Perhaps no one but Kellen Winslow II knows for sure when his deep dive began from beloved University of Miami football star to alleged rapist, but anyone aware of Winslow’s situation realizes he’s a troubled soul.
This is the man who captured the nation’s attention in 2003 for his post-loss “[F-ing] soldier’’ locker room rant. The man who declared it was “war” after injuring a Tennessee player with a legal block and angrily continued that “It’s about this U, man! ...I’m pissed, man! We don’t care about nobody except this U!’’ is still fighting.
Except now, in a Vista, California, trial that began Monday, Winslow is battling allegations of three rapes and multiple sex-related crimes that could put him away for life. The trial, drawing plenty of attention on the west coast, is being aired live by Court TV “gavel to gavel.”
“Forget volatile,’’ said legendary Hurricanes running backs coach Don Soldinger, 74, who grew to love Winslow during his playing days from 2001 through 2003 and reconnected with him in 2015 when Winslow received news that he would be inducted into the UM Sports Hall of Fame in 2016. “He was ELITE in capital letters. A great ballplayer, man. Great attitude. Always worked hard. Never in any trouble.
“Maybe it’s true, but it’s hard to believe. It just doesn’t sound like Kellen, doesn’t sound like the same person. I mean, I love the kid.’’
Winslow, 35, the former first-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns, 2003 Mackey Award winner as the best college tight end in America and son of Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow Sr., pleaded not guilty to 12 charges, including two alleged rapes last year, one alleged rape from when he was 19 and home on summer break from UM and several relatively recent alleged sex-related crimes involving middle-aged or elderly women.
The defense argued earlier this week that the sex was consensual and that Winslow — married in his early 20s to a childhood sweetheart, and the father of an 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter — had “cheated’’ on his wife “numerous times’’ but was not a rapist. “It was sex,” said Winslow’s attorney Brian Watkins. “No-strings-attached sex.
“It’s wrong, immoral, but it’s not illegal,’’ said Watkins, whose defense has painted Winslow as a victim of women who are out for money or just mistook his identity — unlike what many thought would be a defense that hinged on brain trauma or potential Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy (CTE) caused by years of physical pounding. “When you’re in the spotlight, people want things from you.’’
Five women are listed as victims. Winslow was arrested last year after authorities tied him to two alleged break-ins at the home of a 71-year-old woman and 86-year-old woman in Encinitas, California, his hometown north of San Diego. He also is accused of raping a 54-year-old hitchhiker — identified in the trial as Jane Doe No. 1 — 14 months ago in a shopping center parking lot and threatening to kill her if she told anyone. She reportedly refused to be examined but gave police the blood-stained pants and underwear she wore, and prosecutor Dan Owens said DNA tests found traces of Winslow’s semen. That woman misidentified Winslow during a two-day preliminary hearing last August. And in testimony Tuesday, she contradicted herself and included baffling statements describing the details of the alleged attack.
Winslow also is accused of raping a 59-year-old homeless woman (described as Jane Doe No. 2) in Encinitas in May 2018 after he pulled up in his black Hummer and said he would take her for some coffee, then drove awhile, pulled her out of the car and allegedly assaulted her while choking her and threatening her life.
Another woman (described as Jane Doe No. 4) accused Winslow of raping her at a house party when he was 19 and she was 17.
Yet another accuser (Jane Doe No. 3) is one of Winslow’s neighbors who said he pulled down his pants and exposed his erect penis to her last May while she was gardening, according to Owens, who said police found a backpack at his house that she had described, along with GPS information that tied him to the area of the alleged incident.
While he was out on $2 million bail, Winslow was arrested for lewd conduct after a 77-year-old woman said he exposed himself to her at a gym on two occasions this past February and masturbated in front of her in a hot tub, Owens said. He has been jailed without bail since then.
The trial is expect to last a few weeks.
Before his 10-year NFL career in which he earned nearly $40 million and had 5,236 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns for the Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New England Patriots and New York Jets, Winslow won a national championship ring as a freshman in 2001 for the Hurricanes. He played in another national title game after 2002 and left early after the 2003 season to become the sixth overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft. The 6-4, 240-pound phenom had 119 catches — the most ever by a UM tight end — for 1,365 yards, an 11.5-yards-per-catch average, and nine touchdowns.
Winslow, as a toddler, would shimmy into his San Diego Chargers jersey and helmet, his mom Katrina Ramsey told the Miami Herald in 2003, and line up his stuffed animals in formation before flat-out nailing them. In that story, he said he nicknamed himself “The Chosen One’’ during a UM summer workout. “I caught a pass,’’ he said, “and it was like a one-handed catch or something and I got really hyped up and was like, ‘Man I must be The Chosen One because nobody can catch like me.’’’
During his final year at Scripps Ranch High, Winslow was involved in a fight that prompted a $3 million civil suit that was settled but never publicly disclosed in detail because of a confidentiality agreement, according to the San Diego Union Tribune. The student Winslow attacked had medical expenses that approached $120,000, the Union-Tribune reported, per records filed by the student’s attorney.
Fast forward to 2013, Winslow’s final NFL season, when he was arrested in New Jersey after a woman said she saw him masturbating in a parked car. He was charged with possession of synthetic marijuana, according to the Associated Press, and “the charge was dropped after he completed court-ordered terms.’’
Despite his woes, Winslow was said to be a model teammate and coach’s dream, according to Soldinger, the UM assistant who also is a member of the UM Sports Hall of Fame, and some of his former UM teammates.
“He was No. 81 and I was 83,’’ said receiver Sinorice Moss, 34, now an actor in Los Angeles. “His locker was next to mine. We were super young then, guys trying to make it out of college. We were so full of football — football, football, football. We played for an amazing program and wanted to help the team in any way possible.
“He was intense, yeah. I think that came from the passion he had for playing the game. Kellen just wanted to dominate. He wanted to be the absolute best he could be. He showed that by staying late to catch more balls, watch more film.
“I’m really trying to wrap my mind around this as we speak.’’
Joaquin Gonzalez, who was the senior UM right tackle Winslow’s freshman year in ‘01, was also in his final year with the Browns when Winslow was an NFL rookie. The two were named to the same 2016 UM Hall of Fame class.
“I never saw that [negative] side of him,’’ Gonzalez said, explaining that Winslow was more “subdued’’ both years he played with him because he was a newcomer in each instance.
“There are two guys that stand out in my career at UM as being guys that were monsters just on their physiques alone,’’ Gonzalez said. “Kellen was one of them and Andre Johnson was the other. They were men amongst boys. ...One of them will eventually be an NFL Hall of Famer and the other one is in the predicament he’s in now.
“But Kellen Winslow had a personality and he was a funny guy and a great guy and a great teammate. He was driven, super motivated and a very hard worker. He had all the tools. But I think that kid had a lot of pressure because of his father.“
Former UM player Brock Berlin, a father of three and medical supplies representative in Shreveport, Louisiana, was Winslow’s quarterback in 2003. “Kellen was a great teammate and we had a lot of great memories,’’ Berlin said this week. “The guy was always working super hard and competing in everything he did. He was a fun guy to be around because he made you better. He made the guys around him better.
“I don’t know what happened. Obviously no one is guilty until proven guilty. I want what’s best for Kellen and his family. I loved him as a teammate, as a friend. All I can tell you is our prayers are with him and his family.”
None of the Hurricanes could say whether brain trauma has affected Winslow, though they wouldn’t rule it out. CTE cannot be diagnosed while someone is alive.
“Head trauma affects so many guys in so many ways,’’ Moss said. “We have injuries we’ve encountered from playing — headaches a large amount of time, joint function and everything else.’’
Larry Coker, Winslow’s head coach during his UM career, declined to elaborate about Winslow’s situation.
“I won’t comment on it,’’ Coker told the Herald. “It’s a very painful thing for his family, for sure.’’
In November 2003, after Winslow’s “soldier’’ rant, Coker temporarily benched Winslow for too many “extracurricular activities’’ on the field, such as several unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. “The bottom line is there’s some immaturity there,’’ Coker said back then. “He has to play within the parameters of the game and can’t get over the edge. Kellen is a great young man, but he has to keep that passion under wraps a little bit.’’
Soldinger, an avid cyclist, spent time with Winslow, also a cyclist, pedaling around Miami-Dade County in 2015 before Winslow was introduced with fellow future UM Hall of Famers during a football game. “He came in with his mother-in-law and wife and kid,’’ Soldinger said. “His wife was a doll. His mother-in-law was a doll. His kid was a doll. And Kellen was the perfect gentleman. He texted me thanking me and said he “loved every minute of it.’’
Soldinger said last June, when he heard about Winslow’s situation, he texted him. “Kellen... How are you doing,’’ Soldinger wrote. “I just heard you were in some kind of trouble. Doesn’t sound like something you’d do. Let me know if I can help you in any way. You’re a special guy with a great wife and family...’’
Soldinger never heard back.
“I just figured he might have changed his number.”
Gonzalez said he just hopes “it turns out well for Kellen.’’
“But at the end of the day,’’ Gonzalez said, “justice needs to be served. It sucks. You don’t want anybody you know and care about to end up like this.’’