Former Michigan Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard was ready to welcome Jameis Winston into the Heisman fraternity on Dec. 14.
Now Howard isn’t so sure Winston will be the young man who receives the honor.
Winston, Florida State’s redshirt freshman phenom quarterback, was the frontrunner for the coveted bronze statue before allegations of sexual assault surfaced. While Winston has yet to be charged in the case that was opened almost a year ago, Howard thinks Winston’s name being involved might be enough to dissuade voters.
Voting for the award opens on Monday.
“This doesn't help his chances at winning the Trophy,” Howard told Yahoo Sports via email. “I believe that some voters will likely be put off by the allegations even though not all the facts are known at this time.”
Winston is accused of sexually assaulting a young woman last December. The woman reported it to the police at the time, but then said in a statement earlier this week that Tallahassee police urged her not to move forward. The case was classified open, but inactive until new information reopened it in early November. Since then, police have matched Winston’s DNA with the samples taken from the victim’s clothes. Winston has not been charged, but the Florida State Attorney is considering action and said he will come to a decision before Thanksgiving.
According to Florida State’s rules, any player charged with a felony is immediately suspended from athletic competition, though there is a loophole to avoid suspension if there are extenuating circumstances. Florida State, which is ranked No. 2 in the BCS standings, plays Idaho this week, Florida in the regular season finale and then the ACC title game. It must win all of those games to play for a national title.
Also, Florida State’s backup quarterback Jacob Coker is recovering from knee surgery, which would mean the Seminoles national championship game hopes would rest on the shoulders of third-stringer Sean Maguire in Winston is suspended.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel became first freshman to win the award last season, and then spent the bulk of his offseason making headlines for his partying, hobnobbing with celebrities, Tweeting, Instagramming and ultimately an unfounded autograph-for-money scandal. Because of that, voters might be more conscious of picking another freshman, especially one shrouded in allegations, to join the fraternity.
“Like it or not, this is a prestigious award and is specifically meant to honor college football's most outstanding player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity,” Howard said. “I don't know if that is necessarily a maturation issue, but Johnny's offseason may cost him a few votes as well.”
Howard said he couldn’t divulge where Winston was on his ballot because the Heisman Trophy Trust has asked voters not to share their ballots with the public, but he said Winston is still on his ballot and he would monitor the case as it goes forward.
Many pundits believe that if voters stray from Winston, most will lean toward Manziel or Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron.
As the college football world waits for the status of Winston’s case to be resolved, Howard said it might not matter what happens from here on out. The news breaking in early November coincided with the peak of Winston’s popularity, but with the case continuing to drag with no resolution, it will be at the forefront of voter’s minds when they receive their ballots in the coming week.
And that could ultimately derail Winston’s chances.
“Due to the timing of the allegations being uncovered and the fact he is now involved in an active investigation at the time ballots are about to be distributed, I do think the damage may have already been done -- even if he is eventually exonerated,” Howard said.
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