AUBURN, Ala. — When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walked to the podium Thursday in Chicago to announce Tampa Bay had selected Jameis Winston with the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft, many residents of Bessemer, Ala., were overjoyed. It was there, after all, that Winston heard the news of the Buccaneers' decision, since he decided to stay in his hometown to celebrate the occasion with his family and friends.
But at least one person in Auburn was happy to see Winston taken with the top pick: Dameyune Craig.
The former Tiger signal-caller, who still ranks among the top 10 in many of the school's career offensive categories, was a key figure in Winston's success. For it was at Florida State — where he served as the team's quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator from 2010-12 — that Craig first established his relationship with Winston. Known as an ace on the recruiting trail, Craig pulled off arguably his biggest coup in getting Winston out of Alabama.
In the leadup to the 2014 BCS championship game — when, ironically enough, Craig and Auburn faced off against Winston and Florida State — Craig detailed how much the odds were stacked against him in trying to get signal-caller to Tallahassee.
Never miss a local story.
He had to fend off Alabama, which had just won its second national title in three seasons. He had to beat out his alma mater, which had captured its own BCS championship in 2010. And he had to persuade his boss, Jimbo Fisher, that he could actually deliver Winston to Florida State.
"The way I did it, I asked (Fisher) if we could take two quarterbacks that year," Craig said at the time. “And we took Sean Maguire and we took Jameis. I told him if we lose Jameis, we would have another guy coming in. But if we get him, we've got the best quarterback in country."
Three years later, everything Craig saw in Winston coming out of high school has come to fruition.
"It's something I envisioned from the moment I met him (and) watched him at practice," Craig said earlier this month. "I went back and I told Fisher, 'This kid could be the first player taken, could win the Heisman Trophy, could win the national championship.' The things that I saw in him early on, it's just a blessing to see him achieve it."
Winston is just disappointed Craig wasn't around to take part in the accomplishments with him. When Gus Malzahn became Auburn's coach in December 2012, he called up Craig. The Mobile, Ala., native couldn't say no, coming on board as the Tigers' receivers coach, a capacity he has remained in since that time.
Winston, who viewed Craig as an adopted "uncle," was devastated upon hearing the news of his mentor's departure.
"I was depressed,” he said, "but at the end of the day I knew he had to do what was good for his family and himself, so I had to suck my tongue in and say 'Congratulations. Go do what you do.'"
But Craig has continued to keep in touch with Winston while watching from afar, and couldn't have been more delighted to see his protege be the first player off the board Thursday.
"He deserves it. The kid has been through a lot. ... His family has been through a lot," said Craig, conspicuously (and not surprisingly) tiptoeing around the multiple off-field issues Winston was involved in during his time with the Seminoles. "He's been through a lot. I'm just going to be excited for him, excited for his family. It would be a great accomplishment."
And you better believe Craig plans to tout Winston's feat in his talks with future prospects.
"It's a great recruiting tool," he said. "I'll definitely use it."