Outland Trophy History: offensive tackle Andre Smith, Alabama, 2008 recipient Reply

This is the third in a series of stories on Outland Trophy winners from 2006-2020.  From 1946-2005, the first 60 Outland Trophy winners were profiled in the book 60 Years of the Outland Trophy by Gene Duffey. In celebration of the Outland Trophy’s 75th Anniversary we are catching up with the last 15 recipients.

(Andre Smith became Alabama’s second Outland Trophy recipient when he anchored the offensive line of a 12-2 Alabama team that lost in the SEC title game to Florida and fell to Utah in the Sugar Bowl. He then was selected No. 6 overall in the 2009 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. Besides the Bengals, Smith has played for Minnesota, Arizona and will suit up for a third season for Baltimore this coming fall.)    

By Gene Duffey, Author

Andre Smith’s career at running back could best be described as brief.

He first played football in fifth grade for the Pinson Valley Youth Club in Birmingham, Alabama. He played in the Unlimited Division, facing guys two and three years older. Because of his size, even at that age, Smith was destined to be a lineman. “I was bigger than most people,” he said. “I took it as a positive.”

Smith played for championship teams in Youth leagues and Little League. During one blowout win, he lined up at running back.

“I carried the ball one time and I fumbled,” he remembered. “They had the scrubs in (on the line). I got hit really hard.”

Back to the line.

Smith did well on the defensive line. He collected several quarterback hurries and tackles for losses. But it never quite felt like home.

“I liked offense way more,” he said. “With offense you have the element of surprise.”

Smith helped his middle school teams win titles in seventh and eighth grade, but didn’t get carried away with the success. “I just sat back and chilled,” he said.

When he started on the offensive line as a freshman at Huffman High School in Birmingham college coaches started to notice.

Huffman Coach Curtis Coleman soon began hearing from the recruiters.

“College coaches thought I was a senior when I was a freshman,” said Smith. “They would inquire about me.”

“He’s just a stinking freshman,” Coleman told them.

Huffman won a key game against J.O. Johnson High School in September 2004, Smith’s junior year. Smith literally knocked over the opposition, credited with 18 pancake blocks.

Andre Smith

The game was played two days after Hurricane Ivan struck Alabama, the year before Katrina devastated New Orleans. The hurricane hit Gulf Shores, Alabama as a Category 3. Twenty-five people in the U.S. were killed and total damage was estimated at over $14 billion.

Smith received only modest reviews from the people who count the most. “My coaches told me, ‘Great game,’” he recalled. “That was it. I guess they didn’t want it going to my head.”

Huffman’s teams never enjoyed the type of success that Smith achieved in youth football and middle school. Huffman went 6-5 his freshman year, 7-4 as a sophomore and 6-5 again his junior and senior seasons.

Smith’s team received more notoriety in basketball. Huffman reached the state finals with a team that included Stanley Robinson, who was on his way to Connecticut, and Demant Jimerson, who played basketball at Alabama.

Nationally, everyone knew Andre Smith, the football player.  A 6-foot-4, 325-pound high school offensive lineman became extremely popular.

Rivals.com rated him the fourth best prospect in the country in 2006, ahead of such future starts as Clemson’s C.J. Spiller and Florida’s Tim Tebow.

Everyone in the state of Alabama must take sides. You have to root for the Auburn Tigers or the Crimson Tide.  Smith was more of an Auburn fan, particularly in 2004.

Coach Tommy Tuberville’s Tigers ripped through the ’04 season undefeated, beating Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game and edging Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl to earn a No. 2 national ranking, behind only USC.

Despite the excitement of Auburn’s perfect season in Smith’s junior year of high school, he approached recruiting with an open mind.

“I was 50/50 when (Auburn) played Alabama,” he admitted.

Smith’s parents helped Andre, the oldest of four children, with recruiting.

Andre Sr., who played defensive end and tight end in high school, owned his own business. His mother worked for the government. They stressed education.   

“My Mom and Dad handled everything,” he said of the recruiting process. “I didn’t have to talk to coaches every night.”

Smith made official visits to Florida, LSU, Miami (Florida) and USC, as well as Alabama.

He flew to Los Angeles to see Pete Carroll’s Trojans for his first visit. “I wanted to commit to USC right then,” he said. “It was so different. My Mom said, ‘No. You have to make your other visits.’ ”

He eventually decided that USC was too far from home and would cost his parents too much to fly to Los Angeles to see him play.

Smith continued to be popular with SEC schools. One day LSU’s Les Miles, Florida’s Urban Meyer and Alabama’s Mike Shula were outside Smith’s house, waiting to talk with him.

“Rumors had it that I was already going to Alabama, so they kind of backed off, which I understood,” Smith said of LSU and Miami.
 Alabama was coming off a 10-2 season in 2005, including a Cotton Bowl victory over Texas Tech. Tuscaloosa was only an hour away from Birmingham and Smith liked Shula.

“Coach Shula was a great guy,” he said. “We had a little connection. The same day I signed, he had his second daughter. He said he got two gifts in one day.”

Antoine Caldwell, another offensive lineman, was Smith’s host on his official visit to Alabama.

Caldwell, who went on to be a third-round pick by the Houston Texans, did his homework on recruits.

“I had watched film on him,” Caldwell said of Smith. “I knew he would be something else. He was dominating, which I guess is what you’re supposed to do when you’re that big. He was so quiet. He didn’t want to do anything. Real soft-spoken.”

The nice guy personality that Smith projected belied his fierceness in football.

“You have to be a different person for the position of offensive line,” he said. “You have to have that mean streak in you, or your quarterback is going to get hit, or your running back is going to get hit. I was always a competitor.” 

Smith quickly broke into the starting lineup at Alabama. By the third day of camp he became the starting left tackle. “It was a little surprising they threw me in the fire so fast,” he said. “I adjusted really well. At least that’s what they told me.”

He knew everyone was watching. Being the most high-profile recruit in the class from a nearby city, people wanted to know if he had the talent to match the hype. There were doubters.

“Am I going to be a ‘bust?’ ” Smith knew people were thinking. “That’s the devil trying to play with you. Am I going to be an embarrassment to the university?”

Alabama opened the 2006 season at home against Hawaii and won by a mere 25-17, a harbinger of the problems ahead for Shula. Smith was headed in the right direction, the Tide wasn’t.

“I did really well,” Smith said of his game against Hawaii. “I didn’t give up a sack. I was going against a defensive end (Ikaika Alama-Francis) who got drafted in the second round. You were going against guys just as big and just as strong as you are. After the first two plays I knew I was going to be all right.”

Caldwell started at center with Smith at left tackle.

“From the day he showed up, he was an incredible athlete,” said Caldwell. “Watching him grow up was awesome to see. To be that big. He was overweight when he came in–345, 350. He worked his tail off and got down to around 330. It was amazing seeing him work every day. He had real nimble feet for a guy that size. He was unbelievable. He was the best offensive lineman I’d ever been around, ever played with, ever seen at the college level.

“We were real close. We spent a lot of time together. He was a normal, mild-mannered guy. He really didn’t talk too much. When we got together, we had a great time. He’d go out, hang out some. Never a trouble maker. He was one of the best kids I’ve been around.”

Smith was doing very well for a true freshman. Alabama wasn’t. After winning its first three games, the ship began to sink. The Tide finished 6-6 in the regular season and 2-6 in conference play.

The year ended with a loss to Oklahoma State in the Independence Bowl. So did Mike Shula’s career as coach at Alabama.

 Shula’s dismissal saddened Smith. But better times were ahead when Alabama turned to Nick Saban.

“I was really happy Coach Saban got the job,” said Smith. “That’s the best thing that happened to me as far as football. He’s just so passionate about the game. At first things were different. He just demanded the best. (The offense) wasn’t that much of a change.”

That first season under Saban proved to be a bit choppy. Alabama finished with four straight losses, including a shocker to Louisiana-Monroe at home. At least the Tide won the Independence Bowl this time, beating Colorado.

The following spring Smith could see something good beginning to happen.

“We felt like we were going to be really successful,” he said. “Since then everything was roses.”

Smith was right. Alabama went 12-0 in the regular season, ending its six-game losing streak against hated Auburn with a resounding 36-0 victory.

Alabama boasted maybe the best offensive line in the country. Joining Smith and Caldwell were guard Michael Johnson, drafted by Atlanta in the third round in 2010, and Marlon Davis, who spent time in the New York Jets’ camp.

Florida finally stopped Alabama, 31-20, in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta, then went on to win the national championship.

“That was disappointing,” Smith said of the loss to the Gators. “We didn’t execute on both sides of the ball. I was happy for (Florida winning the national title), because they represented the SEC.”

Winning the Outland Trophy didn’t change Smith’s personality.

“A lot of times with success, sometimes they tend to get into more stuff, a little trouble here and there,” Caldwell said. “With the amount of attention that (Smith) got, and his success he had, he never really got into that.”

After losing to Florida, Alabama was sent to the Sugar Bowl to face Utah. Bad matchup. The fact that Smith wasn’t allowed to play made it worse.

Saban suspended Smith just a couple of days before the Sugar Bowl. No official reason was given. There were rumors that Smith had dealings with an agent. Smith denied it.

“It had nothing to do with an agent,” he insisted. “That’s just people throwing stuff against the wall. It’s in the past. It’s over with. I love Coach Saban and the University of Alabama.”      

Utah jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and whipped the Tide, 31-17.

Javier Arenas returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter to slice Utah’s lead to 21-10 by halftime. But Alabama never caught up.     

Smith’s absence was quite evident.

“You spend a month preparing for a bowl game with him there, then you find out he’s not going to be there, that was definitely tough,” said Caldwell. “We found out a day or two days before that he wasn’t going to be able to play. We did (miss him). After the first drive, our left guard, Michael Johnson, went down with a high ankle sprain. We were playing with two freshmen off the bench.”

Smith watched the game on TV at home.

“It was extremely hard (watching),” he said. “I was excited when we scored, when Javier took it back. I didn’t focus on whether they missed me. I missed them. I just wanted Alabama to win.”

After only three years of college, Cincinnati took Smith in the first round of the 2009 draft, the sixth pick overall.

Smith, who took courses in the summer, left school only 15 hours short of his degree in finance. He credited academic advisor John Dever and his staff for keeping him on his pace.

“As a high school guy you dream about going three years,” said Smith. “I want to be an entrepreneur, own my own business, own property, get involved in real estate.”

He took a wiser-than-many attitude into the NFL.

“It’s a means for me,” he said of pro football. “I wanted to do something in life I love. What better way to get paid.”

FWAA selects ‘Super 11’ sports information departments for 2020 season Reply

Cotton, Rose bowls and San José State earn special mention as well

DALLAS – The 2020 college football season was unprecedented in the modern era with the effects of COVID-19 disrupting the schedule and forcing sports information departments to alter the ways they conducted business. In an effort to reflect the trying situations, the Football Writers Association of America is honoring departments and individuals who stood out in their performances in getting the job done and others who were nominated by FWAA media members for strong access.

Four first-time recipients – Boston College, North Carolina, Penn State and West Virginia – are included in the 12th Annual Super 11 Awards, which the FWAA gives out annually to the best performing sports information departments in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision.

2020 SUPER 11: Appalachian State, Boston College, Clemson, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas State, Kentucky, Nebraska, North Carolina, Penn State, West Virginia
SPECIAL MERIT: San José State, Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, Rose Bowl Game
COACH OF THE YEAR: T
om Allen, Indiana

The FWAA is also issuing Special Merit Awards to the media information staffs of the Cotton and Rose bowls for their efforts in hosting the Rose Bowl Game in Arlington, Texas, when it had to be moved from Pasadena because of health restrictions in California.

Likewise, San José State receives a Merit Award. The Spartans’ winding road to a banner season included scheduling summer conditioning and preseason workouts around the impacts of climate change, unhealthy air quality index readings and the Northern California wildfires; training 325 miles away from home less than three weeks before the start of the abbreviated season; and providing media services as a host SID in football facilities without spectators at home in San José and in Nevada at Las Vegas’ Sam Boyd Stadium based on local, county and state COVID-19 protocols.

In addition, for the third straight year the FWAA presented a Super 11 Coach of the Year Award. The 2020 recipient is Indiana’s Tom Allen, who granted outstanding access to his program. The Indiana sports information department was also named to the Super 11.

As for the other 10 schools, Penn State was an early leader in virtual access via Zoom calls and continued throughout the season. Similarly, Appalachian State, Boston College, Clemson, Colorado, Kansas State, Kentucky, Nebraska, North Carolina and West Virginia were strong in access to players and coaches.

Colorado’s staff was particularly helpful in helping CoSIDA lay down guidelines for press boxes in 2020 as well as making its FWAA Freshman Coach of the Year Karl Dorrell available. Clemson was lauded for its handling of Trevor Lawrence’s campaign for social justice as well as general transparency on other issues involving the football team.

“This (2020) was a different kind of year, obviously,” FWAA Executive Director Steve Richardson said. “We tried to honor schools who went the extra mile in player and coach access remotely in most cases or to help writers in a scrambled season.”

Clemson and Colorado each won for an eighth time. It was Clemson’s sixth straight award and Colorado’s seventh award in eight seasons.

FWAA members who covered college football during the 2020 season provided input. The FWAA’s Press Operations Survey of writers also was beneficial.

In January 2009, the FWAA began the Super 11 Awards. The concept has been supported and endorsed by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA), many of whom are members of the FWAA. The FWAA has now awarded Super 11 to 74 different schools in the 12 years of the program.

The Football Writers Association of America, a non-profit organization founded in 1941, consists of more than 1,300 men and women across North America who cover college football for a living. 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, a national poll and its annual All-America teams. For more information about the FWAA and its award programs, contact Executive Director Steve Richardson at tiger@fwaa.com or 214-870-6516.

Related link:
• Super 11 Awards (including complete selection criteria)

Outland Tropy history: Defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, LSU, 2007 recipient Reply

This is the second in a series of stories on Outland Trophy winners from 2006-2020.  From 1946-2005, the first 60 of Outland Trophy winners were profiled in the book 60 Years of the Outland Trophy by Gene Duffey. In celebration of the Outland Trophy’s 75th Anniversary we are catching up with the last 15 recipients.  

(Defensive Tackle Glenn Dorsey was the FWAA’s second All-America who claimed both the Nagurski and Outland trophies in the same season. The LSU star was selected fifth overall in the 2008 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. He played five seasons for the Chiefs and four for the San Francisco 49ers. He will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame later this year (2021).  

By Gene Duffey, Author

Glenn Dorsey was not born to be a great athlete. In fact, he wasn’t born to be an athlete at all.

When other kids started playing games, Dorsey could only watch. He couldn’t run. He even had trouble walking. Dorsey, who would win the Outland Trophy as a defensive tackle at LSU in 2007, wanted to join the fun.

“I had a lot of energy,” he said. But he couldn’t do anything with it. “I had to sit on the porch and watch everybody else run around and play hide-and-go-seek.

“I was extremely bow legged. My toes pointed at each other. They made some special type of braces to straighten my legs.”

His mother, Sandra, knew the problem with her son’s legs was only temporary. “I knew he’d be able to do the normal things,” she said. “I just didn’t think he’d be able to accomplish what he did.”

Dorsey wore leg braces for two years. It only made him more determined to catch up – and pass – the other kids when he finally started running.

“I think that helped me become the person I am today, having adversity at a young age,” he said. “I wanted to show the whole world, you can’t let anything get you down.”

When Dorsey began running, there was little doubt in which direction he would go. All the males in his family played sports. “Football is a tradition in my family,” he said.

Dorsey’s father, Glenn Sr., played football in high school. But he grew up in a huge family, which limited his opportunities in sports. When Glenn Sr.’s mother had to take in her sister’s kids, putting 18 children under one roof, Glenn Sr. gave up football to help take care of the younger kids.

Glenn Jr. couldn’t wait to play football. His cousin, Jason Delmore, had played fullback and nose guard at LSU in 1987. Glenn wanted to be just like him.

His first opportunity to play organized football happened in first grade, playing guard for the St. Amant Wildcats. Unfortunately, the Wildcats weren’t very wild. Dorsey almost never played and the team didn’t win a game. It proved to be an inauspicious introduction to his favorite sport.

Next year the team and Dorsey improved dramatically. The Wildcats went undefeated and won their version of the Super Bowl. Dorsey, playing fullback and linebacker, was named MVP. He scored a two-point conversion and intercepted a pass.

Several years later Dorsey watched a tape of that championship game. “Watching back on film, I didn’t block anybody,” he laughed. “Man, what was I doing?”

Dorsey soon began playing against older kids because of weight limits.

There were tough times in the family. Glenn became close with an uncle, Daniel Douglas, his father’s brother.

Douglas was a big man and a body builder. He used to take Glenn to the gym with him and back to his house for ice cream. Douglas died Christmas Eve 1989 in an explosion at the Exxon refinery in Baton Rouge.  Glenn was 4 at the time.

“It was the first time I ever saw my father cry,” said Glenn. “It was hard on (my Dad). But we pulled together as a family.”

Dorsey attended East Ascension High School, his Dad’s alma mater. School came as easily to him as football.

“School was fun,” he said. “I always enjoyed going to school. My Mom never had a problem waking me up. Every day was an adventure.”

“He was always asking a lot of questions,” recalled Sandra Dorsey. “He needed to know everything.”

Dorsey played on the junior varsity as a freshman at East Ascension, lining up at guard and center on offense and nose guard on defense. He even kicked off and kicked field goals.

By his sophomore season at East Ascension, Dorsey stood 5-11, weighed 260 pounds with solid legs. He started at defensive tackle on the varsity.

His junior year proved to be a disappointment. His team went 5-5, losing several close games, often on missed extra points. That turned around his senior year. East Ascension went 10-2, losing in the state quarterfinals.

When Dorsey began following college football he quickly developed into a Florida State fan. He liked Charlie Ward, who won the Heisman Trophy and quarterbacked the Seminoles to the national championship in 1993.

He liked fullback Pooh Bear Williams and halfback Warrick Dunn, who was from Baton Rouge.

By his junior year of high school, the recruiting letters began piling up at the Dorsey home. His interest in Florida State had begun to wane.

“All the guys I liked at Florida State had left,” he said. “LSU was doing some great things. I’m kind of a homebody. I didn’t want to move away from my family. I’d be playing for my state, in my hometown. LSU was one of the top programs in the country, and it was right in my backyard.”

LSU won the national championship in 2003, beating Oklahoma, 21-14, in the championship game.

Dorsey committed to the Tigers in his junior year. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Michigan, Michigan State and most of the SEC schools tried to recruit him. But LSU was the only official visit he made.

“I probably should have taken some other visits just for fun,” he said. “But it was LSU, LSU. I didn’t really give anybody else a chance.”

LSU coach Nick Saban visited Dorsey at East Ascension. “I was so nervous, the Nick Saban, the big-time coach,” said Dorsey. “He offered me a scholarship the next morning.”

Dorsey arrived at LSU as one of the big names in the recruiting class, which didn’t give him much clout with Saban.

“He was a real intense guy,” said Dorsey. “He never sugar coated anything. He got me a lot of times. They threw me in with the second team right away. I’d mess up and he’d get on me. How does he expect me to know this stuff? He was the Commander in Chief. But he’s a great coach, a great leader.”

Dorsey made an immediate impact for the Tigers. In the first quarter of the opener against Oregon State, in the rain, Dorsey forced a fumble on his very first collegiate play.

“This is cool,” he thought. “I can get used to this. But I knew there was a lot of hard work to be done. I made a lot of mistakes. Coach Saban’s defense was so complicated, we had so many checks. Every game was tough, there was so much I had to learn. Watching film wasn’t fun the next day.”

When Saban left for the NFL after the season, LSU hired Les Miles from Oklahoma State to replace him.

The choice of Miles thrilled Dorsey. Miles had tried to recruit him out of high school. “It was like a reunion,” he said. “He’s kind of a player’s coach. He’s not going to come up and curse you out, but he gets his point across.”

Miles even instituted a Unity Council for the players. “He changed things because of what we said,” said Dorsey.

Dorsey started only one game his sophomore season. But he played behind two excellent defensive tackles in Kyle Williams and Claude Wroten, both of whom went on to play in the NFL.

In the third game of the season Dorsey made nine tackles in a 37-7 victory at Mississippi State. “It let me know I could do some things here,” he said. 

Williams and Wroten were gone by the then. Dorsey became a junior and Bo Pelini had arrived as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator. It didn’t take Pelini long to realize he had a special player at defensive tackle.

“About practice one,” said Pelini, who went on to become the coach at Nebraska. “Just the way he went about his business, his explosion. Obviously, he had the physical attributes. But just the way he carried himself. How he practiced. He never took a play off. Dorsey’s work ethic was second to none.”

Dorsey became an instant leader as a junior. “It was natural,” he said. “Everybody looked up to me in high school. I was forced into the position. I embraced it. I learned from two great guys (Williams and Wroten).”

“It comes from with inside the heart,” Pelini said of Dorsey.
“He’s a tremendous inspirational guy to all his teammates. Everybody rallies around him. He loves to play football. It’s fun for him. He likes what he’s doing and it’s contagious. He’s a special guy. He’s a throwback. I’ve never heard him complain about anything.

“He’s a guy you didn’t have to worry about in the classroom. The last three years he’s been special. He’ll be successful in anything he does. It’s gentlemen like him that makes you want to coach. He’ll be a part of my family forever.”

Dorsey developed an affinity for playing at Tiger Stadium.

“I loved it,” he said. “Our fans are superb. It’s an unbelievable feeling, like no other. It’s a rush. That’s what makes playing for LSU so special. I wish I had the opportunity to go through the whole tailgating thing. Friday morning we’d see (the fans) putting up the tents.”  

Dorsey could have left for the NFL after his junior year. Undoubtedly, he would have been drafted in the first round. Wisely, he decided to come back for his senior season.

“It wasn’t that tough (a decision),” he said. “I talked to my parents, a lot of guys, I prayed about it. Even when I got hurt early in the season, I never second guessed myself. I loved the college experience.”

His mother seconded Dorsey’s decision.

“We talked about it a long time,” said Sandra. “I wanted him to stay, get an education, enjoy it and mature a little more. I have faith and believe things work out for the best.”

They did.

LSU lost two games in 2007, Dorsey’s senior year, both in triple overtime. Somehow the Tigers still managed to qualify for the BCS title game and beat Ohio State, 38-24, to win the national championship at the Louisiana Superdome.

“The whole week was unbelievable,” said Dorsey. “The city of New Orleans embraced us. I was 100 percent. I got to run around like myself.”

In the eighth game of the season, against Auburn, Dorsey said he had injured his knee when hit by a chop block. “It scared me more than anything,” he said. “All this can be taken away from you.”

Fortunately for Dorsey, the Tigers had a bye the next week before facing Alabama. “I probably shouldn’t have played, but I’m stubborn,” he said. “I was basically playing on one leg. I was in pain the whole time, but it was all worth it in the end.”

LSU beat Alabama, 41-34.

Dorsey couldn’t take watching from the sideline. He had been hurt in camp and again against Middle Tennessee in the third game of the season, an easy 44-0 LSU victory. To avoid the risk of further injury, Pelini pulled him from the game.

“He kept fighting and fighting to get back on the field,” recalled Pelini. “I told him, ‘Glenn, you’re done for the day.’ ” Later in the game a trainer suggested to Pelini that they take him out of the game. Pelini told the trainer that Dorsey was already out of the game and wouldn’t be going back. The trainer pointed to Dorsey – who was still on the field.

“Coach, I just wanted one more series,” Dorsey explained to Pelini

The knee bothered him the rest of the regular season, but he was ready to go for the national championship game. The Tigers started slowly. Ohio State’s Beanie Wells broke off a 65-yard touchdown run on the first possession of the game. “We got caught up in the wrong defense,” said Dorsey.

LSU didn’t make many mistakes after that.

“We didn’t make any dumb penalties,” said Dorsey. “Everybody was bragging on the Ohio State defense. Our offense moved the ball up and down the field. (After the game) I just went numb. To call yourself national champions. To go down in school history.”

Dorsey said he didn’t sleep at all that night, partying with his family in the French Quarter.

A few months later the Kansas City Chiefs drafted Dorsey with the fifth pick in the first round.

Submit your entries to the FWAA Best Writing Contest; less than a month remains until deadline

FWAA members can submit entries in the 2020 Best Writing Contest until July 1.

CATEGORIES

  • Game Story (Immediate Deadline)
  • Feature Story/Profile
  • Enterprise/Investigative
  • Column/Analysis/Commentary

In addition, we have created the Beat Writer of the Year Award for the top beat writer as judged by a special FWAA committee headed by FWAA board member Mark Blaudschun of The Media Guides. See separate nomination/entry procedure below.

BEST WRITING CONTEST RULES

You must be an FWAA member in good standing to enter.

Deadline: July 1, 2021. Entries sent after the deadline WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED.

Limit: One (1) article per category, although a series of articles may be submitted in the enterprise category.

Entries must have appeared in print or on line between Feb. 1, 2020, and Jan. 31, 2021.

Entries must be submitted electronically to contest@fwaa.com. Entries not sent to this e-mail address will not be accepted.

Send MS Word or text files only. DO NOT SEND HTML files, Word Perfect files, stories in other word processing software or links to stories on the Internet or electronic libraries.

Make your entry easy to read by taking out unnecessary carriage returns (They can give your entry an odd look when opened by a judge’s word processing program).

Delete any embedded advertising, photos and cutlines from the files (The file should contain only your story and your identifying information).

At the top of each entry, the following information should be included:

  • Writer(s)
  • Publication or online service
  • Category
  • Date of publication
  • E-mail address and telephone number for the writer(s) of the entry.

The entries will be sorted and stripped of identifying information and forwarded to the judge(s).

Files containing your entries should follow this naming convention: yourname-category.doc

The category must be one of these four words: Game, Feature, Enterprise or Column

Example: KenStephens-game.doc.

Questions on the Best Writing Contest? E-mail Ken Stephens at ken.stephens@sbcglobal.net.

FWAA BEAT WRITER OF THE YEAR AWARD

If you have a nomination of a beat writer who covers major college football (either a team or a conference) or you want to nominate yourself, please send an e-mail/letter explaining the qualifications of the person (no more than 250 words) to:

Mark Blaudschun
TMG Sports
497 Country Way
Scituate. MA 02066
blauds@aol.com
Cell: 617-758-9011

Mark and his committee will then make inquiries into the FWAA members nominated. In order to qualify for this award the person nominated must have been an FWAA member during the 2020 football season.

Outland Trophy history: Offensive tackle Joe Thomas, Wisconsin, 2006 recipient

This is the first in a series of stories on Outland Trophy winners from 2006-2020.  From 1946-2005, the first 60 of Outland Trophy winners were profiled in the book 60 Years of the Outland Trophy by Gene Duffey. In celebration of the Outland Trophy’s 75th Anniversary we are catching up with the last 15 recipients.  

(Offensive Tackle Joe Thomas played 11 seasons in the National Football League (2007-2017) – ­all with the Cleveland Browns. Considered one of the best linemen in college and NFL history, Thomas went to the Pro Bowl 10 times before retiring following the 2017 season. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2019.)  

By Gene Duffey, Author

Wisconsin was rolling again during the 2006 football season. The Badgers, after a loss at Michigan, had ripped Indiana 52-17 on the road.

Offensive tackle Joe Thomas, who would win the Outland Trophy that year, and his teammates were in a good mood returning to Madison. He shared a house with two other players, cornerback Ben Strickland and deep snapper Steve Johnson.

The trio had been teammates in high school at Brookfield, Wis., about an hour away. The fourth member of their group, Luke Homan, had gone to Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he played basketball for two years, then transferred to Wisconsin-La Crosse.

It was the last weekend of September. There had been an Oktoberfest party in La Crosse and the three Wisconsin players received word that Homan was missing.

“Nobody had heard from him,” said Thomas. “We went up there Sunday morning and spent the whole day looking for him.”

By Sunday night the police brought in the dogs to search for Homan. They traced his scent to the river.

“It kind of hit you,” said Thomas. The three buddies would never see their close friend again. Monday morning police divers found Homan’s body in the river.

Homan and Thomas lived only five minutes apart in Brookfield. They attended different schools but began playing on the same basketball team in third grade. Homan’s father was their coach.

“Losing such a good friend at such a young age was tough,” said Thomas. “I’d never gone through tragedy in my life. (Luke) was an only child. I was close with his parents.”

The funeral was Thursday. Wisconsin’s coaches understood how hard   Homan’s death hit Thomas. They allowed their All-American left tackle to practice only one day that week in preparing for the game with Northwestern.

Saturday provided Thomas with a little relief. For a few hours he was able to focus on football. Wisconsin won, 41-9. The games the rest of the season allowed him to keep everything together.

“It was a great way to get your mind off (Homan’s death) and refocus,” said Thomas.

Virtually everything else went right for Joe Thomas in 2006. Wisconsin never lost again after the Michigan game, concluding the season 12-1 by beating Arkansas in the Citrus Bowl.

Thomas dominated the Big Ten opponents who lined up across from him.

“There is not going to be another Joe Thomas, so you better appreciate him while you’ve got him,” said Paul Chryst, then Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator and now its head coach. “To never have to worry about that side (of the line).”

Joe Thomas, Wisconsin

Getting ready for that senior year took some extra effort by Thomas. He suffered a torn ACL in a bowl victory over Auburn at the end of his junior year – playing defense!

Wisconsin lost two defensive ends before the bowl and desperately needed help at the position. Thomas volunteered.

He had played defensive end in high school and actually started there as a true freshman in the Music City Bowl, also against Auburn. Now, two years later, he was back on the defensive side of the ball.

“I practiced about 10 plays every day on defense,” he said. “It came natural. It was so much fun during one-on-one pass rushes, going against my offensive linemates.”

The Badgers used Thomas on offense and defense in the bowl game.

“I had some good plays and was really getting excited about playing defense again,” he said. “About the sixth play (on defense) I was pursuing Kenny Irons. I had to stop and kind of veer. I felt my knee go a way my knee never went before.”

Thomas was done for the day. But Wisconsin won 24-10.

A doctor told him it was probably a torn ACL in the right knee. He watched the rest of the game propped up against a big trunk with ice on the knee. “I tried to cheer on my teammates,” he said. “Eric VandenHeuvel (a true freshman) came in and played great for me.”

Thomas underwent surgery Jan. 19 and rehabbed 2 ½-3 hours a day. He had competed for the track team, throwing the shot and discus, his first two years at Wisconsin. He missed both track season and spring practice that year, working his knee back into shape.

“It was long, but wasn’t that hard,” he said of the rehab process. “I treated it like practices. There were a few tough days. In the middle I was kind of frustrated.”

“There were a lot of unknowns,” Chryst said of Thomas’ injury. “He had to go through a lot of rehabbing. Nothing Joe does surprises you.”

When fall camp started in August, Thomas was ready to play, although he usually sat out the afternoon workout during two-a-days. “I was full go in the scrimmages,” he said.

Thomas inherited some of his football talent from his father, Eric, who had played in high school but had his career ended by a knee injury.

Joe first tried organized football in seventh grade, starting out as a fullback. He moved to defensive end and tight end for eighth grade.  

He never played offensive tackle until his senior year at Central High in Brookfield.  

“The natural position for me was always defensive end,” he said. “I was good at defense from the beginning. It took me a while to learn offense. I got a lot of passes at tight end.”

Although he hadn’t yet found a home at offensive tackle, everyone from USC to Miami began recruiting Thomas his junior year. “By (then) I knew football was going to be my ticket,” he said.

Coaches liked his athleticism. Thomas also played basketball in high school and became an all-state selection.

“He was a high profile recruit,” said Chryst. “You knew he was a heck of a basketball player, phenomenal in track. But to achieve what he did (in football), I don’t think you put that on any kid.”

Thomas took official visits to Virginia Tech, Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas, as well as Wisconsin. He made two unofficial visits to Notre Dame.

“At the beginning I was sold on going away to college,” he said.

When decision time neared, Thomas figured it would be Wisconsin or Notre Dame. He had grown up a Badgers fan.

The Wisconsin coaches believed that Thomas could be an outstanding offensive tackle. But they weren’t going to lose him based on position.

“We want you to come here and want you to play tight end, defensive end, offensive tackle, wherever you want to play,” they told him. Thomas was like the gorilla who turns into a house pet. He can sleep anywhere he wants.

Track still factored into the equation.

He competed in the shot put and discus his first two years at Wisconsin, part of the deal when he was recruited. “I missed quite a few spring practices and meetings,” said Thomas. But he finished second in the in the shot at the Big Ten Indoor and Outdoor Meets as a sophomore.

“Joe’s extremely bright,” said Chryst. “He could see through a lot of the recruiting BS. He wanted to compete in track and football. (Coach Barry) Alvarez and the track coach worked out a schedule for him ahead of time (so that he could play both sports). Joe knew it was a good fit for him.”

Thomas began his college career working out as an offensive tackle.

He practiced there most of his freshman year. He played a little that season, occasionally pulling a No. 82 jersey over his regular No. 72 so that he could line up as a second tight end in Wisconsin’s Jumbo Offense.

“He never redshirted,” said Bret Bielema, who became the Wisconsin head coach for Thomas’ senior season. “He was a natural guy.”

Starting defensive end Darius Jones was injured in the last game of the regular season in 2003, Thomas’ freshman year. The Badgers backups weren’t very big and they needed help on the defensive line to face Auburn in the Music City Bowl. Thomas moved to the other side of the ball.

“In high school I was a really good at defensive end,” he said. “I went over for a practice and was kind of an instant hit.” 

Thomas started the bowl game and made seven tackles, but the Badgers couldn’t stop Auburn running backs Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams. Wisconsin lost, 28-14.

He returned to offense in the spring and started at left tackle in the opener of his sophomore year against Central Florida.

“I was the rookie,” he said. “Dan Buenning was the left guard and he was my mentor. ‘Don’t worry kid, I’ll tell you what to do,’ ” Buenning told him.

“I did play pretty well,” Thomas said of the opener, a 34-6 Wisconsin victory. “I didn’t make any big mistakes or give up any sacks.”

Soon the coaches realized they had somebody special at left tackle.

“People said it, but I don’t know if I believed it,” said Thomas. “I never believed the hype.”

Wisconsin fielded an outstanding front four at the time, led by defensive end Erasmus James, a finalist for the 2004 Lombardi Trophy. All four of the defensive linemen went on to the NFL. “I got to practice against those guys every day and it really elevated my game,” said Thomas.

The Badgers finished the season 9-2 and faced Georgia in the Outback Bowl. Thomas lined up against David Pollack, the Bulldogs’ All-American defensive end.

“I knew all the awards he was up for that year,” said Thomas. “I really made it a point to study him. I played outstanding. By the end of the (first) half they moved him to the other side because I was handling him.”

Georgia won, but Thomas was anything but a loser.

He started every game at left tackle as a junior in 2005. He was told before the bowl game that he would probably be one of the top 10 players taken in NFL Draft, if he considered leaving college a year early.

“His junior year you knew he was an elite athlete,” said Chryst. “He was obviously gifted, but he was a hard worker with competitive desire. He’s ultra competitive. He wanted to be the best, and not in a bragadocchia way. He critiques himself.”

Luckily for the Badgers he decided to stay. Wisconsin recruited another offensive tackle from Cottage Grove, Wis. that year. Gabe Carimi redshirted in Thomas’ senior year, studied the All-American and followed him at left tackle in 2007.

Carimi went on to win the Outland Trophy in 2010.

Coach Barry Alvarez announced before the 2005 season, which was Thomas’ junior year, that this would be his final season coaching the Badgers before becoming the school’s full-time athletic director. What bothered Thomas most was that after the season, Wisconsin’s offensive line coach, Jim Huber, announced that he would be leaving too, to become an assistant with the Minnesota Vikings.

 “I was really sad about it,” said Thomas. “If I hadn’t hurt my knee, this might have affected my decision to (apply for the draft). I didn’t have the option of going to the NFL at that point. You never know how you’re going to get along with the new coach.”

Bob Palcic came from the New Orleans Saints to replace Huber and coach the offensive line. He had coached 1995 Outland Trophy winner Jonathan Ogden at UCLA.   

“It ended up working out great,” said Thomas. “We kept the same offensive coordinator and a lot of the same blocking schemes.”

Bret Bielema, Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator, was promoted to coach, succeeding Alvarez.

“The thing I loved about Joe is he came to compete every day,” said Bielema. “He’s very intelligent. A very gifted person. When Joe spoke people listened. There’s only one Joe Thomas.”

Thomas admitted to being a little tentative beginning his senior year because of the torn ACL from the bowl game.

“I kind of fought with (the mental part) the first couple of games because you don’t trust your knee,” he said. “I didn’t have a lot of confidence in the knee.”

Wisconsin faced Michigan in its Big Ten opener at Ann Arbor. The Wolverines, who featured three outstanding defensive ends, including 2006 Lombardi Award winner LaMarr Woodley, won, 27-13. But Thomas regained confidence in his knee.

“I didn’t think about it (after that),” he said. “I wasn’t worried about anyone falling on it.”

The Michigan game was Wisconsin’s only loss of the season.

Ohio State, which wasn’t on Wisconsin’s schedule that year, went undefeated in the regular season before losing to Florida in the national championship game.

“I don’t think anybody thought we’d go 12-1,” said Thomas. “I think most of the season we did get underrated. We had the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the country in our conference.”

The Badgers were matched against Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando. They weren’t afraid of playing another SEC team after beating Auburn the year before.

“We had heard how great Arkansas was,” said Thomas. “It was the same situation the year before. Auburn definitely overlooked us.”

No one overlooked Joe Thomas when he became the No. 3 pick in the 2007 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns.