Armed Forces Merit Award 2020 finalists revealed

Fort Worth, Texas Three individuals have been named as finalists for the 2020 Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA).

The announcement of the 2020 recipient will be made via a 10 a.m. (CT) teleconference Wednesday, Nov. 11 – Veteran’s Day – by Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl Executive Director Brant Ringler and FWAA President Matt Fortuna.

One of the three individuals for the 2020 Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA was also finalists in 2019 when Army West Point assistant coach Mike Viti was announced last November as the eighth recipient.

Defensive lineman and Marine veteran Alexander Findura of Bloomsburg College of Pennsylvania leads the list of three individuals named as 2020 finalists after he advanced to the final round of voting in 2019.

The other two 2020 Armed Forces Mert Award finalists are defensive lineman and Army veteran Collin O’Donnell of Bluefield College of Virginia and defensive back coach and Air Force veteran Charlton Warren.

The Armed Forces Merit Award’s selection committee is made up of seven FWAA members and two representatives from the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl. A total of 38 individuals and three programs were nominated for the 2019 award that was created in June 2012 “to honor an individual and/or a group with a military background and/or involvement that has an impact within the realm of college football.”

Other recipients for the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA were Nate Boyer of the University of Texas (2012), Brandon McCoy of the University of North Texas (2013), Daniel Rodriguez from Clemson University (2014), Bret Robertson of Westminster College (Fulton, Mo., 2015), Steven Rhodes from Middle Tennessee State University (2016) and Dr. Chris Howard from Robert Morris University (2018).

Boyer (long snapper), McCoy (defensive lineman), Rodriquez (wide receiver) and Robertson (defensive back) served in the Army before playing collegiate football. A Marine, Rhodes played four seasons at Middle Tennessee and participated in the 2013 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl with the Blue Raiders.

A 1991 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, Dr. Howard was a Rhodes Scholar and received the 1990 Campbell Trophy, the highest academic award in the nation presented to a senior college football player. A member of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee (2017-2019), Dr. Howard was inducted into the CoSIDA Academic All-America Hall of Fame and a recipient of the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award, which recognizes distinguished individuals on the 25th anniversary of the conclusion of their collegiate athletic careers.

Kansas State and its football team were honored in November 2017 as the sixth recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award for the university’s partnership with the United States Army that created a bond between the school’s athletic department and the Iron Rangers at Fort Riley.

Media Contacts

Tim Simmons, AFMA Coordinator at 720/244-650 or

Steve Richardson, FWAA at 214/870-6516 or

Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA – 2020 finalists

Alexander Findura

Alexander Findura is a senior defensive lineman at Bloomsburg University where he has appeared in 29 career games and compiled 83 total tackles (41 solos) with 9.5 sacks,22 tackles for losses with two forced fumbles and six pass deflections. In 2019, Findura started in all 11 games for Bloomsburg and totaled 57 tackles along with leading the team in sacks (7) and tackles for a loss (16.5). Findura started his collegiate career at Georgia State where he was redshirted as a freshman in 2011. With a family history of military service (father in the Navy and grandfather an Army veteran), Findura joined the Marines is the summer of 2012. Before his arrival to Bloomsburg University, Alex Findura served four years in the United States Marines and, during his service, was a member of an elite team known as the Body Bearers. The section’s primary mission is to bear the caskets at funerals for Marines, former Marines, and Marine family members at Arlington National Cemetery and the surrounding cemeteries in the National Capital Region. On occasion, they are called to travel to locations around the country to support funerals for senior statesmen, heads of state, and former Presidents of the United States. Entering his fourth season of play at Bloomsburg as a defensive lineman, Findura was named in September as one 22 student-athletes across the country named to the 2020 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team®.

Collin O’Donnell

Collin O’Donnell, a junior defensive lineman at Bluefield College, serving in the U.S Army from 2013-2016 and was injured in Afghanistan. After two years at Walter Reed National Military Medical Hospital and seven operations to save his foot, he fully rehabilitated and went back home to Buffalo, N.Y. where he began training with the sole intention of playing college football. While at Walter Reed National Military Medical Hospital, O’Donnell was invited to the White House, where former President Barack Obama personally awarded him the Presidential Call to Service Award for his outstanding service to community. In his first two season playing at Bluefield, O’Donnell has compiled 34 total tackles in 15 games, including 16 unassisted stops. O’Donnell has 7.5 tackles for losses (19.5 yards), one quarterback sack (seven yards) and two passes broken up. O’Donnell, who maintains a 3.33 accumulative grade point average, has volunteered to be an ambassador for the school and leads tours for prospective students. He O’Donnell received the 2019 Richmond Touchdown Club Man of the Year Award this past December, one of the highest honors a College football player in the state of Virginia can receive. In the fall of 2019, O’Donnell won the Tazewell County Business Challenge for entrepreneurs and opened his Coffee and Bake shop called “The Grind” in May 2020. O’Donnell received Bluefield College’s 2019 Champion of Character award from the Mid-South Conference.

Charlton Warren

Charlton Warren is in the midst of his second-season as a defensive backfield coach at the University of Georgia. In his first season on the Georgia staff, the Bulldogs led the nation in scoring and rushing defense and ranked among FBS leaders in several other categories. A native of Atlanta, Ga., Warren has coached previously at the U. S. Air Force Academy (2005-2013), Nebraska (2014), North Carolina (2015-2016), Tennessee (2017) and Florida (2019). Warren also participated in the NFL minority internship program in 2007 with the Houston Texans. Warren was a member of the Air Force coaching staff that competed in four Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl games (2007-2009, 2012). In the Falcons’ 47-20 win over Houston in the 2009 games, Air Force’s defense held 2009 NCAA leading passer, Case Keenum to 222 yards and only one touchdown while intercepting him six times. Warren was a three-year letterman at defensive back for Air Force, and helped the program achieve consecutive 10-win seasons in 1997 and 1998. A 1999 Air Force graduate a degree in Human Factors Engineering, Warren was stationed at Warner Robins AFB in Georgia from 2000-2003 where he was a C-130 avionics program manager. Before returning to the Academy in 2005, Warren was stationed at Eglin AFB in Florida as an air-to-ground weapons program manager for the Air Armament Center.

Armed Forces Merit Award nominations announced

Fort Worth, Texas — A total of 38 individuals and three programs have been nominated for the 2020 Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). The list includes eight collegiate players, 14 college coaches, 14 college and university administrators and two college referees.

Coordinated by the staff at the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA was created in June 2012 “to honor an individual and/or a group with a military background and/or involvement that has an impact within the realm of college football.”

With 38 nominations (33 individuals and five programs) considered for the 2019 award, Army West Point coach and military service veteran Mike Viti was the eighth recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award. A graduate of West Point, Viti has completed four seasons at the school’s fullback coach and co-founded Legacies Alive (LA), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

The mission of the Legacies Alive is to strengthen and support the Gold Star families of our nation’s fallen heroes and brings national awareness to the life and character of all service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Viti oversees the strategic and executive direction of the organization.

Other recipient include Nate Boyer of the University of Texas (2012), Brandon McCoy of the University of North Texas (2013), Daniel Rodriguez from Clemson University (2014), Bret Robertson of Westminster College (Fulton, Mo., 2015), Steven Rhodes from Middle Tennessee State University (2016) and Dr. Chris Howard from Robert Morris University (2018).

Boyer (long snapper), McCoy (defensive lineman), Rodriquez (wide receiver) and Robertson (defensive back) served in the Army before playing collegiate football. A Marine, Rhodes played four seasons at Middle Tennessee and participated in the 2013 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl with the school.

A 1991 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, Dr. Howard was a Rhodes Scholar and received the 1990 Campbell Trophy, the highest academic award in the nation presented to a senior college football player. A member of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee (2017-2019), Dr. Howard was inducted into the CoSIDA Academic All-America Hall of Fame and a recipient of the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award, which recognizes distinguished individuals on the 25th anniversary of the conclusion of their collegiate athletic careers.

Kansas State and its football team were honored in November 2017 as the sixth recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award for the university’s partnership with the United States Army that created a bond between the school’s athletic department and the Iron Rangers at Fort Riley.

Media Contacts

Tim Simmons, AFMA Coordinator at 720/244-650 or
Steve Richardson, FWAA at 214/870-6516 or

2020 Armed Forces Merit Award Nominations


Active Players

  • Cornelius Andrews, Union College, WR, 5-7, 148, Jun., Stockbridge, GA.
  • Alexander Findura, Bloomsburg, DL, 6-6, 255, Sen., Woodland, Ga. (U. S. Marine Corps)
  • Rashaud Freeman, Webber International, LB, 6-0, 225, Jun, Jacksonville, Fla. (U. S. Army)
  • Rasheed Holloway, Union College, WR, 6-0, 198, Jun., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
  • Damian Jackson, Nebraska, DL, 6-2, 275, Jun. Las Vegas, Nev. (U. S. Navy)
  • Kenwon Mack, Union College, CB, 5-9, 165, Soph., Detroit, Mich.
  • Collin O’Donnell, Bluefield College, DL, 6-0, 250, Soph., North Tonawanda, N.Y. (U. S. Army)
  • Josh Schenck, Oklahoma, LB, 5-11, 210, Sen., Knightdale, N.C. (ROTC Cadet)

Football Coaching Staff

  • Troy Calhoun, Head Coach, United States Air Force Academy (U. S. Air Force)
  • Jake Campbell, Assistant Backfield, United States Air Force Academy (U. S. Air Force)
  • Jordan Eason, Assistant Offensive Line, United States Air Force Academy (U. S. Air Force)
  • Robert Green, Defense Assistant & Director of Racial Equality, United States Naval Academy (U. S. Marine Corps)
  • Brian Knorr, Inside Linebackers, U. S. Air Force Academy (U. S. Air Force)
  • Steed Lobotzke, Offensive Line, United States Air Force Academy (U. S. Air Force)
  • Alex Means, Outside Linebackers, United States Air Force Academy (U. S. Air Force)
  • Ben Miller, Running Backs/Special Teams Coordinator, United States Air Force Academy (U. S. Air Force)
  • Andre Morris, Spurs, United States Air Force Academy (U. S. Air Force)
  • John Rudzinski, Defensive Coordinator, United States Air Force Academy (U. S. Air Force)
  • Trent Steelman, Quarterbacks, Eastern Kentucky University (U. S. Army)
  • Mike Thiessen, Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks, United States Air Force Academy (U. S. Air Force)
  • Charlton Warren, Defensive Backs, Georgia (U. S. Air Force)
  • Mick Yokitis, Wide Receivers, United States Naval Academy (U. S. Navy)

Football Support Staff

  • Clayton Kendrick-Holmes, Chief of Staff/Football Operations, United States Military Academy (U. S. Navy)
  • LTC John Nawoichyk, Assistant AD/Military Operations, United States Military Academy (U. S. Army)
  • Omar Nelson, Director of Player Development, United States Naval Academy (U. S. Navy)
  • Capt. Ross Pospisil, Director of Player Development, United States Naval Academy (U. S. Marines Corps)
  • CPT Blake Powers, Admission Support, United States Military Academy (U. S. Army)
  • CPT Zachary Reichert, Assistant Director of Football Operations, United States Military Academy (U. S. Army)
  • Steve Senn, Director of Recruiting, United States Air Force Academy (U. S. Air Force)
  • Jordan Simmons, Strength & Conditioning, Nevada (U. S. Army)
  • Mike Sullivan, Director of Recruiting, United States Military Academy (U. S. Army)
  • Rusty Whitt, Football Strength & Conditioning Coach, Troy University (U. S. Army)
  • Nick Zinani, Sports Performance Coordinator, Wake Forest University (U. S. Army)
  • Jake Zweig, Director of Man Development, Illinois, (U. S. Navy)

University Leadership


  • Raymond Daniel, Official, Mid-American Conference (Army National Guard)
  • Steve Thielen, Official, Mid-American Conference (U. S. Army)

A whole new world – even in the pressbox

Pandemic changes the way media goes about its job

By Al Lesar

Sitting in a big-time college football pressbox during a pandemic is a lot like sitting in a big-time college football pressbox any other time.
Except there were a lot fewer media types. And no hotdogs. And no pressbox announcer. And no in-person interviews, all Zoom. And that lousy mask.

Tennessee mascot Smokey reminds the media to wear a mask.

Over the course of three decades, I became comfortable with transitioning my workspace to pressboxes in many different parts of the country. No big deal, the game’s the same – only the buffet changes.

Three years ago, I hopped off that merry-go-‘round. It was time. I’d had enough of deadline-crunching challenges every week (by the way, in 38 years I never missed a deadline – not many journalists can say that).

When I had to have an opinion on a game that wasn’t finished, so that I could send my story as soon as the game clock hit 0:00, there could be some pressure involved.

I remember at least three or four really close games in which I had the first five or six paragraphs of my story written three different ways so that when the outcome was finally decided, I could use the one that fit the circumstances the best and pray that I remembered to delete the other two possibilities. I didn’t want to make a goof like that and pray that an attentive but overworked editor would save my keister.

Anyway, through the last three autumns of retirement, I discovered that life goes on outside the football stadium. Now, I can watch a very competitive game that started at 8 p.m. on television and have a tinge of empathy for the poor schlubs who have to get that story in at the buzzer.

Then an opportunity came along to augment some coverage with the University of Tennessee’s home football and basketball games. I’m always looking to grow, so I thought this would be interesting.

A couple weeks ago was my first visit to a pressbox since a bad Notre Dame team lost to Southern Cal by 18 at the Coliseum, in a really scary part of Los Angeles.

I was there in L.A. when an earthquake a few weeks earlier made the pressbox structurally unsound, so we had to sit in the stands on a really cold night I was there when police had to escort writers to their cars well after the crowd had cleared to ensure safety. I was there late one night when the gas station we parked at earlier in the day was locked and chained when we finally returned. Shockingly, a guy came out of nowhere, unlocked the gate and even washed the dew off our windshield. He earned a $20 tip.

Anyway, the Vols’ game against Missouri was my next first challenge a couple weeks ago. Noon start. Beautiful day. Passed the pre-entry health screening with a 96.9-degree temperature check (no wonder I was chilly).

The pandemic forced more than 80,000 tickets to go unsold. With just 21,000-plus attending, traffic was hardly a concern. Tailgates weren’t encouraged.

Most local news outlets – television, radio, newspapers and whoever – normally would be allotted multiple credentials for the pressbox. This season, it’s one per entity in most cases. The News Sentinel was allowed two seats.

With the checkerboard in the background, the media gets game-ready.

Media members – covering the Vols as well as Mizzou – were scattered throughout the large space. The six-foot social distance was readily enforced.

I can hear readers moaning that media folk are spoiled with the hotdogs or other free food available to them.

The Tennessee media was relying on the legendary snack food Moon Pie for sustenance.

Once the writing process has begun, having the pressbox announcer detail the breakdown of every play in the second half – players involved, down, distance, result – is necessary to keep up with the game by multi-tasking.

Fortunately for me, UT had a blowout win. All that needed to be plugged in as the final seconds ticked away were a few cumulative stats and the final score.

Try doing that – as well as filing two more versions of the same story with new quotes and a unique approach – while having glasses fog up at least a couple times every minute.

By the second revision, two hours after the game ended as the hard-core media guys were the only ones left hammering out that one last story, the mask was ripped from my ears and laid next to my computer.
Never was an issue before. Hope it won’t be for long.
It’s a whole new world – even in a pressbox.

Al Lesar, a longtime FWAA member, retired from the South Bend Tribune in 2017, after more than 32 years there. He’s now a freelance writer in the Knoxville area.

28th Annual FWAA Best Writing Contest Results

DALLAS — Frequent past winners Ivan Maisel of and Christopher Walsh of joined David Hale of and Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated in claiming first-place honors in the 28th Annual FWAA Best Writing Contest. Four writers claimed awards in two categories and one writer took awards in three categories.

Maisel’s winning entry in Column on the late, legendary writer Dan Jenkins drew this response from the judge: “Love everything about it (the column). It’s a tall order to memorialize a writing legend. You tend to overwrite to impress. This one had just the right tone.”

Walsh’s expansive story in Enterprise explained how current-day Tide Coach Nick Saban rates versus the top coaches in the history of the game. From the judge: “Exhaustive research piece on how Alabama’s Nick Saban stacks up against the all-time field of great coaches. Well-written, with excellent perspective on the intangibles that make Saban one of the best.”

In the Game Story Category, Dellenger completely captured the essence of LSU’s CFP semifinal victory over Oklahoma after a deadly game-day plane crash involving the daughter-in-law of LSU’s offensive coordinator. From the judge: “Writer depicts the emotions in LSU’s blistering of Oklahoma in a national semifinal that was tinged with tragedy. Great job of telling the story of the day and game that was like no other in LSU history.”

And Hale’s Feature Story on Arkansas State Coach Blake Anderson and his loss of wife Wendy to cancer prompted this from the judge: “Powerful. So detailed. After reading it, you want to go hug Blake Anderson, while wishing you’d known Wendy.”

Ryan McGee of picked up a second, third and an honorable mention in his trifecta. Dellenger, besides his first-place award, also picked up a second. Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports, David Ubben of The Athletic and Dave Wilson of each had two honorable mention awards.

First, second and third-place awards receive cash prizes as well as certificates. Honorable mentions receive certificates.

To read the first-place stories and a bio on the writers, click on their names below.


First Place — Ross Dellenger, Sports Illustrated

Second Place — Glenn Guilbeau, USA TODAY Network-Louisiana

Third Place — James Crepea, The Oregonian

Honorable Mention — John Bohnenkamp, HawkeyeMaven; Pete DiPrimio,; David Ubben, The Athletic


First Place David Hale,

Second Place Ross Dellenger, Sports Illustrated

Third Place Nate Mink, Syracuse Post-Standard/

Honorable Mention Ryan McGee,; Pete Thamel, Yahoo Sports; Dave Wilson,; Andrea Adelson,; Max Olson, The Athletic



First Place Ivan Maisel,

Second Place Ryan McGee,

Third Place — David Teel, Daily Press, Newport News, Va.

Honorable Mention Anthony Gimino,; Pete Thamel, Yahoo Sports; Kirk Bohls, Austin American-Statesman


First Place — Christopher Walsh,

Second Place — Stewart Mandel,The Athletic

Third Place – Ryan McGee,

Honorable Mention — Shehan Jeyarajah, Dave Campbell’s Texas Football; David Ubben, The Athletic; Dave Wilson,

2020 Best Feature: David Hale

Comment by the judge: Powerful. So detailed. After reading it, you want to go hug Blake Anderson, while wishing you’d known Wendy.

By David Hale

It was quiet inside the truck as Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson drove along Interstate 55. He wasn’t sure what to say. Usually he could count on his wife, Wendy, to fill any silence. She loves talking to people, and even the most mundane subject will spiral in a dozen different directions only vaguely related to the last. Blake calls it “spiderwebbing,” one thread thinly connected to another. He’s the face of the football program, but at events, Wendy is the star. A booster or fan will corner him, then he’ll introduce Wendy. She spiderwebs, and he sneaks away, leaving Wendy to charm even the dullest of companions.

Now, in early July, Wendy is in the seat next to him, frail and tired and sore from an hour bumping along the highway between Memphis, Tennessee, and Jonesboro in the passenger seat, silently deliberating the news they’d just gotten from her doctors.

A few weeks earlier, scans showed her latest round of chemotherapy was working. She’d first been diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer in 2017, recovered, then got sick again. The initial prognosis was bleak, but she was a fighter, and until today, she thought she was winning. But she’d skipped her last dose of chemo, too tired and too sick to plug herself into another bag of poison. Her doctor ordered tests. The tests showed the tumors were growing again. They’d gone to meet with her oncologist in Memphis, and he offered no good options.

Wendy wasn’t prone to outbursts. Perhaps it was the voice, a Betty Boop approximation, she said, that always endeared her to kids and made Blake laugh when she’d get excited. She didn’t curse much, either. She’d say things like, “Cancer really kicked me in the fanny.” But after the doctor went over the test results, he’d left the room, closed the door, and Wendy screamed.


They didn’t talk much after that, just drove along in silence while Wendy’s mind raced. Why had she gotten her hopes up? Why did cancer keep pulling the rug out from under her? Why couldn’t these doctors see that all this bad news wasn’t helping? The more she thought, the angrier she got. Twisting in the passenger seat to face her husband, she erupted.

“I’m sick and tired of getting bad news,” she shouted. “Don’t give me any more bad news. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to see it. I’m going to beat this, and all these things they keep showing me be damned!”

Blake took her hand. She wasn’t mad at him. He knew that. It just needed to be said.

“I’ve never doubted you,” he said.


2020 Best Column: Ivan Maisel

Comment by the judge: When you’re writing the obituary of an iconic writer, the tendency is to over write and impress, rather than get out of the way and allow the story to tell itself. Loved all the anecdotes. It all worked. Dan Jenkins would be pleased. 

By Ivan Maisel

Dan Jenkins is gone, and everyone who loves college football, golf and the crisply struck one-liner will raise a glass. Preferably of J&B.

If you don’t know the work of Jenkins, who died Thursday night in his beloved Fort Worth, Texas, at age 90, you are in for a treat. He didn’t invent sportswriting, but with his combination of reporting and humor, perspective and confidence, he changed my business for the better. Much better.

In the pages of Sports Illustrated, Dan made human the legendary sports gods of his era. Figures such as Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Bear Bryant and Darrell Royal no longer loomed larger than life. And Dan did it with a sharp eye, a smartass grin and very fast typing. What he didn’t tell us in his reporting, he told us in barely disguised fiction in best-selling novels like “Semi-Tough.” My favorite had nothing to do with football. I bet I haven’t read “Baja Oklahoma” more than 10 times.

Sportswriters of my era have their go-to Jenkins lines, maybe like an earlier generation does with Noel Coward, or the way that Stephen Colbert goes viral today. For personal reasons, mine remains the lead of his story about the 1984 U.S. Open at Winged Foot:

“Maybe Fuzzy Zoeller plays golf the way everybody should. Hit it, go find it, hit it again. Grin, have a smoke, take a sip, make a joke and every so often win a major championship.”

I spent that Open as Dan’s assistant, the fact-checker who helped him gather material for his story. I was 24 years old and barely could find the first tee without a map. I think the only actual assistance I provided Dan was driving him from Manhattan to Mamaroneck for the Monday playoff between Zoeller and Greg Norman.

Sports Illustrated issues closed on Monday, and 35 years ago, most copy had to be buttoned up by Sunday night. They held the magazine for the Open to conclude. Dan, having cut his teeth at the Fort Worth Press, always had been impervious to deadline pressure. At a magazine where writers were known for dripping out copy like an IV, Dan wrote as if he were late for a cocktail party.

In that lead, Dan captured Zoeller’s personality perfectly, in language that sounded like he leaned over the bar to say it. To witness that up close taught me more about journalism than any class I ever took.

In those days, Dan was known for not appearing on the golf course. He worked the locker room a little. Mostly he held court in the dining area of the club, swapping information and one-liners with agents, writers, golfers, you name it. Dan would walk out onto Augusta National on Sunday to watch the golfers play the short par-4 3rd, a nod to his reverence for the Masters, but otherwise he stayed indoors.

But Dan wanted to see a U.S. Open playoff. We walked out to the fifth green. As Norman prepared to putt, Zoeller, standing at the side of the green, glanced over and saw Dan standing there. Their eyes met, and Zoeller clutched his chest, feigning a heart attack. Make a joke, and every so often win a major.

Dan left Sports Illustrated a few weeks later, more a clash of personality than anything. The magazine editor decided Dan had lost his fastball. Maybe so; he only had another 35 years of relevant journalism left in him.

I first met Dan in the fall of 1978 in the office of The Stanford Daily. I was a sophomore, sitting in front of a Royal typewriter. Dan walked in looking for his daughter, Sally, a freshman who intended to join our staff. I’m pretty sure Dan was holding a cigarette. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t speak in his presence. Think of LeBron James walking into your gym, Beyoncé showing up at your corner bar for karaoke.

On that day, I entered his orbit, and I never left. We bonded because any friend of Sally was a friend of his. You could say the same about any friend of college football. Dan stopped covering football nearly 50 years ago, but his love for the sport never wavered.

It began as a 6-year-old, when he attended the battle of two undefeateds, TCU and SMU, at the end of the 1935 season. So did Grantland Rice. The Rose Bowl would invite the winner, and Dan’s beloved hometown TCU lost a heartbreaker. A few years ago, I visited Dan at his Fort Worth home, and on one wall of his office, he had blown up a photo of Amon Carter Stadium that day, with arrows pointing to where he sat, and where Granny Rice sat. Birth of a Sportswriter.

His coverage of college football for Sports Illustrated in the 1960s opened an entire world to the magazine’s readers, and especially to its Ivy League-bred editors. Dan brought college football to the national mainstream and shone a light on all of the color and pageantry of Saturday’s America, a phrase he gleefully stole for a book title from TCU coach Abe Martin, a tobacco-chewin’ rascal from the very old school.

Dan had the idea to spend a weekend in Dallas with two couples as they attended three college football games. He had the idea to chronicle an entire recruiting season in the home of a blue-chip quarterback, Oklahoma-bound Jack Mildren. He had the idea and the gall to take on all of Notre Dame Nation when he mocked Ara Parseghian, coach of the No. 1 Irish, for settling for a 10-10 tie against No. 2 Michigan State in 1966. The story began, “Old Notre Dame will tie over all,” a brilliant takedown of the Irish fight song.


Dan may have stopped writing about college football, but he continued to love it as if it were his fourth child. He faithfully attended TCU football games, his parking space underneath Amon Carter Stadium directly next to the one reserved for the university chancellor. TCU named its press box for Dan in May 2017, and of all the many honors he received in his long and glorious career, that one stayed close to his heart.

A few months later, I went to Arlington to cover the Florida-Michigan game on opening weekend. The day before the game, I met Dan for lunch at Colonial Country Club, home of the longtime PGA Tour stop. Dan held court there. He was physically frail, but his mind remained keen. We talked college football for 90 minutes, and he made sure to show me the encased display of memorabilia from his career on the wall next to the pro shop.

I dropped him an email now and again, and he always answered within minutes. It’s hard to swallow that I can’t do that again. Instead, I’ll swallow a J&B in his honor, and curl up with “Baja Oklahoma” for the 11th read.


Ivan Maisel

Age: 60

College: Stanford

Background: This is the eighth first-place finish in the FWAA Best Writing Contest for Maisel, who won the FWAA’s prestigious Bert McGrane Award in 2016. Maisel, the FWAA President in 1995, has covered college football since 1987 for The Dallas Morning News (1987-94), Newsday (1994-97) and Sports Illustrated (1997-2002). He is delighted to have been the first college football writer hired at, where he has been a senior writer since November 2002. Maisel served as editor-at-large of ESPN College Football 150, the company’s initiative to commemorate the sport’s 150th anniversary in 2019. In that role, he served as writer and host of the Down & Distance podcast, and as a producer on three series and two documentaries. Ivan and his wife, Meg Murray, live in Fairfield, Conn. They have two daughters, Sarah, 28, and Elizabeth, 23. Their son Max died in 2015 at age 21. Ivan is writing a book about Max and the nature of grief that will be published in 2021.

2020 Best Enterprise: Christopher Walsh

Comment by the judge: Exhaustive research piece on how Alabama’s Nick Saban stacks up against the all-time field of great coaches. Well-written, with excellent perspective on where he rates.

Christopher Walsh’s series ran in 26 parts between Aug. 27, 2019, and Dec. 31, 2019.

By Christopher Walsh

Like with so many other successful coaches, Nick Saban has numerous ways to get a point across, and anecdotes that get retold every few years to new and younger audiences.

“Grampa Nick” telling a story goes something like this:

“I’ll never forget fishing as an 11-year-old in West Virginia, and I’m fishing down by this lake where the hot water runs off from the coal mine because that hot water is where the catfish like to hang out. This guy is just sitting there pulling in huge catfish, but throwing them back, and then he’ll catch smaller ones and keep them.

“I’m not catching anything at all, but I’m like ‘Hey man, why do you keep those little ones and throw back those huge ones.’ His answer was ‘Because I’ve only got a 9-inch skillet.’

“See? You have to know who you are.”

So who is Nick Saban?

Just the coach who will eventually go down as being the most successful coach in college football history — the one who everyone is chasing and emulating.

Over the course of the 2019 season, and as part of the 150th anniversary celebration, has compared Saban’s numbers with 25 of the best coaches the sport has ever known (they are listed below).

This is for the big-picture comparison with many of the same categories.

  • Wins: Saban has a long way to go if he wants to try and catch Joe Paterno with 409, but he’ll move into the top 10 next season. Moreover, he’s the only coach during the modern era of college football to be averaging 10 wins a season.
  • National championships: Saban and “Bear” Bryant have both won six, although Bryant was involved in more split titles.

However, Saban came into this season averaging a national championship every 3.8 season he’s been a head coach (Toledo and Michigan State included). The next best averages in history are Frank Leahy and Knute Rockne tied at one every 4.3 seasons, and John McKay at 5.3. Note: Dabo Swinney will move into that group if Clemson knocks off LSU in New Orleans on Jan. 13.

  • Recruiting: There’s no one to compare Saban to as recruiting rankings are still a relatively new phenomenon. Still, it might be a long, long time before anyone else can claim to win seven straight recruiting titles.
  • Dynasty: With five titles between 2009 and 2017, the question isn’t if Alabama’s had the greatest dynasty but when it achieved that distinction.

Was it after Alabama won the 2011 national championship, giving it two titles in three years and four straight 10-win seasons?

Perhaps it was when the Crimson Tide scored 79 unanswered points over seven-plus BCS championship quarters, stemming from the fourth quarter against Texas and concluding during the second half of Alabama’s 42-14 dismantling of the Fighting Irish?

It caused ABC/ESPN announcer Brent Musburger to say in the spring of 2013: “Getting in the game is the first part of the challenge, and that in and of itself is not easy, so I have not seen a run like this.”



The closest comparisons can only be found in other sports:

The 1960s Green Bay Packers, who won five championships in seven years, including Super Bowls I and II.

The New York Yankees won nine World Series and 14 pennants from 1949-64.

The Boston Celtics captured eight straight NBA titles from 1959-1966, and 16 from 1956-86.

The Montreal Canadians won four straight Stanley Cups three times, 1955-60, 1964-69 and 1975-79.

John Wooden at UCLA won 10 NCAA championships from 1964-75.

  • All-Americans: In 2017, Saban didn’t just top, but blew past Paterno for the most consensus All-Americans in history. While the Penn State legend had 33, Saban came into the 2019 season with 41. His 1.78 average per season barely edged Leahy’s 1.77 and Switzer’s 1.75 for the best in college football history.
  • First-round draft picks: See if this sounds familiar, Saban has the all-tie lead with 34, ahead of Paterno (33) and Bobby Bowden (32). Saban is averaging 1.48 first-round draft picks every year, with Urban Meyer second (1.35), Leahy third (1.23) and McKay fourth (1.13).
  • Players in the NFL: When the NFL held its 2019 kickoff weekend, which is the only time it does an official roster breakdown because they’re otherwise always in flux, Alabama had 56 former players who were active. Ohio State was second with 44. The Crimson Tide had at least twice as many active players than all but six other programs.
  • Big wins: No one will probably top Leahy’s amazing 86.5 winning percentage against teams ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll, but Saban came into the 2019 season with an extremely impressive 82-40 record against ranked foes, and 42-21 versus top-10 teams (66.7). He was tied with Bowden for second all-time for most wins against ranked opponents (and passed him with the win at Texas A&M), and trailed just Paterno with 86. Bryant is fourth at 66.

Saban’s 3.57 average wins against ranked opponents and 1.82 against top-10 teams are the best in history.

  • Wins against teams ranked No. 1: Saban has the most with seven. No one else in history has more than four. That statistic is ever more remarkable when you factor in all the weeks Alabama has been ranked No. 1.

The Crimson Tide has been No. 1 at some point of every season since 2008. The previous longest streak was seven years by Miami (1986-92).

  • Wins against unranked opponents: The streak is up to 91 straight victories, the longest in Bowl Subdivision history. The previous record was 72 games, shared by Miami (Fla.) (1984-95) and Florida (1989- 2000). Under Saban, Alabama holds a 95-3 (.969) (91-3, .968 after vacations) mark against unranked opponents.
  • The stat that will likely never be matched: Since the 2008 season, Alabama has played in 141 of 144 regular season games that have had national championship implications.


2020 Best Game Story: Ross Dellenger

Comment of the judge: Writer captures the emotions in LSU’s blistering of Oklahoma in a national semifinal that was tinged with tragedy. Great job of telling the story of the day and game that was like no other in LSU history,

By Ross Dellenger

Sports Illustrated

ATLANTA, Ga. — Somewhere in a corner of LSU’s locker room here at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Tigers offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger held the hardest phone call of his life. His daughter-in-law, Carley McCord, a 30-year-old TV journalist, had perished Saturday morning in a plane crash in Louisiana while en route to this very place. His son and namesake, Steven Jr., so shaken by the news that family members rushed him to the hospital, lay in a bed in a medicated state, on sedatives, in and out of reality—until dad called.

Just before he took the field for warmups, an hour before he would call plays in his alma mater’s biggest game in eight years, Steve Ensminger, for just a brief few minutes, pushed football aside for family. He called his son. He told him that everything would be O.K., that he’d make it through this dark hour. He told him that he loved him and to be strong and have faith.

He also made him a promise. As the call ended, dad told son what was coming next. “The team is behind you, these coaches are behind you,” Steven recalls his father saying, “and we are about to go beat Oklahoma’s ass for you.”

Hours later, with LSU in the midst of a deconstruction of the Sooners, Steven’s blood pressure dipped to more normal levels. He emerged from that cloudy state and maybe most importantly, the 30-year old got to watch his father’s offense roar in LSU’s 63-28 thumping of OU. Quarterback Joe Burrow carved through the Big 12 champs and its defense with such quick ferocity that it almost seemed unfathomable. The Tigers scored a touchdown on eight of their first nine drives, led 49-14 at halftime and finished with 692 yards of offense in one of the most dominant victories in the six-year history of the College Football Playoff.

They’re bound for a national championship bout on Jan. 13 in New Orleans with Clemson, a quasi-home game for a team on a magical 2019 run. They’re the top-ranked team in the land, have the Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback and haven’t lost a game since last November. For a second time in three weeks, LSU brought a Louisiana party to this place, celebrating a playoff win days after claiming the SEC championship here. Garth Brooks’ “Callin’ Baton Rouge” blared through the stadium speakers, purple-clad LSU fans screamed from the stands and their team, high up on a platform, accepted the Peach Bowl trophy.

And then there was Steve Ensminger, the last assistant coach to arrive on the field for this celebration, having made his way from the press box.

He found wife Amy and then he found head coach Ed Orgeron, the man who had delivered to him the tragic news around lunchtime earlier Saturday. They all embraced in an emotional moment and peculiar scene—tears of sadness surrounded by a celebrating sea. Ensminger, 61, is not any other assistant here. He is a beloved figure, an LSU quarterback under famed coach Charlie McClendon, a country boy raised in the Baton Rouge area with a hilarious twang. He’s heralded as an unsung hero of LSU’s 2019 season, hidden in the darkness of the looming shadow of 30-year-old pass game coordinator Joe Brady, a former Saints assistant who helped overhaul the Tigers’ offense into a spread attack over the offseason.

Without Steve, none of this happens, Brady and others have said. During the first half, ESPN TV cameras flashed on screen Ensminger and Brady in the booth, and when the Tigers went up 42-7 in the second quarter, the two even shared a fist bump. Nothing changed about their normal, two-man play-calling system despite the tragedy, Brady says.

Meanwhile, more than 500 miles away, Steven Ensminger Jr. agreed to a text exchange interview with Sports Illustrated in the second quarter of LSU’s win, detailing one of the darkest days of his life and describing that pregame phone call from his father. “I had talked to my mom crying and couldn’t get out words and same with my cousin who was my best man in our wedding,” Steven says. “The one voice that got on the phone with me that was clear and strong and supportive and confident while I was laying in that bed was my dad right before he walked out for warm-ups. I could barely speak. I couldn’t hold myself together and he said, ‘Son, you will get through this, it’s what we do. We face the darkest times in our lives and it’s what we do, we get through it. And I will take care of you and I’ll be there for you to keep you strong. You’re my one and only son, and my namesake and I love you and I can promise you we will get through this.’”

McCord was one of six passengers on a small private aircraft that left Lafayette, La., around 9 a.m. CT bound for Atlanta. The only survivor, Stephen Wade Berzas, 37, was in critical condition as of Saturday evening. The eight-seat plane crashed in a parking lot about a mile from its take-off point, bursting into flames with such force that it blew out the windows of a nearby post office. Witnesses told a Lafayette TV station, KATC, that the plane hit a power line while presumably attempting to make an emergency landing through dense fog.

Gretchen Vincent, 51, offered a seat on the plane to McCord, who had no other route to Atlanta. Steven Ensminger had planned to drive McCord to Atlanta, but he couldn’t get off work. He’s a chemical operator at a nitrogen facility on the Mississippi River in a small town between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. A company policy prohibiting employee vacations after Dec. 22 prevented him from getting time off.

In fact, he was at work without his phone when McCord texted and called him that morning before the flight. He missed both of them. “I don’t have my phone and she sends me a message saying she loved me,” Steven says. “I was in and out of a nightmare, not being able to tell what was real and what wasn’t. I can remember laying in the hospital bed repeating myself saying it wasn’t real and then one of the hardest things I’m dealing with is that I missed her text and I missed her call. It is by far the most pain, angst and terror and just darkest time of my life and I honestly don’t know how long it will last because I still don’t believe it. I don’t want to believe it.”

While eating lunch, Steven learned of McCord’s death from his aunt. Back in Atlanta, special assistant to the head coach Derek Ponamsky informed Orgeron of the news. It was Orgeron who broke the news to Ensminger. It trickled to assistants during staff meetings and a walk-through at the team hotel in downtown Atlanta. There was never a doubt that Ensminger would coach, living up to his reputation of toughness and grit, of hard work and focus. After all, Steve sometimes sleeps in a cot in his office during fall camp. He’s a journeyman of a coach, fired three times as a coordinator or assistant, humble enough to find ways to dodge media interviews, the focus of hard fan criticism upon his promotion to offensive coordinator in 2018.

Those close to him aren’t surprised by the strong will he showed Saturday. “Only Slinger,” says LSU receivers coach Mickey Joseph, using Steve’s nickname, one that dates back to his quarterbacking college days. “For Coach E to come out and call the plays he called… somebody was watching over him,” says running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Asked in the postgame celebration how her husband did it, Amy Ensminger’s eyes begin to swell with tears and she points up to the heavens, “God,” she whispers.

Many players only learned of the news by word of mouth, some before the game and others afterward. Blake Ferguson, a senior snapper, heard about it from an equipment manager during pregame warmups. “I immediately went over to coach, hugged him and told him I loved him,” Ferguson says. “He’s strong as hell for coaching in this game. We played for him and that family.”

McCord wasn’t just a daughter-in-law to an LSU assistant. Even before she married Steven Ensminger Jr. almost two years ago, she held a close connection to those around LSU. She turned into a familiar face on many televisions in the state as a Cox Sports and ESPN sideline reporter, known for her hard-charging reporting and bubbly persona. McCord held jobs few knew about, Steven says. She woke up each morning around 4 a.m. to teach online English classes to kids in China, and she worked some with New Orleans TV station WDSU. She also served as a travel agent and spent time covering some of her favorite programs, the New Orleans Pelicans and Saints. “She was a tough minded, caring, charismatic personality who would not take no for an answer,” says Jordy Culotta, a Baton Rouge sports radio host and cousin to McCord. “She was refreshing in our business. She was also my friend. A sad day.”

McCord and Steve Ensminger had a joking relationship, one full of jesting at one another’s expense. Before McCord and Steven’s wedding, Steve told her that he might not make the ceremony because he’s “got recruits in,” Steven says. McCord would poke at her father-in-law that demons were coming for him. “She’d always give my dad a hard time,” Steven says. “These words are the hardest words I’ve ever had to speak. She will always be part of my life. I’m torn and struggling but I knew she would tell me to be strong. I love her. I miss her so much it hurts. I wish she was here with me.”

After the game, Steve Ensminger left the coaches’ suite and briskly walked directly to his family, escorted by a team spokesman. Soon afterward, he’d call his son again to check up. It’s a call Steven was waiting for since they had last talked, one he thought about as the Tigers romped to a big win.

“To sit here and watch my dad with so many emotions and a heavy heart and his worry for me and watch him do what he said we would do, there’s no question that he is my rock, my idol, my mentor, my coach, my father,” Steven says. “I’m his namesake and I wouldn’t be able to make it through anything without him there to tell me to man up and get through it.”


Ross Dellenger

Sports Illustrated

Age: 36

College: Mississippi State, 2006

Background: A native of Biloxi, Mississippi, Ross drifted toward sports journalism as the son to a high school football coach. Not athletic enough to play, he started his career by filming high school games for recruiting sites and writing high school football game stories for various outlets. He joined Sports Illustrated in May of 2018 after more than a decade as a college sports beat writer, covering the likes of LSU, Missouri, Jackson State and Auburn.

He has mostly lived and worked in the Deep South, holding a passion and love for college football. However, in April of 2019, he moved with his wife to Washington, D.C., where Elizabeth works as a national political reporter covering Congress and the White House.



Deadline for nominations of Edward Aschoff Rising Star Award is June 1

DALLAS The Football Writers Association of America is accepting nominations through June 1 for the first Edward Aschoff Rising Star Award, which will recognize  one promising journalist no older than 34, who has not only the talent and work ethic it takes to succeed in this business, but also the passion to make it better.

To submit nominations for this award, please send a paragraph or two about the nominee, including why you are nominating him or her, and three links to samples of work to Heather Dinich at . Please include your name, job title, and a phone number. A panel of FWAA members will choose the winner. Entries should be submitted by June 1.

Aschoff, a beloved ESPN college football reporter, died on Christmas Eve his 34th birthday from previously undetected Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his lungs.

Aschoff was always easy to spot in a press box not just because of his dapper suit, his unique socks or trademark lapel pin but also because of his infectious smile, his laugh and his pure love for whatever assignment he was working on.

Edward Aschoff
(Photo by Rich Arden / ESPN Images)

Aschoff, a 2008 graduate of the University of Florida, loved people, and even as his career at ESPN escalated, he still guided and befriended younger journalists along the way.

“He was someone I always looked forward to seeing when our paths crossed in a random SEC press box or elsewhere, someone who always encouraged me as a younger journalist trying to navigate my way through this business and life, someone I always admired — both for his work and his zest for life — and someone I could always count on for a laugh,” said Tom Green, who was a student at Florida when he met Aschoff in 2010 and is now the Auburn beat reporter for Media Group. “I’ll always be grateful for his friendship, his advice and his respect, because I know I’m better for having known Ed. We all are.”

Aschoff moved to Los Angeles in 2017 to begin a more expanded national role that included television coverage. Over the past three seasons, he reported from campuses across the country for, SportsCenter, SEC Network and ESPN Radio, and he worked as a television and radio sideline reporter during college football games.

Jordan McPherson, a student reporter at Florida from 2013 to 2017 who is now covering the Miami Marlins for the Miami Herald, said Aschoff helped him on several occasions.

“He was a pro’s pro and touched my life with just a few brief interactions that he didn’t have to make,” McPherson said. “His positivity was infectious, his ability to mentor through simple conversation was second to none. He will be missed, but always be remembered.”

Ted Spiker, chair of the department of journalism at the University of Florida who taught Aschoff in several classes, said Aschoff  “was one of our stars — not just because he was so talented as a journalist and storyteller, but also because of everything he did to help people around him. He always had a good word of advice for young journalists, he was always willing to give back, and he always made people smile.”

Last month, the university’s College of Journalism and Communications established the Edward Aschoff Memorial Fund, which will provide support for students involved in sports journalism.

Aschoff inspired us through his storytelling, brightened our lives with his gregarious personality and uplifted our spirits with his energy. The FWAA hopes to honor his memory and his commitment to aspiring journalists with this award.

“Edward epitomized everything you want in a sports journalist: He knew how to build relationships, to gain trust, to break stories but also to tell stories,” said’s Andrea Adelson. “And he did it all with a flair that made you want to watch his television pieces or read his written stories right away. His dogged determination and relentless work ethic allowed him to rise to the top at ESPN, and all his exemplary qualities serve as a model for young journalists everywhere about what truly can be achieved if you go after what you want.”

Related Link:
Give to the Edward Aschoff Memorial Fund at the University of Florida

NFL Draft Bible available here in PDF format

Please find the Official 2020 NFL Draft Bible PDF version attached; an accumulation of 330 days of work in progress. I personally attended 25 college football games this past season and visited another 25+ schools, as I went on location across the nation to bring you the names that you need to know! The end result, over 600 scouting reports and more than 175 player interviews. Thank you to all my family, friends, staff but most importantly, YOU the subscriber, for supporting our mission!!!

Click these links to find the 2020 Draft Bible PDF download 2020NDB (1), along with our master rankings sheet 2020NDBrankings and our index page 2020NDBindex, which is also included in the PDF but is a nice tool to help navigate the draft guide.

We would love to hear from you; what you liked, what you didn’t like, what you would like to see more of etc., so please feel free to drop me a line. Remember, there are several ways to keep up with all our latest news and updates, be sure to make note:


Please stay safe during this time and enjoy the 2020 NFL Draft!

Ric Serritella
NFL Draft Bible Creator |
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