The young man holding the Heisman Memorial Trophy a few weeks ago was the third native of the Birmingham, Ala., area to win college football's most prized individual honor.
He was not representing from Auburn, as did Pat Sullivan and Bo Jackson. He did not play for Alabama, whose only Heisman winner (Mark Ingram) played scholastically in Michigan.
No, Jameis Winston is a Florida State man, wrested away from a state that doesn't much like to export its top-flight football talent. And in recruiting Winston, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher wasn't settling for a prospect off Nick Saban's "B" board.
"People were talking when he [committed], 'Oh, he made a mistake,'" Fisher recalled. "People always told us, 'Why are you recruiting him? You're never going to get him.'"
Oh, Fisher got him all right. Two seasons later, the redshirt freshman has led the Seminoles to the national championship game against, as fate would have it, Auburn. It would have been Alabama, if not for a 109-yard field goal return in the Iron Bowl.
Whoever the opponent, FSU's 13-0 season is proof that, yes, Fisher was qualified to replace the legendary Bobby Bowden in Tallahassee. For his performance, the Clarksburg native is the 2013 Charleston Gazette Sportsman of the Year.
The award goes annually to the home-grown West Virginia product who made a positive impact on the state and/or national sports scene and who embodies the word "sportsman."
Fisher is the 13th such honoree in the award's 14-year history, with Marion County native Saban selected twice.
Passing the torch
At 48 years old, John James Fisher, Jr., has risen from Liberty High School and Salem College to become one of America's hottest football coaches, so much so that he has become strong candidate for the Texas job — that's what the speculation is, anyway.
"I think he would run to Texas," bombastic ESPN radio personality Paul Finebaum said last week. "Yes, he has the Heisman Trophy winner coming back. He may be a national champion. He's in a league where basically you have to win one or two games and beat Florida at the end of the year, which isn't that difficult anymore.
"But you know, and most reasonable college football fans know, that he hasn't been that happy there. They haven't been all that happy with him until recently. I think he remembers the awkward transition after Bobby [Bowden]. I think he remembers the president and athletic director down there in not a hurry to give him a raise and an extension a couple of years ago."
Fisher and Bowden would dispute much of that, if interviews with the Gazette are an indicator. And Fisher stands to get his money, as he reportedly has agreed to a contract extension with FSU worth $4.1 million per season.
As Bowden tells it, the December 2009/January 2010 handoff to his "coach in waiting" was awkward in that he really wanted to coach a 35th season and take a run at his 400th career victory. Otherwise, the two coaches are pleased about the transition, at least in retrospect.
"You know, I think it went pretty smoothly," Fisher said. "Because it allowed me to see where I needed to make adjustments, and who could help me within the program to make adjustments. We knew it would be a culture change because we wanted to do things totally different, and it would take a few years totally to get everybody here, and this is our first senior class.
"And our senior leadership, and the overall leadership on that team really helped the transition."
Bobby Bowden said, somewhat jokingly, "Now, we left him with some pretty good players. When I came down here, they were 0-11. So he had a good nucleus and then he recruited some great groups and put them all together, and he has a great instinct on keeping them focused on what they're doing.
"He's hired good coaches; that's the first thing. When he first took over, he hired three or four new coaches. They did an excellent job and then he lost about six of them last year. So he goes out and finds six more guys, and they're good or better than what he had."
Changing on the fly
Ah, yes, the lesser-known variation of recruiting. You've got to have players, but you also have to have good coaches. And they go hand in hand.
Fisher tabbed Alabama's secondary coach, Jeremy Pruitt, as his new defensive coordinator. He brought Tim Brewster from Mississippi State to coach tight ends and serve as recruiting coordinator. Charles Kelly was lured from Georgia Tech to coach linebackers and run the special teams. He brought running backs coach Jay Graham from Tennessee, hired former Kentucky offensive coordinator Randy Sanders to tutor Winston and the quarterbacks and hired former Tennessee defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri to coach defensive ends.
He has his stamp on the staff, certainly, but he does have three holdovers from the Bowden era — including Masontown native and former West Virginia offensive line coach Rick Trickett, who also has the title of assistant head coach.
Liberty to prosperity
Fisher graduated from Liberty High and went to Clemson to play baseball but returned home. Salem coach Terry Bowden, one of Bobby's two football-coaching sons, brought him to Salem to play quarterback in 1985, and Fisher played there in 1986 after Terry Bowden took an assistant job at Akron.
When Terry Bowden returned to head coaching in 1987 at then-Division III Samford of Birmingham, Ala. — his father's alma mater — he brought Fisher southward as his quarterback. Fisher went despite losing a scholarship in the process, as Samford had not yet transitioned from Division III to I-AA. "I told him, 'I promise I'll hire you the day you're through,'" Terry Bowden recalled.
It wasn't a bad move, as Fisher threw for 34 touchdowns and was named the Division III player of the year. After a year with the Arena Football League's Chicago Bruisers, he did return to Samford as a graduate assistant for Terry Bowden.
That's the unglamorous, almost dark side of the profession — GAs work long, long hours for little or no pay, trying hard to impress coaches and eventually land their first full-time gig. Still, Fisher said he may have had his most fun as a GA.
"You were 23 years old and you didn't know you didn't know," he said. "We were just flying around and doing everything and just happy to have any kind of job. I look back and some of the most fun was in those early, early years — you were finding out if you had what it took to be a coach, and if you really loved the lifestyle of that whole profession."
He never doubted he wanted to coach. Apparently, the Bowdens had no doubt he would be a good coach, perhaps rising to where he is now.