USC QB Slovis honored as FWAA Most Inspirational Freshman for 2019

By Ryan Young

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — At a program acclaimed for producing NFL quarterbacks and Heisman Trophy candidates at the position, where fans are always awaiting and quick to anoint the next great one, Kedon Slovis arrived on campus quietly a year ago.

A 3-star prospect from Scottsdale, Ariz., his signing withUSC produced no fanfare, no projections, no expectations.

Slovis was arriving a year behind incumbent starter JT Daniels — a 5-star prospect who had indeed been crowned USC’s next star signal-caller before he ever threw a collegiate pass — and a year ahead of 5-star QB Bryce Young, who was already committed to the Trojans in the 2020 class at the time (before later flipping to Alabama — perhaps due in part to Slovis’ emergence).

Slovis wasn’t even a part of the quarterback conversation when he took his first reps of spring practice as an early enrollee. The fan base was divided between Daniels, who had an underwhelming freshman year in 2018 amid those weighty expectations, and redshirt sophomore Jack Sears, who produced in his one lone relief start.

All of that is to say that what Slovis accomplished this season is only that much more impressive when put in context — but certainly it was incredible by any measure and perspective.

By the end of the year, Slovis’ performances had earned him the FWAA Most Inspirational Freshman Award, announced on Monday in New Orleans.

The true freshman beat out Sears and redshirt junior Matt Fink for the backup job in fall camp, took over in the second half of the season opener after Daniels sustained a season-ending knee injury, and by the end of the campaign he had passed for 3,502 yards, 30 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.

According to USC, his 71.9 completion percentage was the highest by a true freshman QB in NCAA history. His 3,502 passing yards are the ninth most in a single season by a USC quarterback — he was 129 yards away from cracking the top five on that list — and Slovis only played nine full games, plus the second half of the opener, 2 pass attempts vs. Utah before sustaining a concussion and a little more than two quarters in the bowl game before departing with an elbow injury.

He was at his best after returning from that early season concussion, which cost him most of two games. Over the final eight contests, he passed for 2,770 yards (346.3 per game), 25 TDs and 5 INTs. For that matter, he just kept getting better. Over his final four games, he averaged 403.3 passing yards and totaled 14 TDs and just 1 INT — and that passing average would be even higher if not for the injury early in the third quarter verus Iowa in the Holiday Bowl.

Slovis had four 400-yard passing games over the final five regular-season contests, which already matches Matt Barkley’s USC career record for 400-yard games. Slovis’ 515 yards vs. UCLA (with 4 TDs and 0 INTs) broke the Trojans’ single-game passing record.

All told, he finished ranked 10th nationally in passing yards per game (291.8), but again that stat is skewed is by the partial games.

He was deservedly named the Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year, and suddenly the once-overlooked 3-star prospect is also being recognized by the odds makers as an early 2020 Heisman Trophy candidate.

As it turned out, USC indeed had its next star quarterback in the fold — it just wasn’t the one anyone expected.

“I think the sky’s the limit for that kid. He’s as talented of a kid as I’ve ever been around, and mentally he’s really, really sharp,” offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said of Slovis. “I don’t think you’re around kids like that real often, so for him the sky’s the limit and that will be the expectation for him as long as I work with him — to be really special, because he’s capable of being really special.”

As for Slovis, well, this season certainly changed the outside perception of the young QB, but it hasn’t changed him one bit.

“All the awards and things are kind of silly, I think, because it’s such a team-oriented game, and I wouldn’t be anywhere without the guys around me,” he said in December. “So I don’t get caught up in that too much.”

But what a story it has already been through just these early chapters.

Late last December, Slovis sat in a living room back in Scottsdale, Ariz., with his parents discussing his path to this point and why he was undaunted about the Trojans’ seemingly stacked QB depth chart.

His father Max Slovis put it best that evening.

“Everyone brings it up, and it’s the same answer — let’s go, let’s see what happens,” the elder Slovis said. “People are always like, ‘Why would you go there? There’s all these great quarterbacks.’ We’re a great quarterback — let’s go see what happens. …

“My sister lives in San Diego and [tells us], ‘Oh, my friend says they have this guy, this guy and this guy.’ We are this guy.”

That much is clear now.

About Stand Together
The Stand Together Foundation, presenting sponsor of the Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year Awards, is committed to breaking the cycle of poverty by supporting the creative solutions of individuals and organizations who are driving dynamic entrepreneurship in communities across the country and helping people transform their lives. Founded in 2016, the Foundation partners with the nation’s most effective and top-performing non-profits to help them deepen and grow their impact through innovative solutions to break barriers for people in poverty so that they can realize their potential.

Arizona State QB Daniels honored for Freshman Breakout Performance of the Year

By Michael Griffith

TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State’s season was quickly falling apart.

Four consecutive losses after a 5-1 start left the Sun Devils with just two games to secure a bowl berth — a major stepping stone for a budding program led by second-year head coach Herm Edwards.

Few thought a sixth win would be secured against then-No. 6 Oregon, which was primed for a spot in the College Football Playoff if it won out. Playing on national television, this was supposed to be a chance for the Ducks to make a statement to the college football world.

Indeed, a statement was made. However, it was Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels who dropped the mic on a cool night in the desert.

The true freshman played with ice in his veins en route to a 31-28 victory. He outdueled Oregon’s Justin Herbert, a projected first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Daniels finished his signature game 22-of-32 passing for 408 yards, throwing three touchdowns without committing a turnover. At times, it appeared as if Daniels was the soon-to-be pro playing one of his last collegiate games.

No freshman had a better performance against a better opponent this season. For this reason, Daniels is the winner of the FWAA’s Shaun Alexander Freshman Breakout Performance of the Year.

“He’s just a different kid,” Arizona State offensive coordinator Rob Likens said of Daniels. “He’s really grounded. I don’t worry about him being overconfident. I think games like that give him more confidence and I think he gets into an even better mindset. He’s kind of special in that way.”

Oregon struck first midway through the first quarter to go up 7-0. The Sun Devils fired back on their ensuing possession, with Daniels launching a deep strike to Frank Darby, hitting the receiver in stride for a 57-yard touchdown to tie the game.

Daniels completed his first 12 passes of the game, finishing the first half 12-of-14 passing for 191 yards and one touchdown. More importantly, his team had a 10-7 lead.

Arizona State continued to build momentum as Oregon’s offense sputtered, entering the fourth quarter with a 13-7 lead. It soon grew larger, as Daniels hit Darby again with a perfectly thrown ball into the end zone for a 26-yard score. A field goal on their next drive further increased the lead to 24-7 with just 8:42 remaining in the game.

Then, Oregon started playing like the Pac-12 champs they would soon become.

Two consecutive touchdown drives under 60 seconds brought the Ducks back within three points, and it started to feel like the Sun Devils were running out of gas. Edwards turned to his freshman quarterback to provide the final spark they needed.

“The great thing about Jayden is he’s humble as well,” Edwards said. “He has a lot of fun playing football. I love talking to him on the sidelines, especially here towards the end of the game. I told him ‘It’s time. Can you throw a touchdown or do something? We need a score here.’”

Receiving the ball with just over five minutes left in the final frame, Arizona State’s drive appeared to be headed for disaster as a false start and a sack left Daniels with a third-and-16 from his own 19-yard line. It appeared as though a spark would have to wait. This was no time to make a critical mistake.

Of course, this is Herm Edwards we’re talking about. His team would play to win the game. Daniels dropped back to pass and fired yet another home run down the left sideline, this time to Brandon Aiyuk, who raced 81 yards for a touchdown that sent Sun Devil Stadium into a frenzy.

Arizona State held on for a 31-28 win, silencing critics and converting naysayers in the process.

As for Daniels, he played the best game of his life against the best opponent he’d ever faced.

“We should be playing like that all the time really, but we have something to prove,” Daniels said after the game. “We lost so many games in a row so this win just felt different.”

Daniels broke Arizona State’s single-season record for passing yards by a freshman during the game, but he was quick to point out that a win was the most important thing to him.

“I’m just happy we won, but it really means nothing to me,” Daniels said. “I have a long career ahead of me and I’m just happy to get these guys a win.”

He also set school records for fewest interceptions in a season with over 300 passing attempts (2) and consecutive pass attempts without an interception (157).

Florida State defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett praised Daniels before the Seminoles’ matchup with Arizona State in the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl.

“Quarterback (Daniels) is good, for a freshman, true freshman, he’svery poised, understands the offense, does a good job of running their offense,” Barnett said. “They believe in what their system tells them to do.”

After the four-game skid, the Sun Devils finished their season with victories against the best team on their schedule (Oregon), their in-state rival (Arizona), and their bowl-game opponent (Florida State).

Arizona State deployed one of the youngest rosters in college football this season, and Daniels spearheaded the youth movement. An 8-5 finish brings excitement to the desert, where the outlook appears sunny.

About Stand Together
The Stand Together Foundation, presenting sponsor of the Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year Awards, is committed to breaking the cycle of poverty by supporting the creative solutions of individuals and organizations who are driving dynamic entrepreneurship in communities across the country and helping people transform their lives. Founded in 2016, the Foundation partners with the nation’s most effective and top-performing non-profits to help them deepen and grow their impact through innovative solutions to break barriers for people in poverty so that they can realize their potential.

Memphis RB Gainwell named FWAA’s Shaun Alexander Freshman Player of the Year

By Geoff Calkins

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Before the Cotton Bowl, before GameDay came to Beale Street, before Memphis won the American Athletic Conference title game by beating Cincinnati on back-to-back weeks, there was a moment of high tension in the home opener against Ole Miss.

Just 3:31 remained in the game. Memphis — leading 15-10 — faced a 4th-and-2 at the Ole Miss 47.

Mike Norvell decided to go for it. But Memphis running back Patrick Taylor had just left the game with a foot injury.  So Norvell sent in a redshirt freshman running back named Kenny Gainwell, who promptly got loose for a 4-yard catch and a first down.

Gainwell went on to touch the ball seven straight plays in that final, clock-draining, game-clinching drive. Memphis went on to have the best season in program history. Norvell went on to get the head coaching job at Florida State. But it all began in that moment of high tension, when an incandescent new star emerged.

Gainwell’s incredibly consistent performances during the regular season are why he’s the recipient of the FWAA’s Shaun Alexander Freshman Player of the Year Award.

“He’s an unbelievable weapon,” is how Memphis quarterback Brady White described Gainwell. “People may not have have known how good he is before the season, but I guess they know now.”

People didn’t know about Gainwell because of the two guys in front of him. Darrell Henderson and Tony Pollard, who are now playing in the NFL.

It may be a stretch to say Gainwell is already better than those players. But it’s not at all a stretch to say he combines some of the best elements of both.

He has the soft hands and explosive, straight-away speed of Pollard. He has the uncanny cutting ability and elusiveness of Henderson.

And he has a backstory that slipped out of him almost inadvertently, after Gainwell ran the ball 18 times for 104 yards and caught nine passes for another 203 yards in a win over Tulane. It was the first time since Troy Edwards did it in 1997 that someone had run for more than 100 yards and caught passes for more than 200 yards in the same game.

“I think back to when my brother was in the hospital. He had a stroke,” Gainwell said, in the press conference after that game. “Those moments, it just all comes out of me. That emotion, it just all comes out of me at one time.”

Gainwell’s older brother — Curtis Gainwell Jr. — accepted an academic scholarship to Southern Miss. He was going to join the football team as a walk-on. At least, that was the plan until he suffered a brain bleed while lifting weights. The older Gainwell had four surgeries, lost full range of motion in his right hand and never played football again.

ESPN told the Gainwells’ story when GameDay came to a Beale Street before the team’s win over SMU. It is difficult to explain what that day meant to Memphians, to a fan base that had hung in through decades of ineptitude and ridicule.

But in many ways, Gainwell is a perfect representation of what the program has become. Overlooked by the big boys. But pure misery to deal with now.

Gainwell wound up with 1,459 rushing yards for the season. He caught 51 passes for 610 more yards.

After Gainwell and Memphis exploded all over Tulane at the Liberty Bowl, Tulane head coach Willie Fritz said, “I didn’t see it coming.”

The rest of the country knows how he feels.

Nobody saw this Memphis program coming five years ago. Nobody saw Gainwell coming as recently as this spring. That’s when Gainwell explained his philosophy of running this way: “I’m just trying to be really fast because if you’re fast you’re not going to be caught by slower people.”

Simple, right?

There’s an unmistakable humility to Gainwell. As if anyone could do what he does. Just run faster than those those slower people. It helps that nearly everyone is slower than him.

So expect to see more of the same from Gainwell. Norvell may be off to Tallahassee, but Gainwell returns under new coach Ryan Silverfield.

“You want to get him as many touches as possible,” Silverfield said.

Slower people, be warned.

About Stand Together
The Stand Together Foundation, presenting sponsor of the Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year Awards, is committed to breaking the cycle of poverty by supporting the creative solutions of individuals and organizations who are driving dynamic entrepreneurship in communities across the country and helping people transform their lives. Founded in 2016, the Foundation partners with the nation’s most effective and top-performing non-profits to help them deepen and grow their impact through innovative solutions to break barriers for people in poverty so that they can realize their potential.

2019 FWAA-Shaun Alexander Freshman All-America Team announced

32 first-year players lauded by FWAA

NEW ORLEANS — The 2019 Football Writers Association of America-Shaun Alexander Freshman All-America Team presented by Stand Together features LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., who is playing in tonight’s College Football Playoff National Championship at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, two other members of the FWAA All-America Team, and four teams that have two players each on the 32-man list.

The Pac-12 Conference leads all conferences with six total selections, led by a pair from Oregon and UCLA, the Big 12 is next with five and the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern Conferences had four each. Alabama and Purdue tie Oregon and UCLA for the most from one school. All 10 FBS conferences and two independents are represented on the team.

Stingley Jr. is a consensus All-America selection and the most decorated freshman in LSU’s history. He was the 17th defensive true freshman to start a season opener for the Tigers (14-0), who face Clemson (14-0) for the national championship tonight at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. He leads the SEC and is in the top five nationally in both interceptions (six, 5th nationally) and passes defended (21, 4th nationally). The Baton Rouge, La., product started all 14 games and is 10th on the team with 36 tackles – 30 of them solo – and had at least one tackle for loss in 13 games. He also returns punts and has 163 all-purpose yards, 146 of them on punt returns plus 17 more on interception returns. He is the grandson of the late Darryl Stingley, a former NFL player whose pro career ended with a spinal cord injury.

Miami defensive lineman Gregory Rousseau and Kansas State kick returner Joshua Youngblood joined Stingley as members of the both the FWAA’s Freshman All-America Team and the FWAA All-America Team. Both were second-team selections.

Rousseau, the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year, finished with 15.5 sacks and in a tie for the third-most sacks in a single season for the Hurricanes. The redshirt freshman had 54 tackles and 19.5 tackles for loss. Youngblood helped set the Kansas State record with a 29.5-yard kickoff return average with a nation-leading three returns for touchdowns.

Oregon is the only school with a tandem on the same side of the ball. Defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux was second nationally among freshmen with 9.0 sacks and third in tackles for loss with 14.0. Free safety Verone McKinley III came on in the second half of the season with four interceptions, tied for third nationally among freshmen. UCLA has offensive tackle Sean Rhyan, the first Bruins freshman to start a season-opener at offensive tackle in seven seasons, and punt returner Kyle Phillips, who was second in the nation with a 22.5-yard average.

Alabama middle linebacker Shane Lee moved into the starting lineup after a season-ending injury to Dylan Moses and led all SEC freshmen with 77 tackles and tied for fourth in the league with 5.5 tackles for loss. Evan Neal started all 13 games for the Crimson Tide at left guard, assisting on a line that gave up only 12 sacks in 381 pass attempts. Defensive end George Karlaftis was third on the Boilermakers’ defense with 54 total tackles (30 solo) with 17.0 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks – the TFL count was the most by a Purdue player since 2011, and the sack total the highest since 2010. Boilermakers wide receiver David Bell, the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year, led the conference with 86 receptions in the regular season for 1,035 yards and seven touchdowns. Purdue has had a FWAA Freshman All-America wide receiver in consecutive years following Rondale Moore last season.

North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell is one of two signal-callers on the team. His 38 passing touchdowns are the most by a true freshman in FBS history. The previous record was 30 from Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, one of two quarterbacks on last year’s FWAA Freshman All-America Team. Kedon Slovis was USC’s first quarterback to pass for 400 yards four times in a season and ranks in the national top 20 in five passing categories including yards, completions and touchdowns. Both were their conference’s Rookie (ACC) or Freshman Offensive Player of the Year (Pac-12).

Running back Javian Hawkins is Louisville’s first player to rush for 1,500 yards, finishing with 1,525 yards and third on the school’s single-season rushing list. He had eight 100-yard games. UTSA’s Sincere McCormick finished with 1,177 all-purpose yards to break the school’s single-season record. His 983 rushing yards were second all-time at UTSA.

Ohio State’s Ryan Day is the First-Year Coach of the Year after guiding the Buckeyes into their second College Football Playoff with a 13-0 record and a Big Ten Championship. Ohio State closed 13-1 after falling to Clemson in a Fiesta Bowl semifinal classic, but not before overseeing the nation’s No. 1 defense, No. 4 scoring defense, No. 5 offense and No. 1 scoring offense. He is Ohio State’s first Big Ten Coach of the Year since 1979.

The 13-person panel of nationally-prominent college football experts represented each of the FBS conferences along with independents in the selecting the team. Both true freshmen (20 players) and redshirt freshmen (12 players) were considered for the team and are so noted on the list below.

2019 SHAUN ALEXANDER FWAA FRESHMAN ALL-AMERICA TEAM

OFFENSE
QB • Sam Howell, North Carolina (6-2, 225, Indian Trail, N.C.)
QB • Kedon Slovis, USC (6-2, 200, Scottsdale, Ariz.)
RB Javian Hawkins, Louisville (5-9, 182, Titusville, Fla.)
RB • Sincere McCormick, UTSA (5-9, 200, Converse, Texas)
WR • David Bell, Purdue (6-2, 210, Indianapolis, Ind.)
WR • C.J. Johnson, East Carolina (6-2, 229, Greenville, N.C.)
WR • Dante Wright, Colorado State (5-10, 165, Navarre, Fla.)
OL • Ikem Ekwonu, N.C. State (6-4, 308, Charlotte, N.C.)
OL Travis Glover, Georgia State (6-6, 330, Vienna, Ga.)
OL • Evan Neal, Alabama (6-7, 360, Okeechobee, Fla.)
OL • Sean Rhyan, UCLA (6-4, 323, Ladera Beach, Calif.)
OL Nick Rosi, Toledo (6-4, 290, Powell, Ohio)
OL • O’Cyrus Torrence, Louisiana (6-5, 342, Greensburg, La.)

DEFENSE
DL Solomon Byrd, Wyoming (6-4, 243, Palmdale, Calif.)
DL • George Karlaftis, Purdue (6-4, 265, West Lafayette, Ind.)
DL Gregory Rousseau, Miami (6-6, 251, Coconut Creek, Fla.)
DL • Kayvon Thibodeuax, Oregon (6-5, 242, Los Angeles, Calif.)
LB • Shane Lee, Alabama (6-0, 246, Burtonsville, Md.)
LB Azeez Ojulari, Georgia (6-3, 240, Marietta, Ga.)
LB Devin Richardson, New Mexico State (6-3, 233, Klein, Texas)
LB • Omar Speights, Oregon State (6-1, 233, Philadelphia, Pa.)
DB • Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati (6-2, 185, Detroit, Mich.)
DB • Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame (6-4, 240, Atlanta, Ga.)
DB Verone McKinley III, Oregon (5-10, 192, Carrollton, Texas)
DB • Tykee Smith, West Virginia (5-10, 184, Philadelphia, Pa.)
DB • Derek Stingley Jr., LSU (6-1, 190, Baton Rouge, La.)
DB Ar’Darius Washington, TCU (5-8, 175, Shreveport, La.

SPECIALISTS
P • Austin McNamara, Texas Tech (6-4, 175, Gilbert, Ariz.)
K Gabe Brkic, Oklahoma (6-2, 175, Chardon, Ohio)
KR • Joshua Youngblood, Kansas State (5-10, 180, Tampa, Fla.)
PR Kyle Phillips, UCLA (5-11, 181, San Marcos, Calif.)
AP Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis (5-11, 183, Yazoo City, Miss.)

HEAD COACH
Ryan Day, Ohio State

• Denotes true freshman

About Shaun Alexander
Shaun Alexander is a former All-Pro running back with the Seattle Seahawks (2000-07) and Washington Redskins (2008) and a former All-SEC player at Alabama (1995-99). He finished a four-year career with the Crimson Tide holding 15 records including 3,565 career rushing yards and most touchdowns (5) in a game. He was drafted by Seattle as the 19th overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, and in his second season had a breakout year with 1,318 yards and 14 touchdowns, including a franchise-record 266 yards on 35 carries in a memorable ESPN Sunday Night Football game against Oakland. Today Alexander travels the country speaking and teaching people about the things he is passionate about – his Christian faith, marriage, fatherhood, football, winning, leading and love.

About Stand Together
The Stand Together Foundation is committed to breaking the cycle of poverty by supporting the creative solutions of individuals and organizations who are driving dynamic entrepreneurship in communities across the country and helping people transform their lives. Founded in 2016, the Foundation partners with the nation’s most effective and top-performing non-profits to help them deepen and grow their impact through innovative solutions to break barriers for people in poverty so that they can realize their potential.

Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America consists of 1,400 men and women who cover college football. 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 its annual All-America team. For more information about the FWAA and its award programs, contact Steve Richardson at tiger@fwaa.com.

2019 FWAA Freshman All-America Committee: Shaun Alexander; Mark Anderson, Las Vegas Review-Journal (MW); Mark Blaudschun, TMGCollegeSports.com (ACC); Scott Dochterman, The Athletic (Big Ten); Michael Griffith, Freshman Focus; Mike Griffith, Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Chair/Independents); Tommy Hicks, Freelance (Sun Belt); Ron Higgins, Tiger Rag (SEC); Blair Kerkhoff, The Kansas City Star (Big 12); Matt Murschel, Orlando Sentinel (American Athletic); Nick Piotrowicz, Toledo Blade (MAC); Steve Richardson, FWAA; Grant Traylor, Huntington Herald-Dispatch (Conference USA); Ryan Young, Rivals.com (Pac-12).

Related link:
+ All FWAA honors including All-Time Freshman All-America Teams

New Jersey student receives Volney Meece Scholarship

Alexandra Haley, a senior at Steinert High in Hamilton, N.J., was named the 23rd winner of the Volney Meece Scholarship on Monday.

Alexandra Haley

The scholarship is awarded annually by the Football Writers Association of America and named for the late Volney Meece. Meece served 22 years as the FWAA’s executive director and was the organization’s president in 1971.

The scholarship is a $1,000 annual grant for four years. It is awarded to a deserving son or daughter of an FWAA member.

The 17-year-old Haley is the daughter of long-time FWAA member Craig Haley.

Alexandra has compiled an impressive list of academic and extracurricular achievements. She’s maintained a weighted 4.6 GPA and ranks 14th out of 333 students in her senior class while taking several advanced placement courses and also being involved in various extra extracurricular activities, including a standout athletic career.

At Steinert High School, Alexandra is a member of the National Honor Society, Key Club, President’s Education Awards and Scholar Athlete Award. She is a member of Student Government, Spanish Club and has volunteered for school charity drives and served as mentor for younger athletes.

A starter on the softball and basketball teams, Haley played catcher on Steinert’s state championship softball team. She plans to continue her academic and athletic careers at Susquehanna University.

Past winners of the Volney Meece Scholarship
1997  Brett Goering  Topeka, Kan.
1998  Kelly Brooks  Denver, Colo.
1999  James Butz  Schaumberg, Ill.
2000  Sara Barnhart  Atlanta, Ga.
2001  Patrick Davis  Coventry, Conn.
2002  Jacqueline O’Toole  Gaithersburg, Md.
2003  Garrett Holtz  Denver, Colo.
2004  Katie Hersom  Oklahoma City, Okla.
2005  Katie Wieberg  Lawson, Mo.
2006  Kaylynn Monroe  Winter Park, Fla.
2007  Nate Kerkhoff  Overland Park, Kan.
2008  Jack Caywood  Lawrence, Kan.
2009  Haley Dodd  Overland Park, Kan.
2010  Donald Hunt  Philadelphia, Pa.
2011  Alaina Martens  Papillion, Neb.
2012  Emily Alford  Tupelo, Miss.
2013  Sarah Helsley  Edmond, Okla.
2014 Robert Abramson Palos Verde, Calif.
2015 Danielle Hoover Tulsa, Okla.
2016 Dolen Helwagen Pataskala, Ohio
2017 Elizabeth Schroeder Norman, Okla.
2018 Mallory Rosetta Baton Rouge, La.

Finalists for Freshman Player of the Year announced

NEW ORLEANS — The Football Writers Association of America is proud to announce the three finalists for the 2019 FWAA Shaun Alexander Freshman Player of the Year Award. This award recognizes the most outstanding freshman player in the FBS ranks. Redshirt freshmen are eligible to receive the award as well.

The 2018 winner, quarterback Trevor Lawrence, set the bar high with his performance at Clemson University. Lawrence completed 65.2% of his passes for 3,280 yards while leading the Tigers to a perfect 15-0 season that culminated with a victory in the College Football Playoff National Championship. His 30 touchdown passes set a new FBS record for passing touchdowns by a true freshman.

The Freshman of the Year, along with the Freshman Breakout Performance and Most Inspirational Freshman will be announced at the annual FWAA Awards breakfast on Monday, Jan. 13 in New Orleans.

The FWAA Freshman All-American Team and Stand Together will also recognize its inaugural Freshman Legend at the awards breakfast.

Here are the 2019 finalists:

Sam Howell, University of North Carolina, Quarterback — Howell finished the 2019 season with 3,641 passing yards, 38 touchdowns, and just 7 interceptions. His 38 passing touchdowns rank fourth in the FBS this season, and he broke the previous single-season record at North Carolina set by Mitchell Trubisky in 2016 (30). He also surpassed Trevor Lawrence’s 30 passing touchdowns from last season, giving him the most passing touchdowns by a true freshman in FBS history. Howell has been named the ACC’s Offensive Rookie and overall Rookie of the Year, as he led the conference in passing yards and touchdowns.

Derek Stingley Jr., Louisiana State University, Defensive Back — Stingley led the SEC and ranks fifth nationally with six interceptions this season, including two against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. He also led the SEC and ranks second nationally in passes defended with 21. Stingley was named the 2019 SEC Newcomer of the Year by the AP. Born and raised in Baton Rouge, La., Stingley has helped his hometown team to a 14-0 record and a berth in the College Football Playoff National Championship.

Kenneth Gainwell, University of Memphis, Running Back, Redshirt — Gainwell was named the American Athletic Conference’s Rookie of the Year for his performance this season. His 1,459 rushing yards rank second among freshmen and 12th nationally. He has amassed 2,069 yards from scrimmage, which ranks first among freshmen and fourth nationally. Gainwell recorded 200+ yards from scrimmage in three consecutive games against Louisiana-Monroe (251), Temple (204), and Tulane (307). His efforts helped Memphis claim a berth in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, the first New Year’s Six bowl appearance in school history.

 

Irv Moss, Denver Post sports reporter for 60 years, dies at 85

From The Denver Post

The man many consider to be the encyclopedic authority on Colorado sports, Irv Moss, died Wednesday night at the age of 85. He worked at The Denver Post for 60 years.

Moss died of complications from esophageal cancer, according to his close friend, Gary Sever.

Irv Moss of the Denver Post in 2016, when he received the FWAA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. (Photo by Melissa Macatee)

“The last of a vanishing breed in the newsroom,” said Mike Judson, a copy editor who worked alongside Moss at The Post for more than two decades.

“Irv covered it all and knew it all, from preps to colleges to pros to the Olympics, and he was the ultimate pro as a sports journalist,” Judson said. “He could tell you about University of Denver football, which played its last season in 1960, and knew that the annual CU-DU football game on Thanksgiving once was the biggest sports event in the state.”

Jim Saccomano, who served in the Denver Broncos front office for the better part of 40 years until his retirement in 2013, called Moss “a straight shooter and a man of principle.”

“There’s something to be said for packing your lunchbox and doing your job,” said Saccomano, who first met Moss in 1978 upon joining the Broncos organization. “Irv goes back to a time when the city was a different thing.”

Saccomano said when he arrived at Broncos headquarters Moss was there crunching statistics for the football team while also holding down his job with The Post. But Moss’ involvement in sports reporting in the city predated the Broncos’ arrival in the Mile High City.

“When this city was smaller, once upon a time the biggest events might have been the Denver Bears (minor-league baseball team) and the dog track,” said Saccomano, who often ran into Moss at the venerable but now-closed Pagliacci’s restaurant in Denver. “I think of Irv as the journalistic foundation of this city.”

Moss was born Dec. 14, 1934, in Denver and graduated from West High School 18 years later. He attended Colorado A&M (now Colorado State University) in Fort Collins for a while but left school when his father became ill.

In 1953, Moss debuted at The Post as a copy boy at a time when the paper was headquartered at 15th and California streets. After leaving the paper to do electrician work, he returned on Feb. 8, 1956, for what would be a 60-year run at the newspaper.

Then-Denver Post sports editor Chuck Garrity made Moss part of the paper’s coverage of the greyhound races at Mile High Kennel Club, along with the men’s fast-pitch softball league at City Park.

“It was an interesting time to watch, and in a way, be part of the changing of Denver as a sports city,” Moss told Post sports reporter Terry Frei in 2016 for a story about his retirement. “When I first started down here, City Park softball was the big story. And next thing you know, we’re one of the top sports markets in the country.”

After a stint with the Army’s 160th Signal Group in Germany in the late 1950s, Moss put his skills toward covering high school athletics and later college football at Wyoming and Air Force. He got a front-row seat to the Denver Nuggets franchise’s debut in Colorado, having covered the Denver Rockets in the upstart American Basketball Association.

But Dave Plati, longtime sports information director with the University of Colorado at Boulder who got to know Moss starting in 1982 when Plati did public relations for the Denver Bears, said Moss’ true love was baseball.

“He loved baseball and anything to do with baseball the most,” Plati said.

Starting in the mid-1980s, Moss got heavily involved covering the sinuous path to landing a Major League Baseball team in Denver.  He covered the twists and turns of the selection process until 1991 when Commissioner Fay Vincent announced Denver was getting the nod as an expansion city.

The team began play in Colorado in 1993, and Moss was a Rockies beat writer for 12 years.

“I’d see him in the press box at the Rockies and he always talked baseball,” Plati said. “He was assigned for years to do the minor-league reports on the Rockies farm system and truly enjoyed watching what prospects matured to the majors.”

After he retired, Moss rarely missed watching a Rockies game on TV. He attended his last Rockies game on Sept 17 last fall, Sever said, and in one of his last conversations, Moss asked Sever if the Rockies had made any moves this winter.

Moss was decidedly of the nondigital, pre-Facebook generation. Longtime Post sports columnist Mark Kiszla met Moss in 1983.

“I walked into the sports department on California Street, and there Irv was at his desk, with a big phone (landline of course) stuck to his ear,” Kiszla recounted. “Nobody loved being a newspaperman more than Irv. Newspaperman. Old school. So old school I still think of him as a member of the cast from a black-and-white movie about newspapers.”

That included showing up to games with the Post softball team dressed in his office attire — a short-sleeve dress shirt and khaki slacks, Kiszla said. While he argued balls and strikes at the game, Moss didn’t share details about himself with others.

“Irv was an international man of mystery,” Kiszla said. “He did not like to reveal any details about himself. His age. His address. The name of family members.”

But he had no problems trying to extract information from sources — or even from friends and colleagues.

“Irv would appear out of nowhere, from a baseball dugout to the Press Club bar, when you least expected it, with a Cheshire cat grin on his face, and then he would ask: ‘What are you doing here?’” Kiszla recalled. “Bulldog does not begin to describe Irv as a reporter. He liked to begin questions with ‘Coach, would you say …’

“And he would ask the same question five different ways, often to the point of irritation of his interview subject, until he got that coach to say something worthwhile.”

Kiszla said Moss loved the Olympics. In 1972, with clearance from the Post, Moss accepted an invitation from the United States Olympic Committee to work as a public information officer at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. It was the first of 10 Olympics working in that capacity.

“He would work as a press attache for the U.S. Olympic Committee,” Kiszla said. “And he would march in opening ceremonies.”

Former Post sports editor Kevin Dale, who worked with Moss for six years starting in 2000, was amazed by Moss’ passion for not only the games and teams but the athletes who played in those games.

“He had been witness to every major sports event in Colorado for the last half of the 20th century and well into the 21st,” Dale said. “Irv always amazed me with his knowledge of Colorado legends.”

But Dale said Moss didn’t get his head stuck in the clouds covering the big stuff. He also considered the lesser known players and aspiring athletes to be just as important and deserving of attention.

“Yes, he would want to be at the biggest Broncos or Rockies game, but he also told the stories of countless high school and college athletes,” Dale said. “Irv truly did touch all levels of Colorado sports journalism.”

 

 

Former Sugar Bowl leader Paul Hoolahan to receive FWAA Lifetime Achievement Award

DALLAS Paul Hoolahan, long-time chief executive officer of the Allstate Sugar Bowl, has been awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA).

Paul Hoolahan

Hoolahan will be honored at the FWAA’s Annual Awards Breakfast on Jan. 13 in New Orleans at the Sheraton New Orleans, the Media Hotel in conjunction with the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

Hoolahan, who retired from his post before the 2019 football season, had been the bowl’s leader since the mid-1990s, running 25 Sugar Bowls from his position. During that time, the FWAA has held five of its annual meetings during national title games under Hoolahan’s watch at the Sugar Bowl.

“I am very honored to receive this recognition from the Football Writers,” Hoolahan said. “The writers and other media play a critical role in the world of college football and during my years at the Sugar Bowl, we recognized their importance. It means a lot to me for this group to take the time to recognize me. I’d also like to congratulate my longtime friend Wright Waters who is also being recognized.”

Previous recipients of this award: Art Spander (2013), Bill Little (2014), Irv Moss (2015), Buddy Davis (2016), Mike Finn (2017) and Dave Plati (2018).

Hoolahan, a former All-ACC lineman at North Carolina and later athletic director at Vanderbilt, has led the Sugar Bowl during a period of growth and excellence in which it has remained one of the top bowls despite changes in the post-season structure during the last 25 years.

Not only has the Sugar Bowl remained in the national title rotation, Hoolahan has directed “organizational efforts” which have generated well over $3 billion for the New Orleans economy. Hoolahan was inducted into Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2015. Even though Hoolahan has stepped down from his role at the Sugar Bowl, he guided the New Orleans Host Committee’s successful bid in becoming the host for the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship being played next Monday.

Under Hoolahan, the Sugar Bowl assumed sponsorship of the FWAA/Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award beginning with the 2014 season, the first year of the College Football Playoff when the championship game was held in Arlington, Texas, in January 2015. Thereafter the Sugar Bowl, the Eddie Robinson family and the FWAA have held very successful receptions in Glendale Ariz., Tampa, Fla., Atlanta, Ga., and San Jose, Caliuf., leading into New Orleans this season. The FWAA has named a Coach of the Year since 1957.

“The FWAA recognizes Hoolahan for a job well done in bestowing its Lifetime Achievement Award on a person who has provided excellent leadership at one of the top bowls in college football before his retirement last summer,” FWAA Executive Director Steve Richardson said.

“During Hoolahan’s regime as executive director-CEO, the FWAA successfully held its annual meeting at the Sugar Bowl several times in the national title rotation of the BCS and Alliance structures,” Richardson said. “Furthermore, under Hoolahan’s direction, the Sugar Bowl took over as the presenting sponsor of the FWAA’s Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award in 2014 and continues to be the sponsor of the ECOY Award to this day.”

Wright Waters to receive FWAA Lifetime Achievement Award in New Orleans

DALLAS — Wright Waters, current Football Bowl Association executive director and formerly commissioner of both the Southern and Sun Belt conferences, has been named a recipient of the Football Writers Association of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019.

Wright Waters (Photo by Amelia B. Barton)

Waters, a longtime FWAA member, will be honored at the FWAA’s Annual Awards Breakfast on Jan. 13 in New Orleans at the Sheraton New Orleans, the Media Hotel in conjunction with the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

Previous recipients of the FWAA Lifetime Achievement Award: Art Spander (2013), Bill Little (2014), Irv Moss (2015), Buddy Davis (2016), Mike Finn (2017) and Dave Plati (2018). The award goes to an FWAA member or someone close to the organization who has contributed greatly to college football and/or the FWAA.

“I am honored, humbled and flattered to be recognized by an organization that I admire so much,” Waters said. “I have always admired the FWAA’s standards of excellence and professionalism. Thank you for your consideration, I accept on behalf of so many people who have mentored and assisted me on this grand journey of a career.”

Waters will be retiring from his current post as the FBA’s executive director in April. The first executive director of the FBA, Wright has served in his current position since June 2012. His responsibilities for the FBA included the overall management of the non-profit organization: finances, administration, government relations, marketing, licensing and legal issues.

Prior to taking over as the FBA executive director, Waters was the commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference for 14 years and before that had a stint as the Southern Conference commissioner. He was instrumental in securing the Sun Belt’s status as a Bowl Championship Series conference and a place in Division I-A (now Football Bowl Subdivision). He was one of the original founders of the New Orleans Bowl, serving as a driving force in establishing the bowl as a landing spot for the Sun Belt’s football champion each year.

Earlier in his career, Waters served on athletic staffs at Southern Mississippi, Southwestern Louisiana (now Louisiana) and Tulane.

Over the years Waters has served on several NCAA, bowl and athletic administrative committees and collected various awards on the state and national level. The Sun Belt renamed its regular season football championship trophy the H. Wright Waters Trophy in 2012.

Waters has worked closely with the FWAA over the years in trying to improve press conditions in media operations at major-college bowls.

“Wright Waters has worn several hats in the administration of college football, but he always has had an appreciation for the FWAA, the news media in general, and accommodating their needs to get the story out,” FWAA Executive Director Steve Richardson said. “Helping people understand college football in various areas has been a strong point of his. As both commissioner of the Sun Belt and Southern conferences and lately keeping the bowls under control from an organizational and promotional sense, Waters has always been top-notch.”

 

McMurphy Named Steve Ellis FWAA Beat Writer of the Year

DALLAS — Veteran sports reporter Brett McMurphy of Stadium Network has been named the ninth annual Steve Ellis/FWAA Beat Writer of the Year for his work covering college football.

Brett McMurphy

McMurphy, 57, broke a huge sports story in 2018, concerning Courtney Smith and domestic violations against now ex-husband, ex-Ohio State assistant coach Zach Smith. His reporting also revealed that Urban Meyer, Ohio State’s head coach at the time, knew of the domestic violence despite his public denial of any knowledge.

After those disclosures, an Ohio State investigation confirmed McMurphy’s reporting, resulting in suspensions of Meyer and Athletic Director Gene Smith. McMurphy was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in the Investigative Category for the second time in his career, but he was not named a Pulitzer nominee finalist.

During the contest time period, McMurphy broke numerous news items (coaching and athletic director hiring/firings, new bowl affiliations/lineups, bowl bids, College Football Playoff news, etc.) From April 2017 to Aug. 13, 2018, McMurphy did all his reporting on Facebook/Twitter after being laid off by ESPN and bound by non-compete. He has been reporting for Stadium Network since Aug. 13, 2018.

McMurphy will be honored at the FWAA’s Annual Awards Breakfast on Jan. 13 in New Orleans at the Sheraton New Orleans, the Media Hotel in conjunction with the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. The late Ellis, for whom the award is named, was a longtime sports reporter for the Tallahassee Democrat who covered the Seminoles for three decades with tenacity.

Here’s an up-close-and-personal interview with Brett McMurphy:

PERSONAL: I am married to Susan, and we have a daughter, Chesney, a 15-year old high school sophomore. Susan and Chesney love traveling with me on my work assignments — especially if it’s Los Angeles, Pasadena, Destin or New York City.

I am an Oklahoma State graduate and this spring, OSU’s media and strategic communications department recognized me as the Paul Miller Journalism Lecturer of the Year. I have also won 10 FWAA Best Writing Contest Awards and twice have been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

MENTORS: Look, if you’ve worked — and have been laid off — at as many places as I have, you have crossed paths with many great mentors and even better friends. Here are a few that have truly impacted my career and life: Tom Kensler, Steve Schoenfeld, Tim Allen, Chris Harry, Joey Johnston, Martin Fennelly, Andy Staples, David Whitley, Dennis Dodd, Bruce Feldman, Tony Barnhart, Mike Epstein, Jeff Goodman, Mike Harris and Matt Hayes.

In addition, when I was laid off at ESPN, my wife was incredible throughout that time, in providing support and encouragement for me to continue to break news, even it was only on Twitter/Facebook and without a media outlet.

Kim Postlick, my high school journalism teacher, also deserves a great deal of credit — or blame — for my career. My senior year, she forced me to apply for a journalism scholarship at Oklahoma State, which I received. That was extremely fortunate since my only other college option was a partial scholarship to play small college football at East Central University in Ada, Okla., where I undoubtedly would have torn my ACL at least twice and majored in “undecided.”

BEST STORIES: The biggest was my reporting about the domestic violence past of Ohio State assistant Zach Smith and then Urban Meyer’s mishandling of it throughout their time together and what Meyer knew about it. There are other “best stories” I could include, but this one had the biggest impact.

Based on my reports, Ohio State launched an investigation, which cost the school $1 million, verifying my reporting and ultimately leading to a three-game suspension of one of college football’s most powerful and successful coaches. What’s ironic is this would not have reached this magnitude if Meyer didn’t lie when initially asked about my reports at Big Ten Media Days. “I don’t know who creates a story like that,” Meyer said. Of course, none of my reporting would have seen the light of day without the incredible courage and tenacity of Courtney Smith. I am forever grateful for her trust and confiding in me during the entire process.

BEST ADVICE: The best advice I have received is that when a source tells you something is off-the-record, you may never — under any circumstance — use that information. If so, start pursuing a new profession, because you won’t be a journalist for long. Something else I stress to younger reporters is that “it’s better to get beat on a hundred stories, than to be wrong on one story.” It doesn’t matter if you’re first if you’re wrong.

BIGGEST CHANGE IN THE PROFESSION: You don’t have to work at a giant media company to make a real impact and be a credible, trusted and relevant reporter. Because of the non-compete clause in my ESPN contract after I was laid off, the biggest story of my life I broke on my Facebook page. With social media, podcasts and other outlets, if you consistently can provide legitimate news and information and/or entertaining content, people will find you. It may take a while but eventually, they will find you.

BEST INTERVIEW: Long before he was hawking grills, George Foreman visited Odessa, Texas, where I was a reporter for the Odessa American, only a year out of college. Foreman was incredibly open, patient and gracious with his time. He was unbelievable, especially recounting the Rumble in the Jungle fight with Muhammad Ali. Runner-up: perhaps my shortest — and most memorable — nterview was my freshman year at Oklahoma State, working in the school’s sports information office. OSU hosted defending national champ Louisville and I was required to get visiting players’ quotes. With 4 seconds left, UL, up one, missed a free throw and OSU’s Eddie Hannon hit a game-winning 40-footer at the buzzer for the 72-71 upset in which OSU may have benefited from a friendly home court clock operator. (No instant replay in the old days). I entered the UL locker room (yes, you could go in the locker room back then), and asked UL guard Jerry Eaves about the controversial ending. Eaves said: “Four seconds on the clock. Our guy misses the free throw and the ball bounces in the corner — click. Their little guy goes and grabs it and turns up court — click. He dribbles through traffic — click — and then you tell me he gets all the way past half-court and shoots before another second clicks off? Kiss my ass: Flash Gordon isn’t that fast!” I said, “thank you, Mr. Eaves” and quickly exited the locker room and wrote the best game story of my life.