BESSEMER, Ala. (AP) — Jameis Winston celebrated the NFL draft his way, creating his own memorable moment with family and friends in his hometown. It was his mother who handed him his No. 3 Buccaneers jersey after he became the top pick, not the NFL commissioner.
For Winston, it was perfect.
“They actually felt the moment with me,” Winston told The Associated Press after the draft, clad in a dark suit with a gold tie and gold and black shoes. “I wasn’t just walking up by myself and getting taken away. They’re actually here with me right now, and it’s a blessing.”
The Heisman Trophy-winning Florida State quarterback was driven up to the spacious home of a family friend at 8:01 p.m. ET Thursday night, just a couple of minutes before the call came. A grinning Winston hung up the phone, turned to his family and announced he was heading to Tampa Bay.
“If you watched any Florida State games last year, we always cut it close,” Winston quipped about his arrival time. “But what happened? We always came through.”
He delivered again on Thursday — flashing smiles and poise in the face of the bright spotlight he’s already accustomed to. This time, he brought the national spotlight with him to Bessemer.
Earlier Thursday, camera crews filed in and out of Hueytown High School, where Winston’s No. 8 jersey is retired.
Everyone was in town on to see Winston, who skipped the televised festivities in Chicago to celebrate in his hometown, next door to Hueytown.
And he did it in grand style.
The home had a fountain in the front, a huge Winston banner on one side and tables in the back for guests, including Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher. Traffic on the normally serene tree-lined road moved at a crawl beforehand. The scene had the feel of what was happening hundreds of miles away in Chi-Town.
This, however, was all just for Winston.
Commissioner Roger Goodell stepped to the podium in Chicago and ended the suspense, saying, “With the first pick in the 2015 NFL draft, the Tampa Buccaneers select Jameis Winston, quarterback, from Florida State.”
Fisher beamed like a proud father before the pick was announced.
“It’s just a great night,” Fisher said. “It’s a night to be joyful and happy for him.”
Plenty of people in these suburban Birmingham communities with a combined population of about 43,000 had planned to watch the draft and see if the Buccaneers would pick Winston.
“Just like we watched Bo Jackson,” said Bessemer’s Harry W. Carey.
Jackson is another Heisman-winning superstar who hails from Bessemer — and incidentally went No. 1 in the 1986 draft, to the Bucs.
Holly Adams, who taught Winston AP physics in 2011 at Hueytown High, said she hadn’t heard much buzz about the draft.
“Not really just because it’s become such a common thing in Hueytown to hear about Jameis,” Adams said. “But any time you get introduced to someone and they say, ‘Oh, this person teaches at Hueytown’ or ‘she’s from Hueytown,’ that’s the first thing they ask you. Do you know Jameis? Did you teach Jameis.”
Winston, though, remains a polarizing figure even in his hometown.
He was involved in several highly publicized off the field incidents while at Florida State, including the infamous crab legs caper. A former FSU student also has filed a lawsuit against Winston, accusing him of rape, assault, false imprisonment and emotional distress. Winston has said the sex was consensual and was never arrested or charged.
“We know more about him than we do any player in this draft,” Fisher said. “Every part of his life has been picked apart.
“People will be shocked with how he represents” the Bucs, the coach said.
Even those who expressed concern seem to be pulling for him.
Michael Raymond, a big Alabama fan from nearby Oak Grove, has mixed feelings about Winston, citing other incidents during the quarterback’s college career. He worries that “it’s almost a Johnny Manziel thing going on.”
He added, “being a quarterback, since they’re the key to everything, they’re willing to risk that kind of investment on somebody that could be a bust. I hope he’s not.”
Carey went to many of Winston’s games at neighboring Hueytown and his nephew was a childhood friend of the quarterback. He believes Winston deserves another chance at the “new life” Winston would later proclaim he’s embarking on.
“We’re all capable of making mistakes in life, but we should not hold that against him,” said Carey, while having lunch at a Hueytown barbecue restaurant. “We’re all human. We’re capable of doing things and learning from the mistakes we make in life.
“He’s going to make a difference in the game.”
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