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

Shaun Alexander/FWAA Freshman of the Year Award calls for big things on, and off, the field

By Mike Griffith

AJC-Dawg Nation

CLEMSON, S.C. — Dabo Swinney was having flashbacks during the Clemson spring football game on Saturday with former Alabama and Seattle Seahawks star Shaun Alexander in attendance.

The 2005 NFL MVP was at the Tigers’ spring game to hand off the inaugural Shaun Alexander/FWAA Freshman of the Year Award to Trevor Lawrence. The trophy is presented by Stand Together, a non-profit organization.

Swinney had some fun at Alexander’s expense when his dynamic tailback, Travis Etienne, bounced a run outside to the head coach’s displeasure.

“You don’t have to hit home runs Shaun!” Swinney yelled in Etienne’s direction with Alexander standing beside him. “Sometimes you have to hit singles!”

Former Alabama and NFL running back Shaun Alexander is greeted by Clemson coach Dabo Swinney at the school’s 2019 spring game. Alexander was there to formally present the first Shaun Alexander/FWAA Freshman of the Year Trophy to Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Photo by Shane Sandefur.

Former Alabama and NFL running back Shaun Alexander is greeted by Clemson coach Dabo Swinney at the school’s 2019 spring game. Alexander was there to formally present the first Shaun Alexander/FWAA Freshman of the Year Trophy to Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Photo by Mike Griffith.

Alexander broke into a grin, knowing the phrase all too well having heard it several times early in his career at Alabama.

Swinney’s coaching career was just lifting off as a graduate assistant under the direction of College Football Hall of Famer Gene Stallings when Alexander signed with the Tide out of Boone County High School in Florence, Ky., and redshirted the 1995 season.

The 1996 season was big for Alexander and Swinney, a coming out party of sorts for both. Swinney was promoted to receivers coach under the direction of then-Tide offensive coordinator Woody McCorvey, who is now Clemson’s associate athletic director for football administration.

Alexander, meanwhile, was competing for playing time in a crowded backfield when he sent shockwaves across the country on Nov. 9, 1996.

Coming off the bench in the second quarter, Alexander took 20 handoffs from then-Alabama QB and now-Cleveland Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens and gained a school-record 291 yards against LSU, scoring four touchdowns in a 26-0 win over the Bayou Bengals.

Gerry DiNardo, the LSU coach at the time, since turned Big Ten Network lead analyst, remembers recognizing Alexander’s greatness when he watch No. 37 slice through a defense that anchored a 10-2 team.

“I can still remember a play starting toward our bench and then him cutting back, and I remember thinking as I watched that this is a special back,” DiNardo said. “He hadn’t started any games, and we didn’t know much about him.

“Anytime you see a great athlete move forward and contribute to our society, it’s a great story, so what started out for me as a bad memory has turned into a very good thing.”

McCorvey knew he had a pretty good thing in Alexander, but not even he could have anticipated that sort of performance.

“For him to do what he did down in the other Death Valley at LSU in Baton Rouge, 291 yards rushing, that was unbelievable,” said McCorvey, who after seeing Alexander score on his only carry of the first half called Alexander’s number 19 more times in the second half.

“That was just the start of it for Shaun, he was able to finish of a tremendous college career and went on to have a stellar NFL career.”

As much as Alexander excelled on the field, he was an exemplary student-athlete off of it, serving as an Alabama chapter Fellowship of Christian Athletes president in 1999, the same year he was named SEC Player of the Year.

Those good works continued off the field, as Alexander started a family foundation in Seattle to mentor young men before his nine-year NFL career and retirement to the Washington, D.C., area with his wife and nine children.

“Shaun was a great representative of Alabama football, the way he carried himself off the field, and of course what an incredible back he was,” said ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who launched his career on ESPN GameDay in 1996. “I love that the FWAA has come up with an award recognizing a freshman of the year, and how fitting to be able to have a guy like Trevor Lawrence win it in the first year.

“Shaun and Trevor are two great people, two great athletes, and I think we’ll look back at this with Trevor winning a trophy that’s fitting of him and everything he and Shaun represent.”

In addition to the Alexander Trophy, the FWAA Freshman of the Year will receive a gold coin with the following traits displayed on the coin: “Ambassador, Legend, Faith, Passion, Talent, Focus, Character, Leader.”

McCorvey, who mentored Swinney as a receiver and assistant coach and now helps oversee Clemson football, has used many of those same words during his distinguished coaching career.

Former Alabama and NFL running back Shaun Alexander presents the inaugural Shaun Alexander/FWAA Freshman of the Year Trophy to Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The formal presentation occurred at Cloemson’s 2019 spring game. Photo by Shane Sandefur.

“Both Shaun and Trevor exemplify class,” McCorvey said. “When I was a part of Shaun’s career at Alabama, his work ethic and everything he put into being a student-athlete was exemplary.

“It’s the same thing with Trevor since he has been here. He’s been all business, he’s carried himself in the right way, and when he got his opportunity last year he handled it well. For him to win this award and win the national championship, that’s what it’s all about.”

Swinney, his arm around Alexander much of the day, agreed.

“Here’s the cool thing, I was there when you were a freshman, and I am here to see you present this award to this great freshman, Trevor,” Swinney told Alexander. “It’s fitting that he’s the first one, you were an amazing freshman; obviously he was too.

“But the great thing is both of you are great people, both of you have strong faiths. I’m honored Trevor won it and you are here to present it.”
Lawrence, born on Oct. 6, 1999, four days after Alexander scored four touchdowns and tallied 200 total yards in a 40-39 road win over a No. 3-ranked Florida team, was humbled to win the award.

“It’s awesome, obviously Shaun was a great player, so to win his award is an honor,” Lawrence said. “I try to lead by example; you can’t ask anyone to do anything that you’re not willing to do.

“My faith plays a big part in leading people, too, and that’s also leading by example. That’s doing the right thing, not just with the team and in workouts, but off the field, too.”

Alexander, his Alabama rooting interests aside, made it clear he’ll be pulling for Lawrence to continue his greatness on and off the field.

“I wanted someone to win this award whose character and faith and talent matched, and Trevor was that guy,” said Alexander, who chose Lawrence for the award before the Clemson phenom completed 20-of-32 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns in the Tigers’ 44-16 CFP Championship Game win over the Tide.

“I, along with Stand Together and the Football Writers Association of America, will be looking for big things from you in the future on and off the field.”

Photo gallery: Freshman of the Year Award presented to Trevor Lawrence at Clemson spring game

Former Alabama and NFL running back Shaun Alexander formally presented the inaugural Shaun Alexander/FWAA Freshman of the Year Trophy to Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence during Clemson’s spring game on April 6.

FWAA adds Shaun Alexander Freshman Player of the Year Award

DALLAS — The Football Writers Association of America is very pleased to announce a new college football award this season named after Shaun Alexander, former University of Alabama and Seattle Seahawks star running back.

The Shaun Alexander Freshman Player of the Year Award will be presented to the top player on the FWAA’s Freshman All-America Team who possesses many of the same attributes that Alexander displayed during his illustrious college and professional careers.

“The FWAA is very excited about this new award because of the person it represents,” said FWAA Executive Director  Steve Richardson. “It is very significant because Alexander also was an outstanding redshirt freshman for the Crimson Tide. His freshman season paved the way for future successes at Alabama and later in the NFL.  Shaun did it all with class, character and enthusiasm.”

Among other things, the recipient will be presented with a gold coin emblematic of this prestigious award.  The traits associated with the award are displayed on one side of the coin: “Ambassador, Legend, Faith, Passion, Talent, Focus, Character, Leader”.  On the other side of the coin, the phrases “Carry the Coin”  and “Finish the Game” are inscribed.

Alexander, a three-time Pro Bowl running back with the Seattle Seahawks, played for the Alabama Crimson Tide from 1996-1999.  He set a school record during his redshirt freshman season with 291 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the Tide’s 29-0 victory over LSU at Tiger Stadium. He finished his college career with 3,565 yards rushing (41 touchdowns),  798 receiving yards (eight touchdown receptions) and one kickoff return for a touchdown while at Alabama.

Alexander then continued his outstanding success in the NFL, rushing for 9,453 yards and scoring 112 total touchdowns, fifteenth most in NFL history.  In 2005, he led the league in rushing and was named the NFL Most Valuable Player.

“It is an honor to have my name associated with the Freshman Player of the Year Award, issued by an organization as well-respected as the Football Writers Association of America,” Alexander said.  “I remember what it felt like when I started playing college football, hoping that I’d excel when my number was called to make my parents, family, and community proud.  Today’s college freshmen are no different.  I wish them all well and hope that the future winners of this Award, those who demonstrate talent, character, and the desire to be great, will carry these traits with them throughout their careers, both on and off the field.”

The recipient of the award will be revealed by Alexander at the FWAA’s Annual Awards Breakfast on Monday, Jan. 7 in San Jose, California in conjunction with the College Football Playoff (CFP) National Championship Game in nearby Santa Clara.  The FWAA’s 18th annual Freshman All-America Team will also be announced at that time by FWAA Past President Mike Griffith, chairman of the team’s selection committee since its inception during the 2001 season.

“Shaun Alexander ranks as one of the most dynamic, compelling athletes I’ve covered over the course of my years in the profession,” said Griffith, now a writer for the Cox Media Group/ DawgNation. “The FWAA’s decision to add a Freshman Player of the Year Award in Shaun’s name is a fitting tribute for what he has represented on and off the field throughout his career, and the type of impact and character freshmen players should look to emulate.”

Griffith oversees a panel of  writers on the selection committee who are geographically balanced across the country. They represent all 10 FBS conferences and major independents.  True freshmen and redshirt freshmen are eligible for the team.  Shaun Alexander will be a member of the team’s selection committee.

About the Football Writers Association of America
Founded in 1941, the non-profit Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) consists of more than 1,300 members, including journalists, broadcasters, publicists and key executives in all areas of college football. Led by current President Stefanie Loh of the Seattle Times, longtime Executive Director Steve Richardson, and a board of veteran journalists, the association continues to grow and work to help college football prosper at all levels. Visit footballwriters.com for more information about the FWAA and its award programs.