Manning applauds Winston’s 2-sport pursuit

Published 4:19 am Tuesday, February 25, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — If Jameis Winston needed any more validation of his decision to play two major college sports, the Heisman Trophy winner from Florida State found it on Monday when he accepted the Manning Award as the top quarterback in college football.

Archie Manning, for whom the award is named, also was a two-sport athlete at Mississippi. Similar to Winston, Manning played football and baseball, the main difference being that Manning played shortstop, while Winston is a relief pitcher and part-time outfielder.

“It was kind of hard to juggle, I guess, but it was fun,” Manning said shortly before the award ceremony at a downtown New Orleans hotel. “I loved playing college baseball.

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“I admire him for doing that,” Manning continued. “To be able to get to do both, I think, is a great experience.”

Playing two sports is keeping Winston busy — and he likes it that way.

“I always have something to do,” he said.

After flying to New Orleans to accept the Manning award, he was scheduled to fly to Tampa to rejoin the Seminoles baseball team for Tuesday’s exhibition against the New York Yankees.

“I’m very excited and I know my team is elated to play the Yankees,” Winston said, adding that he is looking forward to meeting Derek Jeter.

Winston has started talking about the possibility of playing in the NFL and Major League Baseball, as a select few athletes such as Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders have done, though Jackson has not played since the 1990s and Sanders last played baseball a little more than a decade ago.

“Now, it’s more difficult (to play two pro sports), but I’m living my life the way I want to live it, and anything that I put my mind to, I’m going to try to do it,” Winston said.

Winston and Jackson are both natives of Bessemer, Ala., and Winston considered Jackson an inspiration for his multi-sport pursuit. He appreciates the inevitable comparisons, but isn’t sure he’s quite the athlete Jackson was before a 1991 hip injury ended his football career and shortened his baseball career.

“If Bo didn’t get injured at age 28, he’d be one of the greatest players of all time,” Winston said. “So that comparison is probably out of my league, but I’m going to try to get it. … He’s a power guy (as a hitter), he was way faster than I ever will be and we’re just different players.”

Winston has been selected in the Major League Baseball draft once, by the Texas Rangers in the 15th round in 2012.

His best pitches are his fastball, clocked in the mid-90s, and his slider. He says he’s working on improving his changeup.

His best attribute on the mound is his attitude, he said.

“It’s just that football mentality of being relentless and believing that no one can hit me,” Winston said. “Obviously, I know I’m not that good, but it’s just the mentality perspective of it, and as a pitcher that’s the type of mentality that you need.”

He fancies himself a decent hitter and would rather be a full-time position player than a pitcher, “But obviously I’m blessed with many talents to be able to get on the mound,” he said.

Because pitching and playing quarterback require optimum throwing-arm health, Winston said he spends extra time with trainers in an effort to prevent injuries.

“He has good mechanics in baseball, so it’s not like he is going to hurt his shoulder or hurt anything that way,” said Florida State quarterback coach Randy Sanders, who accompanied Winston to New Orleans. “He has good mechanics in football, so I think that will hold up well and it is something he has been doing pretty much his whole life, so I don’t expect any problems.”

Winston said baseball also keeps him grounded.

“Baseball keeps you humble in a minute because striking out is not a pretty thing,” Winston said. “The guys that are hot that day, they’ll let you know about it, like, ‘Oh, you won the Heisman, but you can’t win the Heisman in baseball.’

“But it’s awesome playing with players with different characteristics and different mentalities than in a football locker room,” Winston continued. “In baseball, they’re so laid back and just chill, and it’s fun being out there with those guys.”

Florida State is ranked second in the latest Collegiate Baseball Poll, and Winston sees a realistic chance of following up his football national title with one in baseball.

He also likes his chances of repeating his football success because the team around him is expected to be strong again.

“The only thing I want to repeat is a national championship because that’s more important to me than an individual award,” Winston said. “But obviously the Heisman is a prestigious award.”