overall). He signed for $1.6 million, a deal that required him to pursue just baseball.
Booty admits now that he wanted to play both sports. After five years spent mostly in the minors, including late-season call-ups in 1996-98, Booty returned to football in 1999. He played two seasons at LSU (including a 2000 season in which current Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher was the Tigers’ offensive coordinator).
So Booty has an appreciation for what Winston did last spring and is doing again this spring: juggle practice with the football team and play baseball games, sometimes on the same day.
"I know how demanding both are," Booty said in a phone interview with FOXSportsFlorida.com. "It’s two different types of sports and things that you have to do. It’s a very different thing. Just to try to do both at the same time is so difficult."
It’s something that many high school athletes do but few attempt at the college level. Winston chose Florida State because he wanted the chance to play both sports, and Fisher and baseball coach Mike Martin have been able to create a schedule that allows Winston to do both.
Winston is coming off a Heisman Trophy season in which he threw for 4,057 yards, a school-record 40 touchdown passes and helped Florida State win the national title. And Winston has been an effective closer this spring for the baseball team, recording three saves with a 1.17 ERA in six relief appearances.
Booty hasn’t talked with Winston but said he would give him this advice: "I’d try to play both as long as possible."
Winston has been able to focus on baseball the past few months, but that’s about to change with Florida State opening spring football practice on Wednesday. So one day Winston could be at football practice, the next at a baseball game. And with the Seminoles baseball team on the road at times, Winston will also be driving or flying from one team to the other.
Last April, Winston participated in a Saturday morning football practice in Tallahassee and then flew to Miami for a baseball game that night in Coral Gables (he threw three scoreless innings of relief). And after Florida State’s spring football game in which he threw two long touchdown passes, Winston walked across the street to Dick Howser Stadium to play a baseball game that night. More of those days are ahead.
He’s the quarterback of the defending national champion and possibly the preseason No. 1 team. And the Seminoles’ baseball team is 14-2, ranked No. 2 by Baseball America and looking to make a run for the College World Series. There are plenty of expectations — multiplied by two sports.
Booty feels that Winston could be a first-round draft pick in baseball if he were to give up football. And some NFL draft analysts think Winston could be one of the top picks in 2015 if he decides to leave Tallahassee after his redshirt sophomore season. Winston has said he’d like to stay two more years, but anything can change between now and when he would have to declare for the NFL draft next January.
While Booty sees Winston’s baseball talent, he feels his future is in football.
"I just think Jameis has a real bright future in football," Booty said. "He’s so big and strong. He’s so accurate. I couldn’t believe how accurate he was from the get-go. To be accurate and put the ball where you want it to go, that’s a talent. Not a lot of guys have that ability to throw it accurately on time."
Booty also feels that Fisher will help Winston continue to grow as a quarterback. What Booty saw and learned from Fisher at LSU helped prepare him for the NFL. Booty had played five years of baseball, so he felt that at his age (then 26) it was time to enter the 2001 NFL draft. He played in the preseason with Seattle and Cleveland, but never saw action in a regular season game before retiring after three seasons.
"I wish I would have had three years with him," Booty said of Fisher. "I think I probably would have still been playing in the NFL. I would have gotten that much better that quickly."
Booty sees that chance for Winston, for the relationship between quarterback and coach to continue to grow.
"I’d get in his hip pocket even more," Booty said. "He’ll feel more mature in his thoughts â¦ He doesn’t need to worry about anything beyond winning. And there are things that maybe Jimbo didn’t do with him that he’ll do this year.
"Jimbo might give him some of those freedoms. Those are the things that you’ll start to see that we didn’t in the past. He may not have better numbers, but he will become more of a complete quarterback."