By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
@Tim_Linafelt on Twitter
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Jimbo Fisher didn’t know immediately after the Rose Bowl whether his quarterback would be back for another year.
Just in case, a reporter asked Fisher to try to put Jameis Winston’s career into perspective.
“He’s one of the great players in not only college football," Fisher said, "but (also) college football history to me."
Winston made what had been long assumed official Wednesday by declaring his intentions to enter the NFL draft.
His decision brings an end to one of the best – if not the best – individual careers in FSU football history.
“I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to wear the garnet and gold and have greatly enjoyed my time as a Seminole," Winston said in a prepared statement. "Both as an athlete and as a student in the classroom."
Over the course of his two-year run, Winston:
Won the 2013 Heisman Trophy and became the youngest person to ever win the award.
Led the Seminoles to their third national championship with a win over Auburn in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game.
Quarterbacked FSU to two ACC championships as part of a run of three straight conference titles for the Seminoles.
Went 26-1 as a starter and became the first player in college football history to win his first 26 starts.
Earned a haul of accolades, including the Walter Camp Award, Manning Award, Archie Griffin Award and AP Player of the Year. He was also named ACC Offensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the year and Consensus All-America honors in 2013.
Finished among FSU’s all-time passing leaders despite playing for only two seasons. Winston ranks third in school history in passing yards (7,964), second in touchdown passes (65) and sixth in completions (562). His 14 300-yard passing games are also tied with Chris Weinke for most in school history.
“I would like to wish Jameis nothing but success at the next level as I think he’ll be extremely successful,” Fisher said. “It was a blessing to be able to coach him. ... He’s one of the greatest players in Florida State history."
Winston wasted no time taking college football by storm.
Making his first start at Pittsburgh, Winston completed his first 11 passes on the way to a 25-of-27, 356-yard performance that featured five touchdowns.
He only took off from there, riding a series of highlight-reel touchdown passes in the games that followed into a Top-5 showdown at Clemson.
It was at Death Valley that Winston started to garner Heisman attention. First with his now-famous pre-game speech and later with a 444-yard outburst in the Seminoles’ 51-14 rout of the Tigers.
Winston and the Seminoles then cruised through the rest of the season, their only close call coming against Auburn in the national championship game in Pasadena, Calif.
Winston put his stamp on that, too, marching the Seminoles on a seven-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a title-clinching TD pass to Kelvin Benjamin.
“I will always take pride in leading our team back to national prominence,” Winston said. “And (I) am confident that my returning teammates will continue (to have) success for many years to come.”
Winston and the Seminoles remained in the hunt for another national title throughout 2014. And they made history by participating in the first College Football Playoff semifinal.
With several of his favorite targets from 2013 gone, Winston raised his game. He guided FSU to four second-half comebacks and was part of a team that earned seven victories by six points or less.
“He has a drive to win,” Fisher said. “He has a drive for greatness.”
That drive has caught the attention of professional scouts. Along with Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Winston is considered one of the two best draft-eligible quarterbacks.
Just moments after Winston announced his decision, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay sang Winston’s praises.
“On the field, between the lines, Jameis Winston is the best quarterback and, I believe, the best player in the 2015 NFL draft," he said.
Tampa Bay has the first pick, followed by Tennessee, Jacksonville, Oakland and Washington.
Winston in his statement thanked his fans, teammates and the FSU coaching staff. And he promised to "make the Seminole (family) proud" as he pursues professional football.
“I knew I made the right decision to come to Florida State four years ago and couldn’t be happier with this choice as I write this (statement) today," he said. "...Thank you for making my time in Tallahassee some of the best years of my life."