- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Charlie Ward forgives and forgets.

This June, he invited fellow Florida State Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston to speak at his football camp for kids in grades 1-8. Last week, Winston served a one-game suspension because he jumped on a table in the middle of campus and yelled an “offensive and vulgar” comment about women. Winston will “most definitely” be invited back to camp, Ward told The Washington Times.

“I’m one of his mentors,” said Ward, now the football coach at Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola, Florida, where the camp is held. “He’s like my son. … We don’t give up on our kids in life because we want them to be successful. … I think he’s committed to learn through his consequences.”

Ward scanned social media early last week after multiple people texted him, asking, “What was going on with Jameis?” When Ward learned of Winston’s latest indiscretion, imitating a viral video, he reached out to his mentee. They have spoken multiple times since.

“[Winston] is ashamed of what he did and what he said and knows that it was not the wisest thing to do, and he paid for it,” Ward said. “His consequences were not getting an opportunity to play in one of the bigger games this year, which is not something he desired to do.

“No one’s bigger than the team and he understands that concept. I’m grateful that [Florida State] is holding him to that standard and allowed him to learn from his errors, but also at the same time, there are consequences for them.”

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Florida State originally suspended Winston for the first half of its game against Clemson last Saturday. The team extended his penalty to the entire game because Winston allegedly misled administration.

His suspension thrust sophomore quarterback Sean Maguire into his first collegiate start, and the Seminoles ultimately escaped with a 23-17 win in overtime. 

And by preserving its undefeated record and 19-game winning streak, it also let Winston off the hook. On Monday, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher announced that Winston will start under center this Saturday at N.C. State.

“[Winston] knows his value to the team,” Ward said. “I just think he was excited for his teammates. He was also excited that they were able to pull it out because he would’ve had a hard time grasping if they would’ve lost. … It would’ve been magnified if they would’ve lost, his sorrow, for doing what he did.”

Ward met and became a mentor to Winston at the 2012 International Bowl in Austin, Texas. Ward was an assistant coach on the USA Football Under-19 high school all-star team that included Winston, who was unable to play in the showcase because of an injury. Since then, Winston has been investigated for alleged sexual assault, cited for shoplifting crab legs and accused of stealing soda.

Ward said he was not sure if the quarterback’s resume would cause NFL teams to shy away from drafting him early in the first round. But Ward did declare that whichever franchise gives Winston a chance will benefit.

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“Whoever gets [Winston] will be getting a good football player and a good kid,” Ward said, “and he’ll mature through all this situation. He’ll learn from it, and he’ll make a productive football player.”

Ward tries to send Winston notes each week to see how he is doing. Most of their conversations are about life, rather than football.

Ward, the grandson of two pastors, is devout Christian. His faith has influenced the way he’s mentored Winston.

“I’ve been encouraging [Winston] to surround himself with Christian role models just to touch bases and check in with someone to hold him accountable for his actions,” Ward said. “Jameis grew up in church, and so I encourage him with scriptures and positive things as well.”

“We’ve all had moments in our lives when we’ve known the truth. Sometimes we don’t follow it because we allow our fleshly desires and our fleshly influences around us to dictate the way we live our lives. … I’ll continue to encourage him.”

• David Daniels can be reached at ddaniels@washingtontimes.com.

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