Growing up in the sleepy town of Bessemer, Alabama, Jameis Winston used to spend his Saturdays watching the Crimson Tide play. Living less than an hour away from Tuscaloosa, 'Bama football was everything to his family and friends.
But on Sundays, allegiances were split.
The nearest team, the Titans, is located 200 miles north in Nashville, Tennessee. A fan of Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, and of Randall Cunningham before that, he adopted the Eagles as his team in the early 2000s, and until being drafted by Tampa Bay with the first overall pick in April he kept close tabs on the team.
In addition to nourishing his longtime fandom, watching the Eagles the past four years has given him a chance to keep up with longtime friend and fellow Bessemerian DeMeco Ryans.
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"Growing up, he was everyone's role model, from not only the athletic standpoint, (but) from the academic standpoint (as well), and how he carried himself as a man," said Winston of the veteran linebacker. "He's been in the NFL for a long time now, and he still finds a way to reach back to his hometown and help one of his hometown brothers out.
"He always kept me up, and it just meant a lot (coming) from him, any little advice he has, because he has his business together."
Ryans talks to Winston regularly to offer advice about football, life and everything in between. He first met the rookie quarterback while still a student at Jess Lanier High School. Winston was 10 years younger than Ryans, but would often show up to practices with his uncle, who was a coach on the school's staff.
The now two-time Pro Bowl linebacker remembers how amazingly gifted Winston was even then, how he dominated pee-wee games and how everyone in the community knew he was destined for great things. Now, as the 21-year-old navigates his first season as a professional, Ryans watches him with keen interest. He's been impressed so far.
"As the season's went along, you definitely see him getting better as the season goes along," he said. "My message to him was just, 'Don't listen to all the outside noise.'... Everybody's talking about you. Everybody's saying bad things about you. It's easy to get distracted."
When the Eagles and Buccaneers meet on Sunday, it will mark the first time the two have ever faced one another on the football field. And while the two have been rooting for one another since Winston was in pop warner and Ryans was in high school, there will be no time for sentimentality once the game begins.