Winston evokes mayoral presence as leader of Bucs

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston participates in an OTA practice session at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, June 1, 2017. (Loren Elliott/Tampa Bay Times/TNS)

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston participates in an OTA practice session at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, June 1, 2017. (Loren Elliott/Tampa Bay Times/TNS)

Jameis Winston walks on the proverbial Sunny Side of the Street. Leave those frowny faces at home, kids.

Bring on the heat and humidity during practice, and then tell everybody he hopes it snows in Lambeau Field when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play there in December.

Give a shout-out to a local chef during his media opportunity. Stop and sign autographs and pose for pictures after practice, trying to accommodate as many people as he can, including a guy who drove 9 1/2 hours from Hueytown, Ala., with his 2-year-old son.

Take an extra few minutes for a FaceTime chat with the man's wife in Alabama.

Take a little extra time with a female fan in a wheelchair.

Get into the middle of a photo scrum with the West Pasco Football Club, a bunch of adolescent soccer players bused in by former Bucs kicker Martin Gramatica.

After he wraps up the assorted platitudes and meet-and-greets, I jokingly suggest to Winston that he is the mayor of Tampa.

"We have a great mayor," he says, alluding to Bob Buckhorn. "I don't want to take those responsibilities."

Life is good as is, taking on the role as starting quarterback, face of the franchise, indisputable leader, and a guy on a trajectory toward greatness.

As he begins his third season in the NFL, Winston has the exuberance of the 18-year-old kid he once was when he walked onto the campus at Florida State University and regaled reporters with stories about his affinity for cheese balls and a promise to avoid getting "Johnny Manziel Disease."

Actually, it became much more serious than that with a number of highly publicized transgressions and an infamous sexual-assault charge that didn't stick. Despite a lack of evidence in pursuing the case, the narrative about Winston changed, taking on dark themes.

Some sins, even perceived ones, will never be forgiven by some people. But, at 23, Winston definitely has that bounce back.

Nothing but sunny days, even when the proverbial dark skies loom over One Buc Place during morning practice now and then.

"I dislike negativity," Winston says. "I'm very optimistic. Confidence has always been the key for me. I just like to keep a smile on my face. That's who I have to be. My teammates don't want to see me pouting. They don't want to see me having a bad attitude on the field. I do it for them, so I can keep them motivated and keep their spirits up."

This is Jameis Winston 24-7. Taking about the "great men on this football team." Calling veteran guard J.R. Sweezy a "beast." Talking about receiver Mike Evans "bringing the fire."

If you buy into all of it, expect the Bucs to go undefeated and win the second Super Bowl in franchise history. But for now, a significant step would be to win the NFC South and make the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

Winston has goals, but we are not privy to that information.

"I don't want to get into specifics with you, because I'm more of a visual guy," he says. "I write them down and I want to achieve them. But the main thing is for us to execute and win, man. We have a talented team and we just want to go out there and win some football games."

That they will.

"When you watch Winston, you study Winston, you don't realize how athletic he is," says former Bucs coach Jon Gruden, now an analyst with ESPN. "How much offense he creates. What a gunslinger he is. How exciting a player he is."

The excitement bleeds over to off-the-field stuff. He is, in many ways, Tim Tebowesque in his ability to connect with fans. That may be blasphemy to the Gator Nation, but if you stick around practice long enough and other public appearances, you will see that Winston seems to have a smile and word for everyone who gathers around him.

Best of all, Jameis Winston has a chance to run this town in 2017, even though he's not officially The Mayor.

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