Is Jameis Winston FSU's next Charlie Ward?

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TALLAHASSEE — How utterly appropriate that Charlie Ward was at his first spring game since he left Florida State 20 years ago.

On the same weekend when last year's Masters champion will put the coveted Green Jacket on this year's Masters champion, it almost seemed as if the old Charlie was in Tallahassee Saturday to put his coveted red cape on FSU's new Charlie.

We are talking, of course, about redshirt freshman phenom Jameis Winston, who is in a so-called battle with three other candidates to replace EJ Manuel as the Seminoles' new quarterback. We say "so-called" because the only reason it's a battle is because Coach Jimbo Fisher has declared it one. Everybody knows Jameis, which rhymes with famous, is eventually going to be FSU's starting quarterback.

You knew it on the first play of the spring game when Famous Jameis dropped back and rifled a perfect 58-yard touchdown bomb to David Tyrrell. As the crowd roared, I received an immediate text message from my buddy Rick — the biggest Florida State fan I know.

"And there, sir, is the quarterback," Rick wrote. "End of controversy."

"Oh my God, Jameis just showed the world!" said senior cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, who was covering Tyrrell on the play.

Poor Clint Trickett just doesn't stand a chance. A junior quarterback who came in last year and filled in admirably for the injured Manuel, Trickett threw seven touchdowns and four picks a year ago and knows the offense better than any his younger competitors for the job. But he does not have the arm, the legs or the "it" of Winston — the closest thing to Charlie Ward that even Charlie Ward has seen.

"He's special, there's no question about it," Ward said while standing on the sideline and watching Winston complete 12-of-15 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns Saturday.

When asked if making comparisons between Winston, a freshman, and Ward, a former Heisman Trophy winner, puts any unneeded pressure on Winston, Ward shook his head.

"I don't think it will bother him at all," Ward said. "He's a good player and he'll back it up."

Florida State has had other good and even great quarterbacks — Chris Weinke, Christian Ponder, EJ Manuel -- since Ward's departure, but never one with the magic and magnificence of Charlie himself. It's no wonder Ward on Friday won the Sentinel's NCAA Tournament-style bracket to identify the greatest college football player in Sunshine State history. We can argue forever about who is the greatest, but nobody in the state was more wizardly with the football in his hands than Charlie.

Who knows if Winston will develop into the same type of magical quarterback Ward once was, but there are certainly similarities. Both were dual-threat quarterbacks and two-sport stars. Ward quarterbacked the Seminoles to the national title in football and was the point guard on a Seminole basketball team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight.

Winston plays football and baseball and is already making an impact in both. A few days ago, he was at FSU's football practice at 6:30 a.m. and then jumped on a plane and flew to Miami for a baseball game in which he entered as a reliever, mowed down all nine batters he faced and had his fastball clocked at 97 miles per hour.

Winston is already becoming a legend and he hasn't even thrown a college pass. A video of him heaving a football up, up, up and over a campus frat house became an instant Internet hit. Former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer, now an ESPN analyst, worked with Winston at a camp in California last year and is already predicting he might someday become the top pick in the NFL Draft.

"He'll be the first pick of the draft if the first pick goes to a team that wants to run the pistol, zone-read," Dilfer told the Buffalo News. "He's that kind of kid."

Fisher, as any coach would, frowns at such premature praise and fears Winston will not be able to live up to the massive hype already being heaped upon him. However, Fisher says he's not worried about how Winston responds to the expectations.

"It's my job to tell him what's real and what's not real," Fisher says. ". . . He's the type of kid that the harder you coach him, the more he likes it. He loves to be challenged."

Obviously.

He said Saturday he not only wants to "be like Mike" — NBA legend Michael Jordan — he also wants to be like Charlie.

When I told him Saturday that some fans are already saying he could be the next Charlie Ward, he didn't shy away from the comparison.

"I'd love to," already-famous Jameis said with a smile splashed across his face. "I just want to get that championship like he did."

mbianchi@tribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @BianchiWrites. Listen to his radio show every weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. on 740 AM.

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