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FSU star QB Winston working to improve on, off field

| Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, 8:55 p.m.

Florida State's Jameis Winston has become a controversial figure first, a talented quarterback second.

He wants to erase that stigma rather than be forced to answer questions about his off-field behavior.

Maybe one day he will.

He says he has changed. He says he understands he can't enjoy the fame associated with winning the Heisman Trophy and leading his team to a BCS national championship without acting the part away from football.

The Seminoles open their title defense against Oklahoma State on Saturday night in Arlington, Texas.

“The spotlight is on you. You have to be careful with everything you do,” said Winston, who set a national freshman record with 4,057 passing yards and 40 passing touchdowns in 2013.

The glare of the spotlight, however, turned harsh in December when Winston, accused of sexual assault, avoided arrest when the Florida state attorney opted not to file charges. Winston continued to play throughout the investigation.

A few weeks later, against a backdrop of surging public criticism, Winston became the second freshman and youngest player (19 years, 342 days) to win the Heisman.

Three weeks after that, Winston led Florida State to the national title and a 14-0 season, tossing the winning touchdown to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds remaining. Winston completed 20 of 35 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns against Auburn and was named the game's MVP.

Winning the Heisman and a national championship, coupled with the passage of time, appeared to heal Winston's reputation. Instead, his troubles were only beginning.

In April, Winston was issued a citation for shoplifting crab legs from a Tallahassee, Fla., supermarket. Winston issued a statement apologizing for the incident.

Winston's off-field troubles continue to plague him. A recent Florida State social media campaign touting Winston's Heisman candidacy backfired when fans on Twitter mocked the quarterback.

Speaking last month at the ACC football kickoff, Winston acknowledged his mistakes. It was an important step.

“All that stuff, that's on me. I've fixed that,” Winston said. “I'm trying to better myself. I understand what it takes to be a leader. I've learned from my mistakes. As a leader, you have to accept the role, and you have to live up to it.”

Winston is favored to become the first repeat Heisman winner since Archie Griffin in 1974-75.

“As an individual, I did receive (the Heisman Trophy),” Winston said. “I really don't focus on that. It's not as important as winning a national championship. I focus on being a national championship quarterback because that involves us. That was a true accomplishment as a team.”

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher expects Winston to improve in his second college season.

“He's continually getting better,” Fisher said. “He's understanding defenses that much better, recognizing blitzes that much quicker. His ability to learn is why he'll always be successful because he understands mistakes. He's willing to accept them, (and) he learns from them.”

Winston struggled early in the BCS title game before taking control late and completing 6 of 7 passes for 77 yards on the winning drive.

“I wasn't finding my backs in the first quarter,” Winston said. “It was a big game, I was trying to make big plays. I love the big-stage opportunity, so I was doing everything I can to make big plays. As quarterback, you have to be able to nickel-and-dime it down the field and put the ball in the receivers' and running backs' hands and lead them to victory. And that's what we did.”

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jharris@tribweb.com.

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