2015 Best Feature, by Pete Thamel

ffaw_redesignComment by the judge, Steve Richardson: Thoughtful, well-researched piece on UT’s Charlie Strong. This story got way below the surface and explained why Strong is the way he is. It explains his life every step of the way from his childhood to becoming the CEO of one of college football’s traditional powers.

By Pete Thamel

Sports Illustrated

Pete Thamel, Sports Illustrated

Pete Thamel, Sports Illustrated

Charlie Strong opens his eyes. It’s 4 a.m. He rises, dresses and, without caffeine, drives 20 minutes to the Texas football facility. On Mondays he runs south to downtown via Red River Street and returns on Guadalupe Street. On Tuesdays he heads through neighborhoods to the north. The routes vary each day, but the goal remains the same — shave a few seconds off his time from the week before.

He does not always succeed, but Strong still bangs out five miles at a nine-minute clip, straining to outrace some previous version of himself. He has done this for his entire career, through 14 coaching jobs at eight universities — three decades spent pushing himself forward while running in loops. And yet even when he has reached his destination, Strong cannot help but do what he has always done, so he runs just as hard.

Last winter, after going 23-3 during his final two seasons at Louisville, Strong landed what many consider the best coaching gig in the country, signing a five-year, $26 million deal at Texas. If everything is big in Texas, the task of reviving the football team is no exception. The Longhorns went 18-17 in the Big 12 under Mack Brown over the last four seasons; this year they didn’t have a player drafted by the NFL for the first time since 1937. And Strong’s hiring as the program’s first black coach carries with it a social significance that matches the breadth of his improbable journey. “Could you ever believe,” Strong confided to a friend recently, “that I ended up at Texas?”

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FWAA unveils 75th anniversary All-America team

ffaw_redesignDALLAS — The Football Writers Association of America proudly announces its 75th Anniversary All-America Team, celebrating the association’s All-America teams from near the end of World War II through the 2014 season. The FWAA, which was founded in 1941, has picked an annual All-America team since the 1944 season, making it the second longest continuously selected team in major college football.

The FWAA’s first All-America team in 1944 included Army’s famous running back tandem of Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis and Georgia Tech’s Frank Broyles, who later became Arkansas’ legendary head football coach. Seven decades later, the 2014 team featured Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota of Oregon, Outland Trophy winner, offensive tackle Brandon Scherff of Iowa, and Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner, linebacker Scooby Wright III of Arizona.

“This was one of the most fun, yet most difficult exercises I’ve had in life – next to parallel parking, that is,” said FWAA 75th All-America Committee chairman Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman. “Truly, it was an exciting – if not impossible – task to find the best 75 college football players ever. Please save your hate mail, but feel free to weigh in and tell us how we messed up. And I’m sure we did, but no one should argue that it wasn’t a great idea to honor the best who have ever played the game. Let the debating begin.”

A nomination ballot with selected players from all FWAA All-America teams was sent to the entire membership this spring. The popular vote was then taken into consideration by a Blue Ribbon Committee of FWAA past presidents, current board members and officers. That committee put the finishing touches on selecting the 75-man team. In order for a player to be considered for the FWAA’s 75th team, he had to be on a previous FWAA All-America team.

The FWAA’s 25-man first team included Navy quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach, the only member from a military academy; the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner running back Archie Griffin of Ohio State; three-time FWAA All-America end Leon Hart of Notre Dame; and the only two-time Outland Trophy winner, center Dave Rimington of Nebraska. On the three 25-man teams, the Cornhuskers led all schools with six selections – including four on the first team – and four of their overall honorees are Outland Trophy winners. Ohio State and Pittsburgh each had five selections and Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas had four. Schools with three selections were Florida State, Georgia, Michigan and USC.

75th ANNIVERSARY FWAA ALL-AMERICA TEAM

FIRST TEAM OFFENSE

QB Roger Staubach Navy
RB Archie Griffin Ohio State
RB Herschel Walker Georgia
WR Larry Fitzgerald Pittsburgh
WR Jerry Rice Mississippi Valley State
TE Keith Jackson Oklahoma
OL John Hannah Alabama
OL Orlando Pace Ohio State
OL Will Shields Nebraska
OL Ron Yary USC
C Dave Rimington Nebraska

FIRST TEAM DEFENSE

DT Lee Roy Selmon Oklahoma
DT Ndamukong Suh Nebraska
DE Leon Hart Notre Dame
DE Ted Hendricks Miami (Fla.)
LB Tommy Nobis Texas
LB Mike Singletary Baylor
LB Derrick Thomas Alabama
DB Ronnie Lott USC
DB Deion Sanders Florida State
DB Jack Tatum Ohio State
DB Charles Woodson Michigan

FIRST TEAM SPECIALISTS

P Ray Guy Southern Miss
K Kevin Butler Georgia
RS Johnny Rodgers Nebraska

SECOND TEAM OFFENSE

QB Tim Tebow Florida
RB Tony Dorsett Pittsburgh
RB Barry Sanders Oklahoma State
WR Fred Biletnikoff Florida State
WR Randy Moss Marshall
TE Mike Ditka Pittsburgh
OL Bill Fralic Pittsburgh
OL John Hicks Ohio State
OL Calvin Jones Iowa
OL Jonathan Ogden UCLA
C Chuck Bednarik Penn

SECOND TEAM DEFENSE

DT Merlin Olsen Utah State
DT Randy White Maryland
DE Hugh Green Pittsburgh
DE Bruce Smith Virginia Tech
LB Brian Bosworth Oklahoma
LB Dick Butkus Illinois
LB Luke Kuechly Boston College
DB Champ Bailey Georgia
DB Kenny Easley UCLA
DB Jerry Gray Texas
DB Ed Reed Miami (Fla.)

SECOND TEAM SPECIALISTS

P Russell Erxleben Texas
K Mason Crosby Colorado
RS Raghib Ismail Notre Dame

THIRD TEAM OFFENSE

QB Tommie Frazier Nebraska
RB Bo Jackson Auburn
RB Doak Walker SMU
WR Anthony Carter Michigan
WR Calvin Johnson Georgia Tech
TE Gordon Hudson BYU
OL Barrett Jones Alabama
OL Willie Roaf Louisiana Tech
OL Jerry Sisemore Texas
OL Dean Steinkuhler Nebraska
C Jim Ritcher N.C. State

THIRD TEAM DEFENSE

DT Steve Emtman Washington
DT Reggie White Tennessee
DE Bubba Smith Michigan State
DE Jack Youngblood Florida
LB Jack Ham Penn State
LB Lee Roy Jordan Alabama
LB Chris Spielman Ohio State
DB Dré Bly North Carolina
DB Dave Brown Michigan
DB Troy Polamalu USC
DB Roy Williams Oklahoma

THIRD TEAM SPECIALISTS

P Rohn Stark Florida State
K Tony Franklin Texas A&M
RS Derek Abney Kentucky

75th Anniversary All-Americans by school (75 players from 41 schools): Nebraska 6, Ohio State 5, Pittsburgh 5, Alabama 4, Oklahoma 4, Texas 4, Florida State 3, Georgia 3, Michigan 3, USC 3, Florida 2, Miami (Fla.) 2, Notre Dame 2, UCLA 2, Auburn 1, Baylor 1, Boston College 1, BYU 1, Colorado 1, Georgia Tech 1, Illinois 1, Iowa 1, Kentucky 1, Louisiana Tech 1, Marshall 1, Maryland 1, Michigan State 1, Mississippi Valley State 1, Navy 1, North Carolina 1, N.C. State 1, Oklahoma State 1, Penn 1, Penn State 1, SMU 1, Southern Miss 1, Tennessee 1, Texas A&M 1, Utah State 1, Virginia Tech 1, Washington 1.

75th Anniversary All-Americans by current conference: Big Ten Conference 19, Atlantic Coast Conference 15, Southeastern Conference 13, Big 12 Conference 10, Pac-12 Conference 7, Conference USA 3, Independents 3, American Athletic Conference 2, Ivy League 1, Mountain West Conference 1, Southwestern Athletic Conference 1.

“Picking the FWAA’s 75th Anniversary teams was like taking a final exam with no wrong answers,” said 2015 FWAA President Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World-Herald. “Even though some answers may be more ‘right’ than others, this will add to the colorful conversation about college football, honor those chosen, and help celebrate the game.”

The quarterbacks of the top two teams are both Heisman Trophy winners: Staubach and Tim Tebow of Florida. Quarterback Tommie Frazier of Nebraska was selected to the third team after leading Nebraska to back-to-back national titles and finishing runner-up in the Heisman Trophy his senior season. All six of the running backs are Heisman Trophy winners: Griffin, Georgia’s Herschel Walker, Pittsburgh’s Tony Dorsett, Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders, Auburn’s Bo Jackson and SMU’s Doak Walker. There are 16 Outland winners (selected since 1946) and five Bronko Nagurski Trophy winners (selected since 1993) on the three teams.

All eight decades in which the FWAA teams have been selected are represented on the 75-man team, starting in the 1940s with SMU’s Walker all the way through Alabama’s two-time All-America Barrett Jones, the 2011 Outland winner. In all, there are 56 members of the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame and 41 schools are represented on the three 25-man teams.

The FWAA has selected All-America Teams in different forms over the years. All the teams are online at allamericateam.com and footballwriters.com in the All-America section in the FWAA awards area.

“This was truly an enriching experience picking this team,” said FWAA Executive Director Steve Richardson. “It put our members in contact with the great players of the past and truly gave them a better snapshot of college football history. All of our All-Americans were great, but picking this team was like choosing between a filet mignon and a Kansas City strip.”

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.

The FWAA welcomes comments on the selection of its 75th Anniversary All-America Team. Please send your comments to allamerica@fwaa.com or Tweet them to @TheFWAA.

Related links:

 

Ohio State is pre-season No. 1 in FWAA-NFF Super 16 Poll

ffaw_redesignDefending national champion Ohio State leads all teams by a large margin to claim the top spot in the Super 16 preseason poll released by the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation.

The Buckeyes were the top selection on 38 of the 40 ballots cast by the voters.

The Big 12 have two teams in the Top 16, with TCU and Baylor occupying the second and fourth spots in the poll, respectively. TCU received one first-place vote.

Alabama, the team the Buckeyes defeated in one of the two 2014 College Football Playoff Semifinals, is third in the poll, sandwiched in between the two Big 12 schools. The Crimson Tide received the other first-place vote.

Oregon, which lost to Ohio State in the national title game last season, is fifth in the initial poll.

The SEC leads all leagues with five teams in the poll, followed by the Pac-12 with four. The ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten have two teams each. Independent Notre Dame has the other vote.

Click here to see the entire poll.

 

Barfknecht says FWAA’s 75th Anniversary All-American Team will be highlight of the off-season

ffaw_redesignFWAA President Lee Barfknecht writes that the FWAA’s 75th Anniversary All-America Team, to be released this summer,  will provide fresh argument-starters during college football’s downtime. Whether you are at the lake or a bar, at home or away or settling in after a Sunday school picnic, these teams should get you talking.

Click here to read Lee’s column at Omaha.com.

 

Cancer survivor and 2011 FWAA Courage Award winner signs as free agent with Dolphins

By Chris Solari
Lansing State Journal

After beating cancer, Arthur Ray’s odds-defying journey back to football will finally take him to the NFL.

The former Michigan State offensive lineman agreed to terms with the Miami Dolphins and will join the team’s rookie mini-camp that begins Friday in South Florida, his agent Paul Sheehy said Tuesday.

Ray, a Chicago native who is 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, is expected to be either a guard or center at the pro level. He started 14 games over the past two seasons at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., after being granted two extra seasons of eligibility by the NCAA in January 2013. He last played for MSU in 2011.

ffaw_redesignIn Miami this week, Ray will rejoin former Spartan teammate Tony Lippett, a cornerback/wide receiver taken by the Dolphins in Saturday’s fifth round. Former MSU tight end Dion Sims and punter Brandon Fields also are on the Dolphins’ active roster.

The camp will be a foot-in-the-door tryout for Ray, who went undrafted in the NFL draft over the weekend.

“I’m on the phone with my main man Dion Sims all the time. … Dion Sims is truly one of my best friends from Michigan State,” Ray said last week before the NFL draft. “We always talk about me and the process. We were just joking the other day about me possibly coming down to the Dolphins. I was just laughing with him, telling him, ‘Yeah, I wouldn’t mind backing up (starting center Mike) Pouncy’ and going down there and playing with Dion.”

It’s been a long and sometimes rocky path to the NFL for Ray, who turns 26 next month.

Ranked as one of the nation’s top offensive guards as part of Mark Dantonio’s first full MSU recruiting class in 2007, he was diagnosed with cancer in his right tibia in April of his senior year at Mount Carmel High in Chicago.

Ray underwent nine surgeries on his lower right leg and chemotherapy, battling bone infections and countless hours of rehabilitation on his leg while spending more than two years on crutches. He deferred his enrollment and didn’t begin classes at MSU until 2008. Dantonio and his staff honored their scholarship commitment.

In the spring of 2011, Ray was finally cleared to practice. During the Spartans’ opening game that August against Youngstown State, a tearful Ray received the starting assignment at left guard. He went on to play against Florida Atlantic and Indiana and received his only varsity letter at MSU, receiving the team’s “Biggie” Munn Most Inspirational Player Award at the team banquet.

Conquering cancer also earned Ray the Discover Orange Bowl/Football Writers Association of America’s Courage Award and was the Most Courageous Performance by the Big Ten in 2011.

Dantonio left Ray off MSU’s 2012 roster. Ray received a medical disqualification and finished his degree in communications that December before transferring to Division II Fort Lewis College, where he was a two-time captain and tore his meniscus in his right knee during the 2013 season. He returned to the field last fall and was a second-team All-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference selection at left tackle.

FWAA announces ‘Super 11’ sports information departments in 2014 season

ffaw_redesignDALLAS — The Football Writers Association of America has selected its sixth “Super 11” group of sports information departments deemed the best in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision for the 2014 season.

The winners: Auburn (SEC), Bowling Green (Mid-American Conference), Colorado (Pac-12), East Carolina (American Athletic Conference), Iowa State (Big 12), Nebraska (Big Ten), Pittsburgh (ACC), Rice (Conference USA) Rutgers (Big Ten), UNLV (Mountain West) and USC (Pac-12).

USC is a five-time winner of the award and Auburn, Bowling Green, Colorado, East Carolina, Nebraska, Pittsburgh and Rutgers are multiple winners. The committee honored Rutgers because of the exceptional work of former football Sports Information Director Jason Baum, who consistently provided exemplary service when he worked with the school’s athletic department.

New winners of the award are Iowa State, Rice and UNLV. Over the six-year period, the FWAA has honored 45 different schools.

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FBS Pre-Season Media Days

Here are the dates and locations of pre-season football media days upcoming this summer:

Atlantic Coast Conference: July 19-21, Pinehurst Resort, North Carolina

American Athletic Conference:   August 2-4,  Hyatt Regency, Newport, Rhode Island

Big Ten Conference:  July 30-31, Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, Chicago 

Big 12 Conference: July 20-21, The Omni, Dallas

Conference USA: July 21-22, Boca Resort, Boca Raton, Fla.

Mid-American Conference:  July 28-29, Ford Field, Detroit

Mountain West Conference:  July 28-29, The Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

Pac 12:  July 30-31, Warner Bros. Studios, Burbank, Calif.

Southeastern: July 13-16, Wynfrey Hotel, Hoover, Alabama

Sun Belt: July 19-20 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans