Winston circus brings drama to typically low-key ACC media days

Seminoles QB Jameis Winston -- the second freshman in history to win the Heisman Trophy -- accounted for 4,057 yards passing and 44 total touchdowns in Florida State's BCS-title campaign last year.

Jeremy Brevard

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The Atlantic Coast Conference is used to dealing with some of the best basketball players and coaches the sport has ever seen, but never before has the conference seen the likes of Jameis Winston on the football side of things.

Winston’s type of celebrity and infamy caused conference officials to alter the normal setup at the annual ACC Kickoff preseason media event, where the head coaches and select players from each member school are interviewed.

In previous years, the players and coaches always sat at big, round tables and the media usually sat or stood around them. But this year, to handle the expected media crush around Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback for the defending national champs Florida State, the players had their backs against the wall — making it more of a formal press conference.

Even when Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski or North Carolina’s Roy Williams are present for their annual basketball media event, it’s nowhere near the kind of buzz that accompanied Winston on Sunday at the Grandover Resort.

As Winston walked into the ballroom to start his press conference, what little media hadn’t already completely jammed around his 12-foot-long table quickly scurried to find a place within earshot of the star.

"Before I say anything, how does it feel to finally have an ACC team win the national championship?" Winston, a redshirt sophomore, asked the horde of media. "We finally took it away from the SEC. How about a round of applause."

As Winston expressed his thoughts on a wide variety of topics, there were players from North Carolina, Wake Forest and Boston College in the same ballroom doing interviews, as well. However, it was all they could do to get noticed.

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Winston, who was seated alongside Seminole teammate P.J. Williams, had more than 69 people crammed around them, though Williams was somewhat of an afterthought. It took nearly 10 minutes before Williams was asked a question. The other three teams had a total of 26 reporters, with Boston College and Wake Forest having nine combined.

"I like being in the spotlight," Winston said. "I’d rather I go through it than (my teammates). I’m just being myself, but I don’t try to get the spotlight on me. …

"I don’t think there is a way you can prepare for (the hype and fame). Last year was so surreal."

Winston’s popularity comes from his stellar play on the football field, being just the second freshman in NCAA history to win the Heisman (along with Johnny Manziel in 2012). However, Winston’s off-the-field issues have prompted the heavy scrutiny.

Winston had to endure accusations of sexual misconduct, but no charges were formally levied against him. Then, a few months ago, he was cited and accused of shoplifting crab legs at a Publix grocery store in Tallahassee, Fla.

Through it all, Winston has been able to maintain his happy-go-lucky persona.

"I’ve got great support from everybody," he said. "You can walk into class and have a smile on your face. On Saturdays, you can go into your sanctuary and play a game. … You have to learn from your mistakes, and I’ve learned from my mistakes and I’ve moved on."

Winston says he’s moved on, but he also knows he’ll be constantly under the microscope wherever he goes — similar to how the media followed his every move on Sunday.

"As a leader you have a role and you have to live up to it," Winston said. "I know I have to be able to live up to that hype everywhere I go. If I slip just a little bit, there’ll be chaos."