INDIANAPOLIS — Defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr. loves football. He can't contain it. Whether it's pre-snap, in the film room, making a big tackle or even just answering questions at the podium of the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, he's smiling.
"If you look at all my pictures I’m always smiling,” he said Friday. “They ask me why I’m always smiling and I’m like, 'I don’t know,’ I’m just enjoying it. I just love playing football. So I’m out there smiling, having a great time."
That's likely because some of the best memories he had growing up were centered around the game. As the son of a former 14-year NFL player, Winfield Jr. said he was introduced to football at a young age.
"When I was younger, my dad would lay in his bed with his laptop, I would be sitting right next to him watching film," Winfield Jr. said. "In particular, it was Calvin Johnson. I remember he had to play Detroit one week. I remember sitting next to him and he was watching it and breaking the film down and everything. That’s a cool experience that most people don’t get to do."
Antoine Winfield Sr. was with the Minnesota Vikings from 2004-2012 and was a three-time Pro Bowl player from 2008-2010. As Winfield Jr. grew up and started to get into his own game as a young defensive back, he started to see a lot of similarities between how he and his father approached their styles.
"We’re almost about the same in size,” Winfield Jr. said. “My dad had a lot of heart, and that’s kind of what I looked up to in him. Seeing him go out there against professionals and great guys that you see on TV all the time, that’s something I kind of modify my game after. It’s not about how big you are, how tall you are … it’s about how much fight you have."
That fight comes through more than just playing against opponents. Sometimes, for Winfield Jr., it has come in the form of fighting through injury; something he's had to do twice as the rare fourth-year sophomore. But other times it has come in the form of challenging his old man himself.
"Oh yeah, all the time," Winfield Jr. said with a smile. "I remember we were racing my sophomore year in high school, he thought he was still faster than me and I’m like, ‘Nah dad, you’re getting old.’ So I remember racing him one day and beat him. He’s never talked about speed ever since that moment."
Winfield Jr. is regarded as one of the top safeties in the 2020 NFL Draft. His instincts and how he sees the field is something that not many other safeties can do as naturally as he does. This likely comes from how engrained he is with not only football in general life but NFL life, even now before he's been drafted.
He is lucky to have such an experienced football support system around him and is both well aware and thankful for that. But when it comes to living up to a legacy, Winfield Jr. isn't living in the shadow of his father. He's trying to make his own name. He doesn't feel the pressure to live up top his dad.
"I’m my own identity." Winfield Jr. said. "A lot of people call me Antoine Winfield, I’m like no that’s my dad’s name. Just to be my own identity, so no pressure at all."
Winfield Jr. seems to be approaching this process with the right mindset. He doesn't dislike the fact that everyone always brings up his father when talking about his NFL future -- he embraces it, smiles to it. He understands that it’s a blessing. On the other hand, he isn't trying to ride his father's coattails either.
"It’s very special," Winfield Jr. said. "This is something I’ve always wanted to do ever since I was a kid. I watched my dad play in the league for 14 years and knew at a young age this is what I wanted to do with my life. It’s a surreal feeling to be here right now, so I’m just excited and enjoying the process so far."
The NFL has been on his mind for a long time, and now that he's going through the process of becoming a pro himself, he's doing it his way.