2017 Best Feature: John Crist Reply

By John Crist

Saturday Down South

My phone rings. The caller ID reads “Dak Prescott.” He’s getting back to me shortly after I left him a message. Turns out he was in the middle of a workout. He’s still out of breath.

It’s Monday. I’m in Tampa. He’s in Orlando. But by Wednesday, we’ll both be in Indianapolis for the Scouting Combine — the annual meat market for college players ahead of the NFL Draft. I’ll be there as a member of the media. Prescott, of course, is a prospect following a spectacular career at Mississippi State.

He’s the best quarterback ever to play in Starkville, and he may just be the single best player in school history. Prescott elevated a mediocre program in a brutal conference to heights never seen before.

Nevertheless, when the draft experts go through the list of top QBs, his name isn’t mentioned. Jared Goff of California, Carson Wentz of North Dakota State — yes, FCS-level NDSU — and Paxton Lynch of Memphis are considered the first-tier passers. Prescott is a second-tier guy alongside the likes of Michigan State’s Connor Cook and Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg.

He’s currently projected as a mid-round pick. But if Prescott is worried, he hides it well. He sounds authentic and confident without an iota of cockiness.

“(Other quarterbacks) are going to get their hype,” he says. “Just going to camps, even the combine, I don’t know that I’ll make people drop their pen and drop their jaw and say, ‘We’ve got to get this guy first off the board.’ That hasn’t been the player I’ve been all my life.”

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2017 Best Enterprise: David Ching Reply

By David Ching
ESPN.com

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — When they received word that UAB football was coming back, Lee Dufour and Nick Vogel — best friends and former roommates at the school — could not wait to share the news with each other.

Unfortunately, they heard about it at the exact same time.

“Literally the second that they announced football’s coming back, I called him and at the same time, he called me. The calls didn’t go through,” Dufour said, recalling the moment last June when UAB reversed its decision from December 2014 to drop its football program. “I was like, ‘Yes, we have to go back. Whatever we have to go through, we’re coming back.'”

Added Vogel: “We were both going nuts trying to call each other. We both missed a couple calls in a row until we got ahold of each other. We were overjoyed.”

Both players had found new college football programs after UAB’s implosion: offensive lineman Dufour at South Alabama and kicker Vogel at Southern Miss. And yet they missed the friendships and connections that formed in their short time in Birmingham.

They had promised each other they would return to UAB if it ever reinstated the football program, and this was the opportunity many thought would never come.

“That was my primary plan in life: it’s going to come back and I’m going to leave this place and go back to my home in Birmingham,” Vogel said. “I know that sounds completely insane, but when I made the deal with Lee, I was 100 percent behind it. I genuinely thought it would come back.”

Dufour and Vogel are among 16 players from the 2014 team who were back at UAB in time for its recently completed spring practice. However, many of their 2014 teammates with eligibility remaining did not return.

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2017 Best Game Story: Andrea Adelson Reply

By Andrea Adelson
ESPN.com

TAMPA, Fla. — The game clock showed 2:01. Deshaun Watson gathered his teammates and told them simply, “We’re going to get this touchdown. We’re going to win this national championship.”

Nobody on that sideline doubted. Not with Watson under center. Everybody wearing orange and purple firmly believed they had the best player in the country on their side, Heisman or no Heisman. They reminded everybody: Heismans are voted on; championships are won.

This would be it for him, on the last drive, in his last game.

“I’d seen the two minutes and one second on the clock, and I just smiled and I just knew,” Watson said after Monday’s title game. “I told myself, ‘They left too much time on the clock.'”

First play, pass complete. Second play, pass complete. Down the field they went, a march toward inevitability. When Watson arrived at Clemson in January 2013, he tweeted, “Me. In a National Championship Game. I’m just waiting on that moment.”

It came on first-and-goal at the Alabama 2. The play call came in: Crush. Watson would roll out and go to receiver Hunter Renfrow in the flat.

“We knew that play was going to work,” Clemson receiver Mike Williams said. “When you want it the most, you go out with your best call. We knew that was our best call.”

The play call was brilliant. So was its execution.

“I saw the whole play develop, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, wide open,'” Tigers defensive lineman Christian Wilkins said. “I’m on field goal unit, so I sprinted right onto the field as Deshaun was throwing it. I knew it was game. One second left. It was beautiful timing.” More…

2017 FWAA Best Writing Contest winners announced Reply

DALLAS — Three writers — Alex Scarborough and Jake Trotter of ESPN.com and Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports — each claimed two individual awards and Glenn Guilbeau of USA TODAY Network/Gannett Louisiana repeated as a first-place winner in the 25th Annual FWAA Best Writing Contest.

ESPN.com writers collected 10 individual or co-bylined awards, including 1-2-3 sweeps in the Game Story and Enterprise categories.

First-place winners will receive game balls, certificates and cash prizes. Second and third-place winners will get certificates and cash prizes. Honorable mention award recipients will receive certificates. All will be recognized at the annual FWAA Awards Breakfast on Jan. 8, 2018 in Atlanta.

GAME

First Place — Andrea Adelson, ESPN.com

Second Place — Alex Scarborough, ESPN.com

Third Place — Jake Trotter, ESPN.com

Honorable Mention — John Feinstein, Washington Post; Dennis Dodd, CBS Sports; Matt Fortuna, ESPN.com; Rich Scarcella, Reading Eagle

FEATURES

First Place —  John Crist, Saturday Down South

Second Place — Mike Vorel, South Bend (Ind.) Tribune

Third Place —  Nate Mink, The Post-Standard (Syracuse, N.Y.)/Syracuse.com

Honorable Mention —  Alex Scarborough, ESPN.com; Jake Trotter, ESPN.com;  Daniel Uthman, USA TODAY

COLUMNS

First Place — Glenn Guilbeau, USA TODAY Network/Gannett Louisiana

Second Place — J.P. Scott, Athlon Sports

Third Place — Ryan McGee, ESPN.com

Honorable Mention — Matt Hayes, Bleacher Report; Ivan Maisel, ESPN.com

ENTERPRISE

First Place — David Ching, ESPN.com

Second Place — Mark Schlabach and Paula Lavigne, ESPN.com

Third Place — Kyle Bonagura and Mark Fainaru-Wada, ESPN.com

Honorable Mention — Harry B. Minium Jr., Norfolk Virginian-Pilot; Dennis Dodd, CBS Sports; Pete Thamel, Sports Illustrated; Michael Casagrande,  AL.com/Alabama Media Group; Jack Ebling and Joe Rexrode, Dog Ear Publishing; Andrew Greif, The Oregonian