Jameis Winston is a busy man.
On top of preparing for his fifth year in the NFL, he has to learn an entirely new offense for the first time in his pro career after Bruce Arians was hired in back in January.
But no matter how busy he may be, he still finds a way to make an impact in his community.
Winston hosted his 4th Annual Dream Forever Foundation Football Camp on Friday, a yearly tradition that allows kids from all ages participate in a variety of activities provided by Winston and others.
Unlike playing quarterback in the NFL, the goal of the foundation is simple:
Jameis Winston’s Dream Forever Foundation is based on Jameis’ personal mission to DREAM FOREVER. Jameis’ vision is to instill life fundamentals, such as perseverance, teamwork, work ethic and discipline and the power to achieve the dreams in the kids his foundation helps. The purpose of his foundation is to have a positive impact on the lives of financially disadvantaged children by providing encouragement, opportunities, and resources which enable the discovery, development, and eventually the achievement of their dreams.
This isn’t strange territory for the starting quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Winston has been involved in this type of work since he entered the league.
Some of it stems from his childhood, where his family didn’t have much money to go around, but a lot of it simply comes from within.
“I started the camp in 2015, but I started the foundation in 2017,” Winston told me before the camp began. “I think what really inspired me growing up is finding a way to inspire others, to find a way to provide opportunities for others.”
The best part, according to Winston, is the Special Olympics athletes that attend his camp every year. What started as a simple idea in Winston’s head eventually evolved into one of his camp’s main features.
“I met the president and CEO at a charity event in Tampa and I told her, ‘I’ve had some of the athletes at my previous camps, but I’d like to make this thing a theme’,” Winston said.”Because I just love having the athletes out there and my initial thought was just having other kids around the Special Olympics athletes in order to see their level of gratitude, their level of drive, their level of desire that not just their friends, but all kids have to be a football player or just have fun.”
“You know some kids get discouraged because they may not have the talent or they may not have the physique, but (I want) to inspire all these kids and remind them that anything is possible, you can do anything you put your mind to.”
The kids received the opportunity to listen to Winston speak and participated in skill stations, contests, and non-contact games. Each “camper” also took home a souvenir autograph, a custom camp t-shirt, and a team photo with Winston.
He’s also included “special guest teammates” at every camp. Players such as Ryan Fitzpatrick, Todd Gurley, O.J. Howard, Donovan Smith, and more have attended the event, but to Winston, the stars are the kids, especially the Special Olympics athletes.
The athletes hold a special place in Winston’s heart, that’s for sure. He wants them to not only have fun during his camps, but he wants them to know that no matter what they go through in life, they’re not alone.
“My special guests are always my Special Olympic athletes because they bring so much energy to the camp,” says Winston, gushing as he talks about the athletes.
“I want to instill in these kids that they’re not alone, you know? And if you feel like you’re alone, then you should have a buddy, you should have a friend, or somebody you can lean on to help you. Because I believe the more people we have around us, that can comfort us or aid us in our daily lives, then we’ll become more successful.”
Like any other human being on the planet, Winston knows what it’s like to be a kid and to have dreams.
He also knows how fortunate he is to be able to provide this type of experience for children. There’s no shortage of gratitude from Winston’s end, either. He will be forever grateful for the impact he has on their lives.
“These are things that really matter,” he says. “You know, I was blessed to be able to play football, I was blessed to make it into the NFL. But I’m beyond blessed to have the platform and the willpower to bring people together, to bring children together – to help create different avenues in my foundation.”
He’s absolutely right: these are the things that really matter.
On the field, 2019 is a season that certainly matters for Winston.
Heading into the final year of his rookie deal, Winston is under the gun to prove to Arians and general manager Jason Licht that he is in fact the franchise’s quarterback of the future.
Playing quarterback is never easy in the NFL and Winston has certainly had his ups and downs since entering the league. No running game, a historically bad defense, and a bad coaching staff has him backed into a corner in a year that will likely determine whether or not he is a Tampa Bay Buccaneer in 2020.
But if you know Winston, you know that doesn’t bother him. The guy is going to work and make sure he does his job on the field when it’s time to go. You also know that if things don’t go according to plan, he will dig deep in order to find a way out of whatever situation he is in.
He’s also getting some help in the form of his new teammates and offensive coordinator, as well. Having a guy like Blaine Gabbert around has helped Winston, but offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich has really made a difference.
“Man, what’s so unique about what B.A. did is not only do we have Blaine, who is a former quarterback in his system. But we got Byron Leftwich, and he’s my offensive coordinator — talk about a real veteran,” Winston said. “I love Blaine and I’m happy we have him as an addition to this team with him being a previous first-round draft pick just understanding the pressures that come with that and just bringing his energy from all the different organizations that he’s been with. But having Byron in that quarterback meeting room, playing the positions, excelling in the position, and playing under B.A., winning a Super Bowl in Pittsburgh, I think that has been a huge thing that means a lot to our whole team.”
It should be an exciting year for the fifth-year quarterback. The Bucs have a proven coaching staff that will tailor their offense around what he can do best, which should allow him to make substantial progress this year. He should also have a somewhat-competitive defense, something he’s never had outside of a 5-6 game stretch in 2016.
But when it’s all said and done, Winston’s biggest supporters outside of his own family - the hundreds, if not thousands of kids he’s helped over the years - will always be there to root him on, no matter where he may be.
And that’s what really matters.