Winston the same, despite opinion

His appearance in Greensboro was peppered with talk of maturity, of growth, of understanding the harsh glare of the spotlight. He has repeated, again and again, Jimbo Fisher's mantra that, to become a man, the child must die. But how can Winston kill that child inside him? How can he keep the pot from boiling over?

"People don't like when you have success," Winston said. "They're not comfortable, and I don't understand. Do they want me to be quiet or what? I just can't carry myself like that."

Fisher hopes there's a balance somewhere, a sweet spot between the goofy, eager kid and the man Winston wants to become. They've talked often about finding that sweet spot. That, Fisher said, might be Winston's biggest challenge this season.

"I don't want him to go into a shell and not be comfortable around people all the time," Fisher said. "I think that could be just as detrimental to him as being out there and so fun-loving that you don't see the danger in anything. He's got to pick his moments and be smart, but his genuine love of people and being outgoing, he has to have that. That's just who he is."

It wasn't Winston's words but his silence that defined his public image during the rape investigation. This was not by choice.

As the world speculated about what happened that night in December 2012, Winston and Florida State followed the lawyers' advice and offered no comment.

In his first game after the investigation became national news, Winston completed 19 of 21 passes for 277 yards. He called the field his sanctuary, the one place he felt in control. In the three games he played with the assault investigation hanging over his head, Winston threw nine touchdowns and just one interception. After each win, he'd dart across the field, hug friends and family and teammates, smile for the cameras and talk about football while carefully avoiding the controversy swirling around him.

"It was hard not to say things," Fisher said. "I wish I could've screamed to the world. I knew the kid, I knew the situation, and I believed in him 100 percent. It had nothing to do with him being our quarterback. It had to do with believing in him as a person and knowing he was right and being willing to stand there with him and say that."

After three weeks, state attorney Willie Meggs decided there was insufficient evidence to warrant any charge in the case. But questions remained about how police handled the investigation, whether it was even possible to get to the truth in football-crazed Tallahassee.

Winston wouldn't face a trial, but public opinion had already turned.

"He won a national championship and a Heisman Trophy and was accused of rape. That's all they know," said Rick Rabb, Winston's close friend and former Hueytown teammate.

Winston wants to shrug off the accusations, to ignore the gantlet he'll face through another year as college football's most recognizable face. But he can't.

"I don't focus on that, knowing somebody will always say something, but I don't want to live my life in lies, either," Winston said. "When someone calls me a bad person, that's disrespecting my family and the people that raised me. I know my grandma, my mama and my daddy, they raised me well, so yeah, I sometimes feel disrespected."

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