NEW YORK -- From the first snap, the season has belonged to Jameis Winston.
Now the 2013 Heisman Trophy does as well.
Winston, Florida State’s redshirt freshman quarterback, has proven to be college football’s most consistent and dynamic signal caller this season. From his efficient debut against Pittsburgh to his elite performance on the road against Clemson, Winston never crumbled under pressure.
Thanks to his poise, leadership and superior skills, Winston became the third Seminoles player and second redshirt freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.
Winston was presented the award during a ceremony Saturday night in New York that was broadcast nationally on ESPN.
“I really never focused on would I be here or not. I always focused on, ‘Guys, we need to get to that national championship; we need to keep getting better,’” Winston said. “I had a good feeling. I knew if we kept playing good, and I knew with the numbers around me, people being productive and if we kept blowing people out the way we were. … I knew I would have a shot.”
As expected, Winston beat reigning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M;, Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, Auburn running back Tre Mason, Boston College running back Andre Williams and Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch.
Winston received 2,205 points. McCarron came in a distant second place with 704 points, creating the fifth-largest margin of victory in the modern Heisman era, despite Winston being left off 115 ballots.
“This is the first time I’ve been speechless in a long time,” said the normally bubbly Winston, who was choked up while accepting his award.
As a child, Winston used to dream about winning the Heisman. A family friend would urge him to strike a Heisman pose while playing youth football, but Winston said he “eventually grew out of that.”
Winston was more focused on the journey to the Heisman than the award itself. A two-sport athlete, Winston was often seen doing leg workouts for football on the same day he was expected to pitch for his high school baseball team. He knew it was preparing him for playing at the next level.
In his first year as a starter, Winston has helped guide FSU to a spot in the BCS National Championship Game, where the Seminoles will face off against Auburn. Winston has embraced his role as a team leader and his teammates have shown they were eager to follow the young quarterback.
“At Florida State, if we’re going to do it, then we do it big,” Winston exclaimed to his teammates before the Seminoles’ 51-14 win against No. 3 Clemson in October.
While he did not start the year on many Heisman watch lists, Winston quickly entered the picture after he threw for 356 yards and touchdowns on 25-of-27 passing (92.6 completion percentage) against Pitt in the season opener.
Winston did not maintain that torrid pace, but he continued to perform at a high level, accumulating 3,820 passing yards (10th nationally), 38 passing touchdowns (second nationally) and a 190.1 passing efficiency rating (first nationally).
More important, Winston led FSU to the only undefeated mark in the country.
All the while, the contenders vying for the Heisman faltered in big games. McCarron and Lynch saw perfect records come to an end in the final weeks of the season, while Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota fell out of the race thanks to losses in key games.
But Winston, who looked like a lock for the Heisman in early November, faced other obstacles en route to claiming college football’s biggest prize.
Reports surfaced in November that Winston was part of a sexual assault investigation. A former Florida State student accused Winston of assaulting her in December 2012. Winston’s attorney maintained the encounter was consensual, a point the accuser’s attorney continued to contest Friday.
Winston became part of a debate whether character should be considered during Heisman voting. The state attorney announced Dec. 5 he was not charging Winston and the assault investigation was closed, likely clearing one of Winston’s biggest Heisman hurdles.
Several days before the ceremony, Winston approached Manziel, who had his far share of off-the-field issues, although none of his incidents were are serious as Winston’s links to the assault case.
“I’m proud of the way that, because I had to go through some controversy and some things, to see him at such a young age to put his head down and focus on his teammates and where they are, I do give him a lot of credit for that,” Manziel said of Winston. “With all the scrutiny and everything that he’s under, I feel like he’s done a tremendous job of focusing on his team and his family.”
Winston has three years of eligibility remaining and could join Ohio State’s Archie Griffin as the only two-time winner of the Heisman Trophy.
He joins two other Florida State stars in winning the prestigious award. Charlie Ward won it in 1993 and Chris Weinke won in 2000.
“I’m young man, this is just the beginning. Those guys have laid down their legacy,” Winston said. “Those guys are some unique creatures and I’m just blessed to be following in their footsteps.”