Depending upon what the NFL schedule-makers decide in the next couple weeks, and how quickly things get back to normal, Antoine Winfield Jr. could make a very unusual transition from college to the pro ranks.
Winfield's last game for the University of Minnesota was an Outback Bowl win over Auburn at Raymond James Stadium. On Friday night, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – who are the primary tenants of that particular stadium featuring a pirate ship in the end zone – selected Winfield with the 45th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. That means his first pro game could be on the exact same turf that saw his last moments as a star for the Golden Gophers.
Winfield had a year of eligibility left after Minnesota upended the Tigers on New Year's Day, but he eventually decided to head to the NFL, where he is following in the footsteps of his father, Antoine Winfield, Sr., a 14-year standout as a cornerback.
View pictures of S Antoine Winfield Jr., the 45th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
"You know what? I didn't know that was going to be my last game," said the younger Winfield of the Outback Bowl. "After the bowl game that's when I made my decision. I just decided to make my decision after the bowl game. Playing that last game – I just gave it all I could because I knew it was just the next game. I didn't really think about coming out this year until after."
Winfield's father played just one game at Raymond James, and it was a 19-13 loss by the Vikings in 2008, but he did have eight stops and two tackles for loss in that contest. That was part of a 191-game career for Winfield Sr. that included 27 interceptions and nearly 1,100 tackles. Winfield Sr.'s nine years with the Vikings obviously contributed to his son ending up at the University of Minnesota, but his influence also is a big reason why this is now a two-generation NFL family.
"It helped in every way possible," said Winfield Jr. "Growing up I would watch him do things and play football. Just the little advice that he would give me growing up – he would take me out to the backyard and we would be doing football drills, just working on things I need to work on [and] watching film together. He started me off at an early age, so I feel like that just helped me and developed me faster than the other kids at my time."
Winfield Jr. isn't headed to the NFL because of his last name, of course. He tied a school record in 2019 with seven interceptions and also had 88 tackles and three sacks, making plays all over the field. He was an unanimous All-America selection. He's an extremely versatile defender who could play centerfield in the secondary or cover receivers out of the slot. Still, he knows his father is a valuable source of information and he's not going to stop plugging into that pipeline.
"[He has] a ton of information," said Winfield Jr. "Like I said, he started me off young. We were in the backyard doing footwork drills when I was probably five or six years old. He's always been somebody I can go to with football and any questions I need – he has 14 years of NFL experience. He pretty much has a whole bunch of information stored in his head about football. He's just always been there. I use him all the time."
Plenty of sons of NFL players end up in other vocations. Winfield Jr. was a distinguished student at Minnesota and surely could have pursued other careers. But he had an NFL dream and he stuck with it even as injuries interrupted his development in 2017 and 2018. He returned in 2019 to put together a dream season for the best Minnesota team in decades and now he's right where he wanted to be.
"It means everything," said Winfield of his selection by the Bucs after some trying times in college. "I've dreamed about this moment ever since I was a little kid watching my dad play. All through college I battled with some injuries. It was tough going through those, but at the end of the day I just kept working hard, putting my head down. I'm just blessed and excited to join the Bucs."