The NFL rookie success of Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston has thrilled two of his most loyal supporters.
And his biggest mentors.
“Jameis continues to get better,” said Pensacola native Derrick Brooks, who played all 14 seasons of his linebacker career with Tampa Bay, leading into his induction in 2014 in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“He continues to answer, obviously, the football questions, but he’s done a great job of keeping his head down and keep focus off the field as well,” said Brooks, who returned to Washington High for Monday’s Ford Motor Company-sponsored, Hometown Hall of Famers arranged by the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
“He’s just taking it one day at a time.”
No one knows better than Brooks and Washington football coach Charlie Ward, who were teammates at Florida State when the Seminoles captured their first national title.
Brooks said he has advised Winston, “Don’t rush the process of growing as a young man in the NFL.”
He added: “If he keeps that focus, he’ll be fine. But he definitely has the (Tampa Bay) area excited about the Bucs, not just this year, but for years to come.”
With four games left in the NFL regular season, the Bucs (6-6) have already equaled their most wins in the past two seasons combined. Should they beat the New Orleans Saints on Sunday in Tampa, the Bucs will match their best season since 2010.
They remain in the playoff hunt for an NFC Wild Card spot, which is something no one predicted for Winston, especially after his rough debut against the Tennessee Titans in the season opener when fellow rookie Marcus Mariota outplayed him.
But since that game, Winston has fulfilled the hope the Bucs carried when choosing him as the No. 1 overall draft pick, following their dismal 2-14 season last year.
Winston directed his third final-drive win Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons in a game where the Bucs honored former great quarterback Doug Williams in the Bucs’ Ring of Honor. Brooks was part of the on-field ceremony honoring Williams.
Brooks said he meets with Winston on a weekly basis. Ward and Winston are also close. The two communicate via text messages and phone calls.
“To be part of that growth with Jameis… and Charlie is a big part of it, too,” Brooks said. “Charlie is one of his role model-mentors, so between the two of us we kinda tag team his efforts making sure he has the resources to be a good young man.”
Ward and Winston have plenty in common. Both were quarterbacks and two sport athletes at FSU. Both won the Heisman Trophy in overwhelming fashion. Ward remains the second-highest winner in Heisman history, getting more than 83-percent of the vote when winning in 1993.
Winston had the fifth-highest in percentage when winning in 2013. Both directed the Seminoles to national titles.
Ward, who leaves Friday for New York City to be part of this year’s Heisman Trophy ceremony and dinner, has visited with Winston many times. He welcomed Winston on Father’s Day weekend in 2014 for a youth football clinic at Washington.
Ward and Brooks have tried to share their own experience to Winston on how to handle fame. When they played in different pro leagues (Ward in the NBA), they both stayed grounded, got married and began raising children.
“We both serve the same God,” Ward said. “We are both living to uphold those standards..We strive each and every day to bring a real-life message to those we come in contact with. (Brooks) has done a great job.”
Ward’s son was among the athletes seated in the Washington auditorium when Brooks spoke Monday and emphasized academic success.
“It probably went over the head over a lot of those kids,” Ward said. “Hopefully there were a few guys in the group that (Brooks’ message) went through their head not over their head.”
Most Rushing TDs by NFL QB in 2015
1) Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers, 7
2) Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay 5.
3) Five-way tie including Tom Brady, New England Patriots.
Most Rushing TDs for season by Tampa Bay QB
1) Jameis Winston, 5
2) Shaun King (2000) 5
3) Steve Young (1986), 5.
Most Game-Winning Drives by NFL Rookie QB
1) Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts (2012), 7
2) Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers (2004), 6
3) Three tied at 5 (Russell Wilson 2012, Vince Young 2006, Geno Smith, 2013).
4) Two tied at 4 (Andy Dalton 2011, Matt Ryan, 2008)
5) Six tied at 3, including Winston