MIAMI — When you dub yourself “The Chosen One,” you better have outrageous skills and an unparalleled pedigree.
When you strike the Heisman pose in a season opener against laughable Louisiana Tech, you better have a serious sense of humor and a bulletproof ego.
When you demand that your offensive coordinator call your number in a national title game, you better produce when the ball comes your way.
Miami’s Kellen Winslow II has spent his entire life serving up proof of prowess with a smile.
“I’m sure it’s the same for anyone with a famous father,” said the junior tight end and namesake son of the San Diego Chargers’ Hall of Famer. “Growing up, everybody’s got a little something extra for you. You learn early on that you either stand and deliver or you get slapped down.”
These days nobody’s smacking around Winslow, at least not on the field. He’s college football’s version of an untouchable, 6-foot-5, 242 pounds of uncoverable elegance guaranteed to make any linebacker in the nation feel like a leper. And when No.21 Florida (1-0) meets the third-ranked Hurricanes (1-0) tonight in the Orange Bowl, the Gators will try to check him with a cast of first-year starters.
“There isn’t a player in the country who can match up with him,” said Miami offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who knows a thing or two about the position after starting for the Hurricanes from 1988 to 1990 and subsequently coaching Bubba Franks and Jeremy Shockey to All-American status. “Kellen isn’t as tough to bring down after the catch as Shockey, but I’ve never seen anyone at the position who is as tough to defend. He’s got size, speed [4.5 in the 40-yard dash], incredible agility, wonderful hands, and he runs precise routes.”
When Winslow replaced the departed Shockey last season, most folks expected a drop-off in production at the position. After all, Shockey was busy torturing NFL defenses with the New York Giants. But Winslow stepped into the void and shattered all of Shockey’s single-season records, catching a team-leading 57 passes for 726 yards and eight touchdowns during Miami’s run to the national title game.
It was in that Fiesta Bowl matchup against Ohio State that Winslow officially arrived as both an unstoppable weapon and a vocal team leader. Frustrated by Miami’s early offensive struggles against the Buckeyes, Winslow implored Chudzinski and quarterback Ken Dorsey to make him the cornerstone of the Hurricanes’ attack. He then responded by setting a Fiesta Bowl record with 11 receptions for 122 yards and a touchdown. Miami lost the game (31-24 in two overtimes), but Winslow made his mark, establishing himself as the college game’s premier tight end.
“I would have played defense if they had let me,” said Winslow, who led Scripps Ranch High School in San Diego with 115 tackles and eight sacks as a senior defensive end in 2000. “That’s how bad I wanted to win that game. That loss has been stinging every day since then.”
Perhaps those months of cumulative angst are what prompted Winslow to celebrate his first touchdown catch of this season by assuming the stiff-arming Heisman pose in the end zone 10 days ago.
“I didn’t think very much of it, to be quite honest,” said Miami coach Larry Coker, joining a host of others in criticizing the brassy display. “It’s a little early for any type of poses. Kellen is very emotional, a very emotional football player. And I do like that. But he has to temper the emotion and put it on the field. It’s just something we really don’t need. We need to get ourselves back into the team aspect.”
Winslow claims the pose was part emotional release, part joke.
“I was just having fun. People made a big deal out of it, and I was just making fun of the fact that some consider me a Heisman candidate,” said Winslow, who finished the game with four receptions for 35 yards and one score. “I am not going to win the Heisman. It’s a running back-quarterback award. Guys like [Miami tailback] Frank Gore or [Mississippi quarterback] Eli Manning are going to win it.”
Whether you believe Winslow is a shameless self-promoter, he’s certainly correct to scoff at his Heisman chances. No end ever has won the award without also playing defense. That said, most skeptics have learned better than to snicker at Winslow.
“He’s the most talented player on this team,” said Miami junior safety Sean Taylor, himself a likely All-American. “I know because I’ve tried to cover him. If we run the table, and he’s the best player on the best team, then he should win the Heisman. It’s a long way off, but don’t make the mistake of putting anything past Kellen.”