TAMPA — Before a half-hour talk to teens at a leadership conference Thursday morning, Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston took part in a group icebreaker, playing a quick game of "bubble soccer," where participants pull oversized inflatable balls over their upper body, allowing them to run into other players and bounce off harmlessly.
Winston and WWE wrestling star Titus O'Neil, who both live in Tampa and are active in the community, each led their squads, with Winston's team claiming victory. Bucs training camp is only three weeks off, and Winston escaped without injury, later taking the stage as part of a daylong camp focused on helping develop student-athletes off the field.
Winston's message focused on what he said are his three priorities for life: God, school and understanding that "I can do anything I put my mind to," trying to improve in some way every day. He said you can learn something from everyone in your life, but you can't be afraid to be different and unique.
"For you to be a great leader, you have to be a great follower," he said. "You don't know everything. We don't know everything. … You have your own lives. You know what the least … important thing in the world is? Someone else's opinion. If you're out there trying to be the best you, you shouldn't care what someone else thinks."
The camp, brought together by Unsigned Preps founder Ricky Sailor, featured speeches from all sides of an athlete's development: high school coaches, financial advisors, representatives from the Tampa Police Department and others. Speakers focused on everything from academics to time management to body language to presenting yourself respectably on social media, with outdoor activities such as canoeing mixed in with speaker sessions.
Winston just returned to Tampa on Wednesday after spending time in his hometown in Alabama, as well as his annual youth football camp in Birmingham, another chance for him to give back to his community. Sailor said having high-profile success stories such as Winston and O'Neil (who as Thaddeus Bullard was a defensive end at Florida in the mid '90s) helps get the right message out to their audience.
"It's very important, because when you have guys of their stature that can come into the community and share their words of wisdom, it makes everything real," Sailor said.
"We as Americans have the same mentality: I've got to see it to believe it. We want the kids to see Titus and Jameis, and now they can start to believe that I can be that. I can do what they're doing."