CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Jameis Winston quickly emerged as one of college football's biggest stars because of his brilliant play, while also charming Florida State fans with his smile and natural charisma.
The 19-year-old redshirt freshman seemed poised and mature beyond his years, whether he was throwing touchdown passes after shedding a defensive lineman or answering questions from reporters about what it took to be the leader of one of the best teams in the country.
Three weeks ago the story changed. A year-old sexual assault complaint against him was given by Tallahassee police to the state's attorney office to be investigated. For three weeks, Winston faced the possibility of serious criminal charges. He was accused of rape by a female Florida State student. His lawyer said the sex was consensual.
Winston continued to play spectacularly. While he was shielded from answering direct questions about the investigation, he gave his routine interviews leading up to and after games. If the investigation was stressing him out, he wasn't showing it publicly.
And according to coach Jimbo Fisher, he wasn't showing it privately either.
"He's been the same guy, and like I said, he believed in the process, and he believed in himself, and he's been the same guy," Fisher said Friday at a news conference at Bank of America Stadium for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game against Duke, about 24 hours after prosecutors in Florida announced Winston would not be charged.
"It's been a remarkable maturity level presented by him to be able to compartmentalize and handle things he can control and not that anything was (taken) lightly or he didn't take it seriously, but like I say, in our life everybody has issues or something going on in your life, and the ones that can compartmentalize and function and handle them when they have to handle them are the ones that are very successful, and he's very mature like that," Fisher said.
No. 1 Florida State played three games from the time news broke about the complaint until the time the case was closed. There were certainly no signs of distraction from the Seminoles, though this team is so talented that rolling Syracuse, Idaho and Florida by a combined 176-24 could have been accomplished with less-than-full attention.