Underneath the bright lights of a roaring Martin Stadium on any given Saturday, fans can expect to see a potent Air Raid attack behind Head Coach Mike Leach. A cog in the well-oiled machine important as any other is standout receiver Easop Winston Jr.
Growing up, Winston Jr. found more interest in playing with a ball than he did any other toy. He excelled at many sports, but football always made a bigger impression on his radar. Fittingly, Winston Jr.’s love for the game never skipped a beat as he carried his passion well into high school and beyond.
“From fifth grade to the twelfth grade, he slept with the football every night,” his mother Renee Winston said.
Spending part of his freshman year at Jefferson High just south of San Francisco, Winston Jr. transferred to Junipero Serra – a private Catholic school in the Bay Area.
Winston Jr.’s mother – well aware of her son’s dream – wanted Easop out of public school. And with Serra running quite the pedigree with alumni such as Tom Brady and Barry Bonds, it looked to be the perfect choice.
Renee Winston, recalling every detail as if it happened yesterday, picked her son up from Jefferson and took him to Serra in hopes of obtaining enrollment. Easop’s charismatic personality worked wonders; the admission office wanted him on the spot. This, of course, came with a price.
“2,369 dollars,” cited Renee Winston. “I’ll never forget.”
Upon consulting Easop’s father – Easop Winston Sr. – Renee wrote a check she couldn’t afford. She prayed and asked around for money, but no one else seemed to have the funds either.
“It’s a miracle,” Renee said with distinct emotion in her voice. “To this day they never cashed that check. They gave me financial aid for Easop where I was able to pay for his school.”
But of course, the laws of life call for an equal and opposite reaction. A barrage of family issues – including divorce and death – did Winston Jr. no favors. With his parents working as pastors – his father now a truck driver – cousins and uncles worked to fill in the gaps.
Relatives Kenny Holmes, Patrick Holmes and Myles Holmes all stepped up when Easop needed them most. When life’s gravity grew too heavy, the three played a big brother role along with assisting in transportation to and from football.
Just a couple of short years later, Easop Winston Jr. had concluded a lucrative high school career. Like many of his peers, the receiver was ready to play college ball and sift through his offers.
Or lack thereof.
The receiver was accepted into 19 universities upon graduating Serra in 2014 – many of them highly respected schools. While his mother was ecstatic, not the same could be said for the aspiring athlete. Not a single football scholarship was awarded.
The only school extending an opportunity to continue playing ball was San Francisco City College – the school Easop Winston Sr. played quarterback for some year ago. And according to his father, City College still retained some of the coaching staff from when he took snaps behind center.
“He really wanted to go to City College because he knew that it would help him with his chances to go to a D-I,” Renee said.
And after talking things over with Easop Winston Sr., Renee was on board.
Easop’s first year at City College was a grayshirt, though he was adored by the coaching staff and granted permission to travel with the team.
“Easop has a late birthday,” his father said. “It gave him a chance for his body to catch up and develop.”
133 receptions, 2,157 yards, 24 touchdowns and a championship later, the receiver had exhausted his Junior College eligibility. He received All-League First Team honors his sophomore campaign and led the league in receiving yards. It was now that Easop would fulfil his dream and transfer to a Power-5 university.
But alas, history repeats itself.
“I honestly thought the offers would come rolling in,” Easop Winston Sr. said. “The only school that really came hard after him was Eastern Michigan.”
The Eagles chased Easop hard sending multiple recruiters and a campus visit. Of course, Eastern Michigan plays in the MAC – not the Pac-12. Easop, unwilling to compromise on his dream, held out long against his parents wishes but eventually conceded to a verbal commitment.
“We were trying to convince him to sign there because there wasn’t nothing else coming in,” admitted his father.
However, a fire within Easop Winston Jr. was relit when an Eastern Michigan recruiter told him and his family that he was not good enough to play in a Power-5 Conference.
“He said it in front of Easop, and that’s what really gave him the determination to prove the doubters wrong,” his mother Renee said.
Petitioning for his parents’ faith, Easop knew there was a better offer out there for him. No more than a few days later, Inside Receivers Coach Dave Nichol of WSU gave the Winston’s a call. He couldn’t promise much – as Mike Leach had the final say – but now Easop was officially being pursued by a Pac-12 school.
And 24 hours before National Signing Day, he was offered and committed to playing for one – Washington State University.
The San Francisco native abruptly taking the stage this season by virtue of 5 touchdowns on 26 receptions for 426 yards is no mistake. He dreamt of playing Division-I football, bet on himself since day one, and ceased to squabble in the face of adversity
“You’re going to be on TV one day,” Renee Winston affirmed her then-18-year-old son. “He believed in himself, he believed in his dream, and now he’s living his dream.”
They say hard work beats talent when talent stops working hard. But in the case of Easop Winston Jr. – watch out – because he just might have both.