O’Donnell named recipient of 2020 Armed Forces Merit Award

FORT WORTH, Texas — Bluefield College defensive lineman and military veteran Collin O’Donnell has been selected as the ninth recipient of Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA).

Collin O’Donnell

Coordinated by the staff at the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA was created in June 2012 “to honor an individual and/or a group within the realm of the sport of football.”

Brant Ringler, executive director of the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, and Doug Lesmerises, FWAA president, announced Wednesday during a teleconference that O’Donnell was selected from a list of 41 nominations (38 individuals and three programs) as the 2020 recipient by a nine-person committee made up of FWAA members and Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl officials.

“Collin has distinguished himself as a collegiate football player, an Army veteran and now as a businessman,” said Ringler. Lesmerises added “O’Donnell joins a list of remarkable individuals and programs that have been recipients of the Armed Forces Merit Award. With so many deserving individuals and programs, it is difficult to honor only one recipient annually.”

O’Donnell, who maintains a 3.4 grade point average. is a captain on the Bluefield College football team. In his first two seasons with the Rams, O’Donnell has compiled 34 total tackles in 15 games, including 16 unassisted stops. O’Donnell has 7.5 tackles for losses (19.5 yards), one quarterback sack (seven yards) and two passes broken up.

Serving in the U.S Army from 2013-2016, O’Donnell was injured in Afghanistan and after two years at Walter Reed National Military Medical Hospital and seven operations to save his foot, he fully rehabilitated and went back home to Buffalo, N.Y. where he began training with the sole intention of playing college football.

While at Walter Reed National Military Medical Hospital, O’Donnell was invited to the White House, where former President Barack Obama personally awarded him the Presidential Call to Service Award for his outstanding service to community.

Since arriving at Bluefield College in the Summer 2018, O’Donnell has demonstrated constant leadership to the Ram football team as well as service to the community.

  • O’Donnell received the 2019 Richmond Touchdown Club Man of the Year Award this past December, one of the highest honors a College football player in the state of Virginia can receive.
  • From his start in 2018 to spring 2019, O’Donnell volunteered at nearly every community service event that football has offered, as well as in his spare time.
  • In 2019, on Martin Luther King Day, O’Donnell and several players help pack food boxes at the Bluefield Mission for the local hungry people of Bluefield, Va. and W. Va.
  • In 2019. Collin took part in a local church organization – The Mercer County (W.Va.) Hunger Challenge to feed displaced Ugandan children, where he and his football teammates prepared more than 1,500 meal packages.
  • In the fall of 2019, O’Donnell took part in the Tazewell County Business Challenge for entrepreneurs seeking to open a new business. He proposed an extensive business plan and his idea for a coffee and bake shop located in downtown Bluefield, Va. O’Donnell won the small business grant and opened his Coffee and Bake shop called “The Grind” this past May 2020. The recorded town session for the business pitch is available on the Tazewell County (Va.) Business Challenge Facebook page, Collin presented second.
  • O’Donnell received Bluefield College’s 2019 Champion of Character award from the Mid-South Conference.

Armed Forces Merit Award

Army West Point coach and military service veteran Mike Viti was the 2019 recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA. A graduate of West Point, Viti is in his fifth seasons at the school’s fullback coach and co-founded Legacies Alive (LA), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

The mission of the Legacies Alive is to strengthen and support the Gold Star families of our nation’s fallen heroes and brings national awareness to the life and character of all service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Viti oversees the strategic and executive direction of the organization.

Other recipient include Nate Boyer of the University of Texas (2012), Brandon McCoy of the University of North Texas (2013), Daniel Rodriguez from Clemson University (2014), Bret Robertson of Westminster College (Fulton, Mo., 2015), Steven Rhodes from Middle Tennessee State University (2016) and Dr. Chris Howard from Robert Morris University (2018).

Boyer (long snapper), McCoy (defensive lineman), Rodriquez (wide receiver) and Robertson (defensive back) served in the Army before playing collegiate football. A Marine, Rhodes played four seasons at Middle Tennessee and participated in the 2013 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl with the school.

A 1991 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, Dr. Howard was a Rhodes Scholar and received the 1990 Campbell Trophy, the highest academic award in the nation presented to a senior college football player. A member of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee (2017-2019).

Kansas State and its football team were honored in November 2017 as the sixth recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA for the university’s partnership with the United States Army that created a bond between the school’s athletic department and the Iron Rangers at Fort Riley.

ESPN Events, a division of ESPN, owns and operates a portfolio of 35 collegiate sporting events nationwide. The roster includes four early-season college football games, 17 college bowl games, 11 college basketball events, a college softball event and two college award shows, which accounts for approximately 400 hours of live programming, reaches nearly 64 million viewers and attracts over 800,000 attendees each year. With satellite offices in more than 10 markets across the country, ESPN Events builds relationships with conferences, schools and local communities, as well as providing unique experiences for teams and fans. For more information, visit the official website, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube pages.

The Football Writers Association of America (FWAA, http://www.sportswriters.net) consists of the men and women across North America who cover college football for a living. Founded in 1941, the membership includes journalists, broadcasters and publicists, as well as key executives in all the areas that involve the game. The FWAA works to govern areas that include game day operations, major awards and an All-America team. Through its website, the FWAA works to improve communication among all those who work within the game. The FWAA also sponsors scholarships for aspiring writers and an annual writing contest. Behind the leadership of President Matt Fortuna of The Athletic, Executive Director Steve Richardson and a board of veteran journalists, the FWAA continues grow and work to help college football prosper at all levels. There are now over 1,400 members.

Bluefield College is a Baptist liberal arts college in Bluefield, Virginia. Founded in 1922 with an enrollment over 1,000, Bluefield College offers 22 majors with bachelor and master’s degree offered. Nestled in the scenic Appalachian Mountains, Bluefield College’s 82-acre campus is about 150 feet from the state line between Virginia and West Virginia.

Media Contacts

  • Tim Simmons, Armed Forces Merit Award Coordinator, 720/244-6580, bfishinc@aol.com
  • Steve Richardson, Football Writers Association of America, 214/870-6516, tiger@fwaa.com
  • Drew Harris, Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, 254/716-8573, drew@firstpitchpr.com
  • Bob Redd, Bluefield College, 276/326-4342, rredd@bluefield.edu