Chris Weinke had seen Jameis Winston’s talents for the first time in January 2012.
Weinke was coaching at the Under Armor All-American game, and one of his players was Winston — the nation’s top quarterback. Winston completed 8 of 9 passes for 178 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown pass, and was named the game’s MVP.
"That was my first glimpse of him," Weinke said. "I was excited about him back then."
Fast forward 20 months to Monday night. Weinke, who won a national championship and a Heisman Trophy at Florida State, watched from his television Winston’s stunning debut — 25 of 27 for 356 yards and five touchdowns (four passing and one rushing) in a 41-13 win over Pittsburgh.
The numbers tell the story. A 92.6 completion percentage is almost unheard of for even an NFL All-Pro quarterback — let alone a 20-year-old redshirt freshman making his college debut on the road in front of 65,000 fans.
But it goes beyond the numbers. Winston showed a calm, composed demeanor.
"His poise in the pocket, his natural ability to be able to move around and keep his eyes downfield," Weinke said. "I was just very impressed with what he was able to accomplish in his first game. He's only going to continue to get better. The future is very bright."
Winston's first game came on a Monday night — a primetime game with all of college football watching. He dominated the discussion on Twitter, prompting frequent updates about his consecutive completions (11 straight to start the game) and his statistics.
Florida State fans enjoyed the show, especially after Winston's breakout performance (12 of 15 for 205 yards and two touchdowns) in the Seminoles' spring game in April. But the hype grew through the summer and reached a fever pitch in the 10 days between Jimbo Fisher's announcement that Winston would be the starter and Monday night's game.
But Florida State's quarterbacks from past years could appreciate Winston's performance more than perhaps any fan. They've all had to step on to the field that first time, nervous and anxious and trying to lead the team to a win.
"I would have loved to have a game like that in my college career, let alone my first game," said former Florida State quarterback Danny McManus, who led the Seminoles to an 11-1 record in 1987.
There have been some impressive first starts for Florida State through the years. Danny Kanell threw for 341 yards and had five touchdowns in a 49-20 win over Maryland in 1993. Dan Kendra threw for 281 yards and three touchdowns in a 1996 win over Wake Forest. And two years ago, Clint Trickett passed for 336 yards in a loss at Clemson.
McManus is in a group of Florida State starters that had four touchdowns in his debut (vs. Tulane in 1985), including Charlie Ward (vs. Duke in 1992). Winston matched Kanell's five touchdowns and went 15 yards better.
"Take it easy on me man," Kanell said on Twitter. "Save some of those records for me! Keep working hard and representing Noles on and off the field #proud"
And rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel chimed in on Twitter from Buffalo while watching his teammate from a year ago: "On the edge of my seat watching J pick em apart #proud"
For McManus, the game confirmed what he had seen in practice a few weeks back in Tallahassee. McManus lives in Venice, Fla., but scouts the state for potential Canadian Football League prospects for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Winston, of course, is likely bound for the NFL in the years to come. But McManus enjoys watching quarterbacks in practice and in games. What he saw was significant.
"Some guys, their eyes get huge (in a game)," said McManus, who threw for more than 50,000 yards in the CFL. "But he was fine, he was calm. You see a young guy get into a game, things are sped up and then they try to speed up their play. And now the mechanics get all messed up. From what I saw in practice to what I saw in the game was exactly the same."
And the situation on Monday wasn’t pretty early on. Pitt had driven 80 yards to open the game and take a 7-0 lead. Florida State’s first drive ended in a punt.
But then a Jalen Ramsey interception set up the Seminoles at Pitt's 24. Two plays later, Winston found Nick O’Leary for a touchdown.
Florida State would score on its next six drives, too.
"His ability to stay even keel throughout the course of the game was so impressive," Weinke said. "You don't see that very often out of a young quarterback. What he was able to prove to people is that he has a great understanding of the offense. More times than not, young quarterbacks do not feel comfortable because they don't have a total grasp of the offense.
"He has a great understanding and knows where to throw the football. And he did it at a very high level. Very rare to see that in a young quarterback."
Weinke and McManus agree that Winston possesses another trait. He is of course a dual-threat quarterback, someone that ran for more than 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior at Hueytown (Ala.) High.
But Winston felt the pressure in the pocket and used his legs to buy time to find an open receiver. Not to scramble and run for daylight.
"A lot of guys being that young probably would have tucked it and ran away," McManus said. "He just had to buy a half a second and he did that."
Weinke has spent the past few years mentoring quarterbacks at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. He's worked with a long list of players that were preparing for their first NFL season.
But Weinke was also struck with Winston's pocket presence.
"That was one of the most impressive things," Weinke said. "With young guys they get into panic mode. And when something is not perfect, their natural reaction is to tuck it and escape the pocket. I use the term working in a telephone booth. That's the pocket for the quarterback. He was able to stay calm within the telephone booth and still be able to deliver balls very accurately while there was a lot of chaos around him.
"He's a great athlete, he can make some plays with his feet. But his No. 1 attribute is his ability to process information and throw the ball with accuracy. Sometimes you don't see veteran guys — third- and fourth-year (college) guys be able to stay within themselves. Especially the first game of the year."
There is the disclaimer that Winston is just one game into his college career. He may never statistically do better than what he did on Monday. But he almost certainly will improve as he gains more experience.
And at some point he will use his legs to run. Fisher has shown the desire to do it the past few years, first with Christian Ponder and then with Manuel.
There's a sense that Winston has absorbed a considerable amount of Fisher’s playbook. But also that Winston hasn’t scratched the surface yet.
"You’re going to really see something when he takes off," said Kelly Lowrey, the Seminoles' starting quarterback in 1982 and '83. "I bet there’s a lot more to see."
The quarterbacks enjoyed what they saw on Monday. And they admired what Winston was able to do. They saw the composure and leadership. The accuracy. The ability to make throws when he knew he would be taking a big hit.
"It just seems like nothing rattles the guy," Weinke said.