Finalists for 2020 Bronko Nagurski Trophy announced

Five defensive standouts will vie for National Defensive Player of the Year

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Five finalists for the 2020 Bronko Nagurski Trophy representing five conferences, the top two teams in the current College Football Playoff rankings and two others from nationally-ranked Group of Five schools, were named Wednesday by the Football Writers Association of America and the Charlotte Touchdown Club.

These are the candidates for the award honoring college football’s national defensive player of the year. Each of the five finalists – two linebackers, a defensive end, a defensive tackle and a cornerback – plays for a nationally-ranked team, four of which will play in their conference championship games and includes the first finalist from the Sun Belt Conference.

In alphabetical order, the finalists are Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins, Coastal Carolina defensive end Tarron Jackson, Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon, Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II.

The recipient of the Bronko Nagurski Trophy presented by LendingTree will be chosen from these finalists. The FWAA All-America Committee, after voting input from the association’s entire membership, selects the best defensive player in college football. The announcement of the 2020 Bronko Nagurski Trophy recipient will take take place on Wed., Dec. 23, two weeks from today.

Here is a look at the 2020 finalists:

Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa (6-4, 260, Jr., Hominy, Okla.): Collins is one of the most dynamic linebackers in the nation. He earned the American Athletic Conference’s Defensive Player of the Week four times after his seven games this season and the Bronko Nagurski Player of the Week award the week of Nov. 14. Heading into the AAC Championship Game, Collins has 11.5 tackles for loss and ties for fifth nationally with four interceptions – tops among linebackers along with two others – one of which he returned 96 yards for a touchdown in overtime for the winning score against Tulane, and another that was a game-clincher against then-No. 19 SMU. In Tulsa’s opening games against then-No. 11 Oklahoma State and the following week’s No. 11 UCF, he combined for 7.5 TFL’s, 3.0 sacks and a tackle for a safety. Collins is Tulsa’s first Nagurski Trophy finalist. The American Athletic Conference has Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich as a former winner in 2015, and Collins is the AAC’s fourth all-time finalist, the most recent being Houston tackle Ed Oliver in 2017.

Tarron Jackson, DE, Coastal Carolina (6-2, 260, Sr., Aiken, S.C.): Jackson leads the Chanticleers’ defense with 8.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss and is fifth on the team with 44 total tackles with 15 quarterback hurries. He is a three-time Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Week, spearheading a defense that has a nose for the ball with 32.0 sacks (fifth nationally) and 66.0 TFL’s this season. Teams run to the other side away from this team captain who is Coastal’s career leader in sacks (26.5), TFL’s (43.0) and hurries (31) as well as yards lost from those stops. The 10-0 Chanticleers’ rise to their first national ranking, first division championship, first wins (two) over nationally-ranked teams and first 10-win season has his footprint on it, as do opposing backfields. Jackson is Coastal Carolina’s first Nagurski Trophy finalist and the first in Sun Belt Conference history. Jackson, together with Collins, gives Group of Five schools six all-time Nagurski Trophy finalists; it’s also the the first time that two non-Power 5 finalists have been so recognized in the same season.

Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa (6-3, 305, Jr., Kenosha, Wis.): Nixon is the rare playmaker tucked in the middle of Iowa’s line. He has broken through consistent double-teams to lead the Big Ten with 5.0 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in just seven games in his first season on the Iowa front. His 36 tackles are tied for the most among Big Ten defensive linemen. Nixon opened the season with seven tackles at Purdue and then posted a career-high 11 against West Division champion Northwestern, and his 71-yard interception return for a touchdown at Penn State remains a national season highlight. Iowa has not had a Nagurski Trophy winner but linebackers Josey Jewell (2017) and Pat Angerer (2009) are recent finalists. A Nixon win would give the Big Ten consecutive honorees after not having a trophy winner since 2006 and Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis. Ohio State defensive end Chase Young won last year.

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame (6-1, 215, Sr., Hampton, Va.): A top linebacker and one of the country’s best ball hawks, Owusu-Koramoah leads the unbeaten and second-ranked Irish in tackles (49 with 32 solos) and tackles for loss (9.0) along with 1.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries and an interception. Listed as a rover linebacker, Owusu-Koramoah earned the Bronko Nagurski Trophy Player of the Week (Nov. 7) following the Irish’s win over No. 1 Clemson, posting nine tackles, two TFL’s, a half-sack in overtime that helped stall Clemson’s final possession, and the first touchdown of his career on a 23-yard scoop-and-score early in that game. Notre Dame has one previous winner, linebacker Manti Te’o in 2012, while cornerback Shane Walton was a finalist in 2002. An Owusu-Koramoah win would give the ACC two of the last four winners (N.C. State’s Bradley Chubb in 2017) and five of the last 11.

Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama (6-2, 202, Jr., Plantation, Fla.): Surtain is regarded as the nation’s top cornerback and presents a consistent wall out on the edge, having allowed 25 yards or fewer in eight of nine games this season. Teams have targeted him only 36 times with 14 completions over nine games and he has allowed only one touchdown this season. Opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of 50.2 when targeting Surtain in coverage, fifth-best in the FBS. Against pass-happy Mississippi State, Surtain was targeted once in 47 attempts, and the junior turned it into a 25-yard pick-six. Top-ranked Alabama has had one Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner, defensive end Jonathan Allen in 2016. The Crimson Tide has had a finalist in nine of the last 10 seasons, most recently nose guard Quinnen Williams (2018), safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (2017) and linebacker Reuben Foster (2016). Going back to cornerback Antonio Langham in the award’s first year in 1993, five of Alabama’s 12 all-time finalists have come from the secondary. A Surtain win would give the SEC three of the last five honorees (Allen in 2016, Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen in 2018).

The FWAA has chosen a National Defensive Player of the Year since 1993. In 1995, the FWAA named the award in honor of the legendary two-way player from the University of Minnesota. Nagurski dominated college football then became a star for professional football’s Chicago Bears in the 1930s. Bronislaw “Bronko” Nagurski is a charter member of both the College Football and Pro Football Halls of Fame.

The Bronko Nagurski Trophy is a member of the National College Football Awards Association (NCFAA), which encompasses the most prestigious awards in college football. Founded in 1997, the NCFAA and its 25 awards now boast over 800 recipients, dating to 1935. Visit ncfaa.org and @NCFAA on Twitter to learn more about the association.

Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America consists of 1,300 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.

About the Charlotte Touchdown Club

The Charlotte Touchdown Club is a non-profit organization founded in 1990 for the purpose of promoting high school, collegiate, and professional football in the Charlotte, N.C., region. The club’s activities and services focus community attention on the outstanding citizenship, scholarship, sportsmanship, and leadership of area athletes and coaches. Since 1990, the club has raised more than $2 million to benefit area high school and collegiate athletics. For more information, contact John Rocco (704-347-2918 or jrocco@touchdownclub.com). The official website of the Charlotte Touchdown Club is touchdownclub.com.

About LendingTree, Inc.

LendingTree is the nation’s leading online marketplace that connects consumers with the choices they need to be confident in their financial decisions. LendingTree empowers consumers to shop for financial services the same way they would shop for airline tickets or hotel stays, by comparing multiple offers from a nationwide network of over 500 partners in one simple search and choosing the option that best fits their financial needs. Services include mortgage loans, mortgage refinances, auto loans, personal loans, business loans, student refinances, credit cards, insurance and more. Through the My LendingTree platform, consumers receive free credit scores, credit monitoring and recommendations to improve credit health. My LendingTree proactively compares consumers’ credit accounts against offers on their network and notifies consumers when there is an opportunity to save money. LendingTree’s purpose is to help simplify financial decisions for life’s meaningful moments through choice, education and support.

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Army’s West nominated for Courage Award 1

DALLAS — Army’s Amadeo West is this week’s nominee for the 2020 Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award. West, a defensive end, has overcome three season-ending injuries to become a key piece of the Black Knights’ defense.

Amadeo West

“Just a dream come true,” West said of his success this season. “I can’t express how fortunate and blessed I’ve been just to go out this year and represent this institution, especially the past three years with injuries. Coming back this year and just playing for my teammates, playing for my family and playing for God has made me so blessed.”

West missed the entire 2017 season with an ACL tear. He missed the first eight games of the 2018 season with a ruptured Achilles. And in the third game of 2019, he tore his biceps, costing him the final 10 games of the season.

The Oceanside, Calif., native decided to give football another go and was granted a fifth year of eligibility by the Academy. He has been a huge part of Army’s turnaround in 2020, as the program has rebounded from a 5-8 season in 2019 to start 7-2 this fall.

The 6-foot-2, 245-pound West has 18 tackles, five tackles for loss, two sacks, two pass breakups and one quarterback hurry for a defense that ranks No. 4 nationally entering Saturday’s game against rival Navy.

A team captain, West is a semifinalist for the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year and a candidate for the Senior Class Award.

West graduates Thursday, which means he will take the Michie Stadium field against the Midshipmen this weekend as a lieutenant.

The Courage Award was first presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) in 2002. A select group of writers from the FWAA vote on the winner each year. The requirements for nomination include displaying courage on or off the field, including overcoming an injury or physical handicap, preventing a disaster or living through hardship. The winner of the award will be included in festivities during Capital One Orange Bowl week and receive his trophy at an on-field presentation.

Previous winners of the Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award are Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson (2019), SUNY Cortland linebacker Kyle Richard (2018), Wisconsin safety D’Cota Dixon (2017), Pitt running back James Conner (2016), Miami offensive lineman Hunter Knighton (2015), Duke offensive lineman Laken Tomlinson (2014), San Jose State defensive lineman Anthony Larceval (2013), Clemson wide receiver Daniel Rodriguez (2012), Michigan State offensive lineman Arthur Ray Jr. (2011), Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand (2010), the University of Connecticut football team (2009), Tulsa’s Wilson Holloway (2008), Navy’s Zerbin Singleton (2007), Clemson’s Ray Ray McElrathbey (2006), the Tulane football team (2005), Memphis’ Haracio Colen (2004), San Jose State’s Neil Parry (2003) and Toledo’s William Bratton (2002).

About the Orange Bowl
The Orange Bowl is a 380-member, primarily-volunteer non-profit sports organization that promotes and serves the South Florida community. With its primary mission since being created in 1935 to bring tourism to South Florida through an annual football game and events, it has also maintained a legacy of charitable contributions and community outreach. Orange Bowl community outreach efforts are comprised of four pillars: youth sports, fundraising and community events, academic programs and scholarships, and legacy gifts. The Orange Bowl features a year-round schedule of events culminating with the Capital One Orange Bowl on Jan. 2, 2021. The Orange Bowl also led a community-wide effort to bring the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship to South Florida. It will be played on Jan. 11, 2021 (2021miami.com). For more information on the 2020-2021 Orange Bowl events, including promotional and volunteer opportunities through the Ambassador Program presented by Panera Bread, log on to orangebowl.org or follow @OrangeBowl on social media.

Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America consists of 1,200 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.

2020 Orange Bowl Courage Award Nominees
• Oct. 28: Jon Dietzen, Wisconsin

  • Nov. 4: Alex Charlton, Arkansas State
  • Nov. 11: D’Eriq King, Miami
  • Nov. 18: Kentucky football team
  • Nov. 25: Chase Allen, Iowa State
  • Dec. 2: Sarah Fuller, Vanderbilt
  • Dec. 9: Amadeo West, Army

2020 Outland Trophy semifinalists unveiled

Six standout interior linemen tabbed by FWAA

OMAHA — Six semifinalists for the 75th Anniversary Outland Trophy – five offensive linemen and one defensive tackle – were announced Monday by the Greater Omaha Sports Committee. The semifinalists include two teammates and are players from five schools at four different positions representing three different conferences.

The Outland Trophy is awarded annually to the nation’s best college interior lineman on offense or defense. The All-America Committee of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) selected the semifinalists from nominations by the membership.

The field for the 2020 Outland Trophy is as follows: guard Wyatt Davis of Ohio State, center Landon Dickerson of Alabama, offensive tackle Liam Eichenberg of Notre Dame, guard Kenyon Green of Texas A&M, offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood of Alabama and defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon on Iowa.

The six semifinalists will be pared to three finalists on Dec. 22. The recipient of the 75th Outland Trophy will be announced during ESPN’s The Home Depot College Football Awards on Jan. 7, 2021. The official presentation to the winner by the Greater Omaha Sports Committee is still to be determined.

Here is a closer look at each of the semifinalists:

Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State (6-4, 315, Jr., Bellflower, Calif.): Davis is at the forefront of an offensive line that guides one of the country’s most explosive offenses. The Buckeyes in five games played are fourth nationally in scoring offense at 46.6 points per game and sixth nationally in total offense at 536.4 ypg while leading the Big Ten in rushing at 233.2 ypg. The interior protection by Davis, a second-team FWAA All-American last year, has been stellar as Justin Fields moved to fourth in the nation in quarterback efficiency while completing 79 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns against only three interceptions. Ohio State has four Outland winners in its past, started off by guard Jim Parker in 1956. Middle guard Jim Stillwagon (1970) and offensive tackles John Hicks (1973) and Orlando Pace (1996) have won it since. Center Billy Price is the Buckeyes’ most recent semifinalist in 2017.

Landon Dickerson, C, Alabama (6-6, 325, Sr., Hickory, N.C.): Dickerson, a Florida State transfer, has made the most of his only season calling the blocking assignments up front for the Crimson Tide. Alabama is third nationally in scoring at 49.2 points per game – tops among schools playing five of more games – and has averaged 548.3 yards per game (4th nationally) while topping 500 yards in six of nine games. Setting things up front each play, Dickerson has helped Alabama establish national leaders at all three skill positions. The Crimson Tide claims two of the last four Outland winners, one on each side of the ball. Quinnen Williams, a defensive tackle, won in 2018, and offensive tackle Cam Robinson won the 2016 award. Alabama has not had a center win the Outland but Barrett Jones was a finalist in 2012 after winning the Outland as an offensive tackle in 2011, and center Ryan Kelly was a semifinalist in 2015. Alabama’s five Outland winners are tied with Oklahoma for the second-most all-time (Nebraska, 9).

Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame (6-6, 302, Gr., Cleveland, Ohio): Eichenberg anchors a talented offensive front that currently leads the ACC in fewest sacks allowed per game (1.67, and 15 total) while also second in the ACC in rushing offense (229.7 ypg). Three different running backs have totaled seven 100-yard games this season and ball control has allowed the Irish to only trail for 38:10 minutes out of a total 540 minutes of regulation. Eichenberg’s protection has given quarterback Ian Book the extra time to attempt 237 passes without an interception, tied for the longest stretch among FBS signal-callers. Notre Dame has had three Outland winners, the most recent being defensive end Ross Browner in 1976 (also guard Bill Fischer in 1948 and tackle George Connor in 1946). In 2017 guard Quenton Nelson was a finalist and offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey was a semifinalist.

Kenyon Green, G, Texas A&M (6-4, 325, So., Humble, Texas): Green has led the Aggies into national prominence by allowing quarterback Kellen Mond to set school passing records while also paving the way for an underrated running attack. He’s the best among an offensive line which is fifth in the nation and leads the SEC allowing just 0.5 sacks per game and 4.0 total on the season. The line’s 4.0 TFL’s allowed per game is also top-10 nationally as Mond has set six career passing records, including wins as a quarterback. Texas A&M has an Outland winner from 2012 in offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, and offensive tackle Jake Matthews was a finalist in 2013.

Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama (6-6, 312, Sr., Pensacola, Fla.): At times the Crimson Tide offense is so fast and fluid you can miss watching the guys up front that make it so. Leatherwood has been a standout in protection as well as blocking, allowing quarterback Mac Jones to rank in the top 10 nationally of nearly every passing statistic. The Crimson Tide has scored 35 or more points in 22 consecutive games, the longest streak in major-college football history. Four of Alabama’s five previous Outland winners have been offensive tackles – Cam Robinson (2016), Barrett Jones (2011), Andre Smith (2008) and Chris Samuels (1999) – as well as five of the Tide’s last seven finalists.

Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa (6-3, 305, Jr., Kenosha, Wis.): In just seven games, Nixon leads the Big Ten with 5.0 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in his first season on the Iowa front. His 36 tackles are tied for the most among Big Ten defensive linemen. Nixon opened the season with seven tackles at Purdue and then posted a career-high 11 against division champion Northwestern, and his 71-yard interception return for a touchdown at Penn State remains a national season highlight. The Hawkeyes have four Outland winners in their past, most recently offensive tackle Brandon Scherff in 2014. Offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs was a semifinalist last season. Offensive tackle Robert Gallery (2003), tackle Alex Karras (1957) and guard Calvin Jones (1955) are other winners.

The Outland Trophy, which has been awarded annually by the FWAA since 1946, is named after the late John Outland, an All-America lineman at the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1800s. The Outland Trophy is the third-oldest award in major college football behind the Heisman Trophy and Maxwell Award.

The Outland Trophy is the third-oldest major college football award. Created in 1946 when Dr. John Outland presented the FWAA with a financial contribution to initiate the award, the Outland Trophy has been given to the best interior lineman in college football ever since. Dr. Outland, an All-American at the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1890s, eventually took up practice in Kansas City, Mo. An avid outdoorsman, Dr. Outland believed linemen did not get the credit they deserved and wanted an award to recognize them.

The Outland Trophy is a member of the National College Football Awards Association (NCFAA), which encompasses the most prestigious awards in college football. Founded in 1997, the NCFAA and its 24 awards now boast over 800 recipients, dating to 1935. Visit ncfaa.org to learn more about our story.

Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America consists of 1,200 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.

 

Dellenger named FWAA Beat Writer of Year

DALLAS — Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated has been named the 2020 Steve Ellis Beat Writer of the Year (for the 2019) season by the Football Writers Association of America.

Ross Dellenger

In the most recently completed FWAA Best Writing Contest, Dellenger picked up a first place in Game Story and a second place for Feature Story, both stories dealing with LSU’s national championship season. He is the 10th annual winner of the award which goes to an FWAA member who has displayed excellence in college football writing during a season.

“I am humbled beyond words,” Dellenger said of winning the FWAA Award. “I’m not sure that I’ve ever felt more fortunate and proud. I pride myself in my work and this helps justify all the long hours on the road, in the press box and behind lit computer screens pounding on keys in the middle of the night.”

The award is given in the memory of the late Steve Ellis, the Florida State beat writer for the Tallahassee Democrat. Current FWAA President Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com, then of the Cleveland Plain Dealer was the first recipient in 2011. Other recipients have been Mark Blaudschun of the Boston Globe and Steve Wieberg of USA Today (2012), Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News (2013), Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch (2014), Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Times (2015), Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman (2016), Mike Griffith of SEC Country (2017), Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com and Chris Vannini of The Athletic (2018), Brett McMurphy of Stadium (2019).

“Ross is certainly an outstanding talent, combining excellent writing with detailed and thorough reporting,” said FWAA Executive Director Steve Richardson. “When LSU’s football team ascended to the national championship level in 2019, he showcased those abilities in covering most of the Tigers’ top moments with a flair. Overall, his breaking coverage of college football has been top-notch for a while now.”

 A native of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and a Mississippi State graduate, Dellenger has spent the last 15 years as a sports writer, specifically reporting on SEC football. He’s covered programs such as Mississippi State, Auburn, Missouri and LSU before landing at Sports Illustrated in May of 2018 as national college football writer. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, Elizabeth, a fellow journalist. She is the lead White House correspondent for Newsweek.

 Getting to Know Ross Dellenger

Question: What was your first interest in sports/journalism and any good stories about how you got your start?

Dellenger: “My career started with an interest in sports before journalism came along. My father was and still is a high school football coach in Biloxi, Miss. I grew up around the sport as a kid — riding on team busses, running through locker rooms and playing around on blocking dummies. But I wasn’t athletic at all, couldn’t catch much and was rail thin. I played football for two years as a 6-foot, 160-pound offensive guard (spoiler alert: that didn’t turn out well). But I did develop a love for watching the game from the sidelines, and I began stringing for a local newspaper as a senior in high school.”

Q: Who were your mentors and what did they contribute to your career? 

 Dellenger: “I think the best sports editor I ever had was Rusty Hampton at The Clarion-Ledger. I’ve had plenty of other great bosses —  and do now at SI —  but Rusty really broke me in as a sports writer, teaching me more about reporting than actual writing. He was hard on us, and I’m thankful for that to this day.

“Ian Rapoport, now famously working as an NFL news-breaker for NFL Network, was once a small-town college beat writer in Mississippi, and he mentored me there, while covering Mississippi State for The Clarion-Ledger (I was a student at State then). I learned a lot about writing from Ian, a noted wordsmith who sadly doesn’t use that skill much longer (aside from Twitter of course!).

“There are plenty more people I idolized (and still do) in the industry, those I read closely and have watched their work ethic and reporting up close, including Kyle Veazey, Rick Cleveland, Pat Forde, David Brandt and, maybe most importantly, Elizabeth Crisp, my wife, whose vocabulary, concise writing and intellect I envy every day.”

Q: What are some of the stories you have done that have been the most rewarding to you? 

 Dellenger: “I think breaking news —  whether through short bursts on social media or woven into a deep investigative feature or enterprise story — is essential to journalism. To that end, some big news stories over the years stick out over everything else, including reporting Les Miles’ firing from LSU in 2016 and Ed Orgeron’s hire there as the full-time coach. Those were significant news-breakers for a young college beat writer and without them, I’m not sure I am in my current position at SI.

“But more specific to the ‘rewarding’ portion of the question. I pride myself in digging deep on issues, writing long, detailed stories on interesting people or topics. In a way, that’s a lost art in sports journalism these days. The world is so caught up in catching clicks and driving traffic that we’ve forgotten a cornerstone of our industry: explanatory writing that sheds light and reveals information never previously explored. As a beat writer, I tried to write one of those stories once a week, which could be very difficult during the season given other daily beat writing duties, but my boss at The Advocate in Baton Rouge, Joe Schiefelbein, gave me the time and resources to do this. My current bosses at SI, namely Ryan Hunt, has done the same.”

Q: Best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?

 Dellenger: ” ‘Write like you talk.’ That’s from Ian Rapoport. ‘Don’t try to be cute with your writing. Put down the thesaurus. Put away the dictionary. And write in simple terms. Your reader will appreciate it.’”

Q: Best interview you ever had and why?

Dellenger: “Talk about a difficult question. … I don’t know where to start. I have recency bias with this of course, but LSU coach Ed Orgeron’s mother, Coco, provided an incredible two-hour interview in December that triggered me to explore the coach’s Cajun heritage. She cried, laughed and even grew slightly perturbed during the sitdown — all signs of a great interview!

“But there have been plenty of others. Again, recency bias here, but I spent a full day two years ago with Dana Holgorsen. The day and night included boozing at the bar, watching a Houston Astros game and a sitdown in his office. A word of advice: You can understand a person more when experiencing them outside of their work arenas. That was the case with Holgorsen.

One more recent interview that sticks out took place last fall with former Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who revealed during a 20-minute talk with me that he’d been rushed to the hospital earlier that year with a heart condition —  the true reason for his retirement. You don’t forget those talks.”

Q: Hobbies/passions?

Dellenger: “A former colleague of mine, who I won’t name (ah what the hell, it was Scott Rabalais at The Advocate), once told me, “Ross,” he said, “you work hard and you play hard.” That’s pretty much me in a nutshell. I like to have a good time — bars, restaurants, the beach, the club — but there’s a time to work and a time to play. My life is split between the two.

“I don’t know that I truly have many passions. I do enjoy my job, which explains why I do find myself working quite a bit. I’m growing more and more passionate with traveling (for both work and play), though the pandemic has thrown a wrench into that. I think an impending passion of mine is traveling the world, as soon as the pandemic subsides. And though I no longer live on the Gulf Coast, I do have a passion for boiling and consuming seafood, specifically crawfish, crab and shrimp. Some would say I have a passion for flip flops, which is probably quite true.

“My hobbies are pretty limited. I enjoy a good weight-lifting session, a bike ride and fun night out on the town. I’ll never pass up an opportunity to go to a beach or, while back home, hop around the islands with family and friends.”

Q: Do you have any sports mementos in your house? Such as the press pass from the first game you covered, an old glove?   

Dellenger: “In all honesty, I do not believe I have any of that. It may come as a surprise, but I’m not the biggest sports fan. I watch college football and do enjoy it. I watch some golf and the NFL. But that’s about it. As I grow older, it interests me less and less. I’ve come to realize that sports is such a small part of our world — a great and wonderful part, full of incredible people and awesome stories — but a very small part nonetheless.”

Q: What has been the most difficult aspect of the last few months and COVID-19 in terms of covering sports?

Dellenger: “I usually spend the spring and summer visiting college campuses, building relationships with coaches and administrators, exploring potential story ideas, etc. But that didn’t happen much this year. I felt like I was back working for the Associated Press as a news intern. The virus had me springing into action. It really felt like I was a daily news reporter, each week chasing a new wrinkle regarding the virus and its impacts on a college football season.”

Q: What has the FWAA meant to you over the years?

Dellenger: “If you’re a college football writer, there is no better place to establish relationships than the FWAA. It’s a fantastic way to network, which we all know is the best way to ascend in the industry. Everyone mostly works hard. Plenty of people are good writers. Plenty more are good reporters. But who do you know and what do they think of you as a person? The FWAA is a great way to answer the latter question.”

Vanderbilt’s groundbreaking kicker nominated for Courage Award

DALLAS — Vanderbilt’s Sarah Fuller is this week’s nominee for the 2020 Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award. Fuller, the Commodores’ place kicker, became the first woman to play in a Power 5 game this past Saturday.

Sarah Fuller

“I honestly haven’t taken a second to soak it all in, really. I just think it’s incredible that I am able to do this,” Fuller said afterward. “All I want is to be a good influence to the young girls out there because there were times that I struggled in sports, but I am so thankful I stuck with it. It’s giving me so many opportunities, and I’ve met so many amazing people through sports.

“I just want to say, literally, you can do anything you set your mind to — that’s the No. 1 thing.”

Fuller took the opening kickoff of the third quarter of Vanderbilt’s loss at Missouri, becoming the first woman to officially play in a major conference football game. She kicked the ball 30 yards to the Tigers’ 35-yard line on a designed pooch kick, just six days after helping Vanderbilt’s soccer team win the SEC tournament title.

Fuller, the soccer team’s goalkeeper, had allowed just four goals in four games during the tournament. COVID-19 had left the Commodores’ football team without several specialists in their prep for Missouri, so the program called upon Fuller for help.

Fuller became the third woman to appear in an FBS game, joining New Mexico’s Kate Hnida and Kent State’s April Goss. She was named SEC special teams player of the week, and she is expected to be on Vanderbilt’s travel roster for this Saturday’s game at Georgia.

The Wylie, Texas, native was named to the SEC academic honor roll in 2019 and 2018 and the SEC first-year academic honor roll in 2017. Fuller started nine of 12 games for Vanderbilt’s soccer team this fall, leading the Commodores to a 7-2-0 record while posting a 0.97 goals against average, the eighth-best single-season mark in program history.

Fuller plans to transfer to North Texas, where she will play soccer for two more years and pursue her master’s degree in hospital administration.

“She wasn’t trying to set some landmark event. She was just trying to help really where she could,” Derek Mason said after the game. “There’s just a lot to be said about Sarah and her unselfishness and her ability to say, ‘OK, if called upon, if needed, I’m a Commodore and anything that I can do to help this team I’ll do it.’ She did it with a smile on her face all week.

“For her, I just think the world of her. Her ability to just be in the moment and not really be scared of the moment or afraid of the moment but just looking to dominate the moment is what she did. Hat’s off to her.”

The Courage Award was first presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) in 2002. A select group of writers from the FWAA vote on the winner each year. The requirements for nomination include displaying courage on or off the field, including overcoming an injury or physical handicap, preventing a disaster or living through hardship. The winner of the award will be included in festivities during Capital One Orange Bowl week and receive his trophy at an on-field presentation.

Previous winners of the Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award are Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson (2019), SUNY Cortland linebacker Kyle Richard (2018), Wisconsin safety D’Cota Dixon (2017), Pitt running back James Conner (2016), Miami offensive lineman Hunter Knighton (2015), Duke offensive lineman Laken Tomlinson (2014), San Jose State defensive lineman Anthony Larceval (2013), Clemson wide receiver Daniel Rodriguez (2012), Michigan State offensive lineman Arthur Ray Jr. (2011), Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand (2010), the University of Connecticut football team (2009), Tulsa’s Wilson Holloway (2008), Navy’s Zerbin Singleton (2007), Clemson’s Ray Ray McElrathbey (2006), the Tulane football team (2005), Memphis’ Haracio Colen (2004), San Jose State’s Neil Parry (2003) and Toledo’s William Bratton (2002).

About the Orange BowlThe Orange Bowl is a 380-member, primarily-volunteer non-profit sports organization that promotes and serves the South Florida community. With its primary mission since being created in 1935 to bring tourism to South Florida through an annual football game and events, it has also maintained a legacy of charitable contributions and community outreach. Orange Bowl community outreach efforts are comprised of four pillars: youth sports, fundraising and community events, academic programs and scholarships, and legacy gifts. The Orange Bowl features a year-round schedule of events culminating with the Capital One Orange Bowl on Jan. 2, 2021. The Orange Bowl also led a community-wide effort to bring the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship to South Florida. It will be played on Jan. 11, 2021 (2021miami.com). For more information on the 2020-2021 Orange Bowl events, including promotional and volunteer opportunities through the Ambassador Program presented by Panera Bread, log on to orangebowl.org or follow @OrangeBowl on social media.

Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America consists of 1,200 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.

2020 Orange Bowl Courage Award Nominees
• Oct. 28: Jon Dietzen, Wisconsin

  • Nov. 4: Alex Charlton, Arkansas State
  • Nov. 11: D’Eriq King, Miami
  • Nov. 18: Kentucky football team
  • Nov. 25: Chase Allen, Iowa State
  • Dec. 2: Sarah Fuller, Vanderbilt

Iowa State TE Chase Allen nominated for Courage Award

By Matt Fortuna

DALLAS — Iowa State’s Chase Allen is this week’s nominee for the 2020 Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award. Allen has overcome a number of physical setbacks both on and off the field, including being hit by a car, to become a key starter for the No. 13 Cyclones.

“You always wonder how good a player you’ll be after you recover from things like that, but I really never doubted anything,” Allen told The Des Moines Register. “Injuries happened early in my career. Maybe I just got them out of the way early.”

While walking to the football complex during the summer of his freshman year in 2016, Allen was hit by a car. He needed 107 stitches. Once he recovered, just before that season, he had a bout with the mumps, which then led to viral meningitis. He lost 20 pounds from the toll that the infection took on his body.

The 6-foot-7, 240-pound tight end went on to play in all 13 games and start nine as a redshirt freshman in 2017, earning second-team All-Big 12 honors. The following season, in 2018, Allen was forced to miss five games because of an abdominal injury.

Chase Allen

Allen rebounded in 2019 to again play in all 13 games, starting five, earning second-team All-Big 12 honors for the second time.

The Nixa, Mo., native has been named first-team Academic All-Big 12 in each of the past three seasons. Allen earned his mechanical engineering degree this past spring, and he is pursuing a graduate degree in industrial and manufacturing systems. Additionally, he is the president of Iowa State’s student-athlete advisory leadership committee and a candidate for the Senior CLASS Award.

Allen has started five games in his redshirt senior season this fall, recording 13 receptions for 173 yards and two touchdowns for the 6-2 Cyclones, who travel to No. 17 Texas for a Friday morning tilt. Iowa State has started 6-1 in conference play for the first time in program history. Allen has 42 career catches for 463 yards and four touchdowns.

“We’re having a blast this year,” Allen said this week. “I hope you guys are having as much fun watching us as we are playing, because this is the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.”

The Courage Award was first presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) in 2002. A select group of writers from the FWAA vote on the winner each year. The requirements for nomination include displaying courage on or off the field, including overcoming an injury or physical handicap, preventing a disaster or living through hardship. The winner of the award will be included in festivities during Capital One Orange Bowl week and receive his trophy at an on-field presentation.

Previous winners of the Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award are Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson (2019), SUNY Cortland linebacker Kyle Richard (2018), Wisconsin safety D’Cota Dixon (2017), Pitt running back James Conner (2016), Miami offensive lineman Hunter Knighton (2015), Duke offensive lineman Laken Tomlinson (2014), San Jose State defensive lineman Anthony Larceval (2013), Clemson wide receiver Daniel Rodriguez (2012), Michigan State offensive lineman Arthur Ray Jr. (2011), Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand (2010), the University of Connecticut football team (2009), Tulsa’s Wilson Holloway (2008), Navy’s Zerbin Singleton (2007), Clemson’s Ray Ray McElrathbey (2006), the Tulane football team (2005), Memphis’ Haracio Colen (2004), San Jose State’s Neil Parry (2003) and Toledo’s William Bratton (2002).

About the Orange Bowl
The Orange Bowl is a 380-member, primarily-volunteer non-profit sports organization that promotes and serves the South Florida community. With its primary mission since being created in 1935 to bring tourism to South Florida through an annual football game and events, it has also maintained a legacy of charitable contributions and community outreach. Orange Bowl community outreach efforts are comprised of four pillars: youth sports, fundraising and community events, academic programs and scholarships, and legacy gifts. The Orange Bowl features a year-round schedule of events culminating with the Capital One Orange Bowl on Jan. 2, 2021. The Orange Bowl also led a community-wide effort to bring the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship to South Florida. It will be played on Jan. 11, 2021 (2021miami.com). For more information on the 2020-2021 Orange Bowl events, including promotional and volunteer opportunities through the Ambassador Program presented by Panera Bread, log on to orangebowl.org or follow @OrangeBowl on social media.

Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America consists of 1,200 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.

2020 Orange Bowl Courage Award Nominees

  • Oct. 28: Jon Dietzen, Wisconsin
  • Nov. 4: Alex Charlton, Arkansas State
  • Nov. 11: D’Eriq King, Miami
  • Nov. 18: Kentucky football team
  • Nov. 25: Chase Allen, Iowa State

Kentucky team nominated for Courage Award

DALLAS — The Kentucky football team is this week’s nominee for the 2020 Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award. The Wildcats beat Vanderbilt, 38-35, on Saturday, just two days after offensive line coach John Schlarman died after a two-year battle with cancer.

“The bottom line is to honor John by playing the way he coached, lived his life, and we constantly talked about the tenacity that he had, the toughness that he had, but also when he was a player he was extremely technical and very detailed,” Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops said after the win.

Kentucky lined up for the first offensive play from scrimmage without a player manning the left guard spot, which was Schlarman’s position during his playing days with the Wildcats from 1994 to 1997. Vanderbilt declined the delay of game penalty, and Landon Young was sent on the field afterward to complete the Wildcats’ offensive line — while wearing No. 65, which had been Schlarman’s number.

Kentucky players wore “JS” on their helmets as well.

Schlarman was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma in the summer of 2018. He coached throughout his treatments and did not miss a game until Kentucky’s previous two contests before Saturday. Stoops gave Schlarman the game ball after an Oct. 17 win at Tennessee, which was Schlarman’s last game.

A four-year starter while with the Wildcats, Schlarman earned first-team all-freshman honors from the SEC in 1994, was chosen as the team’s most outstanding offensive lineman in 1995 and 1996, and was named All-SEC as a senior in 1997. He made the SEC Academic Honor Roll three times and, in 1997, became a finalist for Academic All-America.

The Kentucky native got his college coaching start at his alma mater as a graduate assistant from 2000 to 2002, then returned when Stoops was hired in 2013.

Schlarman was a nominee for the Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award in 2018.

On Saturday, Kentucky honored its beloved coach the best way it knew how: by rushing for 308 yards on 35 carries in a winning effort.

“We lost a member of our family. We lost our coach and someone who was a father figure to every offensive lineman that’s come through this program,” Young said after the game. “One of the toughest, greatest men I’ve met in my life. Having the opportunity to wear his number was a blessing for me.”

The Courage Award was first presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) in 2002. A select group of writers from the FWAA vote on the winner each year. The requirements for nomination include displaying courage on or off the field, including overcoming an injury or physical handicap, preventing a disaster or living through hardship. The winner of the award will be included in festivities during Capital One Orange Bowl week and receive his trophy at an on-field presentation.

Previous winners of the Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award are Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson (2019), SUNY Cortland linebacker Kyle Richard (2018), Wisconsin safety D’Cota Dixon (2017), Pitt running back James Conner (2016), Miami offensive lineman Hunter Knighton (2015), Duke offensive lineman Laken Tomlinson (2014), San Jose State defensive lineman Anthony Larceval (2013), Clemson wide receiver Daniel Rodriguez (2012), Michigan State offensive lineman Arthur Ray Jr. (2011), Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand (2010), the University of Connecticut football team (2009), Tulsa’s Wilson Holloway (2008), Navy’s Zerbin Singleton (2007), Clemson’s Ray Ray McElrathbey (2006), the Tulane football team (2005), Memphis’ Haracio Colen (2004), San Jose State’s Neil Parry (2003) and Toledo’s William Bratton (2002).

About the Orange Bowl
The Orange Bowl is a 380-member, primarily-volunteer non-profit sports organization that promotes and serves the South Florida community. With its primary mission since being created in 1935 to bring tourism to South Florida through an annual football game and events, it has also maintained a legacy of charitable contributions and community outreach. Orange Bowl community outreach efforts are comprised of four pillars: youth sports, fundraising and community events, academic programs and scholarships, and legacy gifts. The Orange Bowl features a year-round schedule of events culminating with the Capital One Orange Bowl on Jan. 2, 2021. The Orange Bowl also led a community-wide effort to bring the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship to South Florida. It will be played on Jan. 11, 2021 (2021miami.com). For more information on the 2020-2021 Orange Bowl events, including promotional and volunteer opportunities through the Ambassador Program presented by Panera Bread, log on to orangebowl.org or follow @OrangeBowl on social media.

Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America consists of 1,200 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.

2020 Orange Bowl Courage Award Nominees

John Heisler to receive FWAA’s Bert McGrane Award 1

DALLAS Long-time Notre Dame Sports Information Director John Heisler, now holding a similar position at the University of Central Florida, has been named the recipient of the Football Writers Association of America’s Bert McGrane Award for 2021.

John Heisler

The McGrane Award is presented to an FWAA member in recognition of contributions to the FWAA and college football. McGrane was a sportswriter and editor at the Des Moines Register for 45 years and served as the FWAA’s Executive Director from the early 1940s until 1973. This is the FWAA’s highest honor and equivalent to an association’s Hall of Fame.

Heisler is the 48th recipient of the Bert McGrane Award, which started in 1974 and was first awarded to Charley Johnson of the Minneapolis Star.

“I can’t think of anything that’s been any more meaningful to me,” Heisler said. “I say that because it represents hundreds of relationships over a long period of time, and I hope it means we built some trust, could share some institutional knowledge when it was appropriate, and did at least a few things right in terms of working with the media. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Heisler, a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, is a native of South Bend and returned home shortly after his college days. He learned his trade first under SID Bill Callahan at Missouri and later under Roger Valdiserri at Notre Dame. Both the late Callahan and Valdiserri were long-time FWAA members, with Valdiserri still residing in South Bend.

Heisler started working at Notre Dame in 1978 in the SID office and was the award-winning SID from 1988-2003. Thereafter, Heisler rose further up the ladder in the athletic department as an assistant and associate athletic director and was involved in numerous jobs in communications/broadcasting at Notre Dame. He was also editor and frequent contributor to the highly respected “Strong of Heart,” Notre Dame’s annual holiday book of features on Irish athletics. A member of the CoSIDA Hall of Fame, Heisler has claimed numerous awards and written and edited several other books about Notre Dame sports and its coaches.

“John was a fixture at Notre Dame and helped make the Sports Information Office in South Bend one of the best in the country for a number of years, actually a few decades,” said FWAA Executive Director Steve Richardson. “John has been of great help with FWAA members in a number of ways and provided a path for others in the SID profession to follow. He still does in his relocation to Florida.”

Heisler will receive the Bert McGrane plaque at a later time. His name will be a part of the permanent McGrane presentation at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. Furthermore, a small plate with his name also will be placed on the master board of former McGrane recipients at the National Football Foundation (NFF) offices in Irving, Texas.

Getting to Know John Heisler

Question: Who were your mentors and what did they contribute to your career?

Heisler: “Growing up in South Bend, I covered some high school sports part-time and as a teenager got to know Joe Doyle, Bill Moor, Woody Miller and others on the South Bend Tribune staff. I decided to attend the University of Missouri because of its Journalism School, and that was the best decision I ever made. I arrived there at the perfect time and Mizzou SID Bill Callahan provided me with some fabulous opportunities that I probably did not deserve. At the time he did not have a full-time assistant, so from my freshman year on I had all sorts of chances to be involved. Bill knew everybody in the Big Eight, so through him I became good friends with many of his newspaper and SID cronies — Maury White, Bill Beck, Don Bryant and so many more. Those were the ‘70s, the days of Friday night press parties and Skywriters tours. Then Bill often would have a social gathering at his home after home football games (inviting all the media in town to cover the game) and that was another wonderful chance to meet people and learn the business.

I was at Missouri at a time when there was an incredible collection of sports-writing talent in school at the same time as me — Steve Richardson, Joel Bierig, Jeff Rude, Lonnie Wheeler, Dave Stirt, Tim Sullivan, Cal Fussman, Tom Shatel, Dennis Dodd and Mickey Spagnola and many more. That very quickly helped me understand where the bar stood in terms of being able to write well because it was a competitive environment. I subscribed to six newspapers — two each in Columbia, St. Louis and Kansas City. That’s how you kept up day to day when web sites were still some time down the road. I also spent two years as the summer sports intern for the Kansas City Star — what better way to learn the newspaper business.

“When I went to Notre Dame in 1978, the football team was coming off a national championship season and Joe Montana was still the quarterback, so there was no shortage of interest. Working for Roger Valdiserri, I again had the chance to meet all sorts of people in the college athletic business and, thanks to our football schedule, we played everywhere in the country and worked with media all over. There was seldom a dull moment.”

Q: What are some of the stories you have done that have been the most rewarding to you?  Be expansive. These could be the best two three or more over the years.

Heisler: “I got into all this because I loved to write. Unfortunately, the more time I spent in sports information, the fewer opportunities I had to write. But I carved out a few. The students at Notre Dame for years did a football review magazine, but they stopped for a few years in the ‘80s, so we picked it up and did it ourselves. It was great fun. Then beginning in 2010 we did an annual holiday book titled “Strong of Heart” — feature stories about people connected to Notre Dame athletics who had overcome some sort of obstacle. I wrote many of them myself and loved the ability to kind of go back where I started. There was nothing more satisfying that creating a profile of someone and feeling like you absolutely captured that person the way you wanted to portray them.”

Q: Best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?

Heisler: “I remember someone leaving Notre Dame and moving out of state and being disappointed because all sorts of people they did business with no longer connected with them. It taught me that, maybe especially at a place like Notre Dame, lots of people want to be your friend because of the job you have. So, if you value those relationships, you need to nurture them beyond the working aspect of it — and make sure people understand you truly care about them beyond just helping them do their jobs.”

Q: What have you seen change most in the SID profession over the last 25-30 years?

Heisler: “The technology quite obviously is the difference between night and day. There’s a whole generation of media who don’t know what it meant to have both a morning and evening news cycle. The technology makes so many things easier, yet it also makes it simple to skip the personal connections. It may be simple to email or text, but I remind myself not to forget to pick up the cell phone and call people. I miss the time we all spent with each other beyond the games. The virus hasn’t exactly helped that.

“It’s different now because virtually every game is televised or streamed — and results and highlights are instantaneous. But even if we all know every statistic about any given athlete, there’s no substitute for the in-depth feature story that explains what that person is really all about. And when one of us in our business can help you with some background to make one of those stories into something special, that’s when it all pays off for everybody.”

Q: Best interview you ever had and why?

Heisler: “Quite some time before Lou Holtz’s third season at Notre Dame, I suggested to him that we consider a book on what it’s like day to day to be the football coach in South Bend. For all the things that had been written about the job and how difficult and pressure-packed it supposedly was, no one had explained exactly why that was. I had never done anything like that before, but Lou bought into the idea. It became a national championship season, and the book became a best-seller. And it was fascinating sitting down with him to talk at least twice a week that fall. It was football, motivation, how to deal with people and all sorts of other subjects. And it was magical to see how the light went on with Lou the minute I turned on the tape recorder.” 

Q: What are your hobbies/passions?

Heisler: “I became a sports fan at an early age. As a teenager my combination birthday/Christmas present from my parents was a single Notre Dame football season ticket and another for the bleachers for Notre Dame basketball. I’d go by myself and loved every minute of it. I loved any sort of sports publication — media guide, game program, magazine, book, whatever — and I saved them all. As my wife would be quick to add, it got a little out of control. Throw in bobble-heads and autographed baseballs and all sorts of other sports memorabilia and our basement was a bit of a museum.”

Q: Do you have any sports mementos in your house? Such as an old typewriter, the press pass from the first game you attended, an old glove?

Heisler: “I saved tons of ticket stubs and press credentials over the years. My mother’s younger sister lived for many years in San Francisco, and when I was about 10 they went to Joe DiMaggio’s restaurant. On the back of the menu was a classic photo of DiMaggio and a perfect white area beneath for an autograph (and his calligraphy was perfect). I was never particularly a Yankee fan, but that was an item I’ve always treasured.”

Q: Interesting stories with writers?

Heisler: “Back in the ‘80s Mark Blaudschun worked for the Dallas Morning News. He wanted to write a big-picture story about how athletics at Notre Dame worked. He came to town and we set him up to speak with Gerry Faust, Digger Phelps, Gene Corrigan and Father Ned Joyce —maybe all in one day. My wife and I didn’t have kids yet and lived in a condo not far from campus and so we invited Mark over for dinner. Mark on occasion would mention all that and seemed to express some amazement over how it all happened — but I always thought, well, that’s why we’re there — to facilitate those things as best we could.”

“About that same time Pete Alfano worked for the New York Times. During Gerry Faust’s years we had our share of ups and downs. And it seemed like every year by late October we would have lost just enough games that Pete’s editors wanted him to come to town and write something about how football was going at Notre Dame. I used to laugh and remember the 1978 Alan Alda movie “Same Time, Next Year.” I kidded Pete that we should just make a permanent hotel reservation for him in South Bend for about two-thirds of the way through the season because he ended up coming our way about that time every year.

“In 1993, No. 1 Florida State came for a mid-November game in South Bend. It was the biggest late-season football game in Notre Dame history. It was the first time ESPN Game Day went on the road. It seemed like the entire college football world came to town. We quickly ran out of space in the press box, and we ended up putting maybe 40 media on chairs at the top of rows in the stands. We had a great advantage because our team had an open date the week before, so we had the chance to get organized. We set up a full-blown press area where we did interviews all week long, arranged a working press area and had lunch there every day. Then, on Thursday night before the game, Lou Holtz invited all the media to his house for barbeque and beers. It was an amazing week in many ways, but I always took pride in thinking we were able to handle most of the challenges that came our way that week. And then the game was a classic.”

Q: What has the FWAA meant to you over the years?

Heisler: “As a 20-something in the business (and even a bit earlier than that) I idolized so many of the writers who covered college football. And then it was even better when I had the chance to meet and work with so many over the years. I probably should write a book about all those memories over the last four decades.”

 

Miami’s D’Eriq King nominated for Courage Award

DALLAS — Miami’s D’Eriq King is this week’s nominee for the 2020 Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award. King, a redshirt senior quarterback, lost his father this past winter to a heart attack and saw his mother undergo treatments for breast cancer throughout the last year.

D’Eriq King

“I could always count you to hold me down!” King wrote in a Twitter post when his father died. “The way you loved your family and your will to do anything for us was second to none. The way you loved my mom showed me what pure love was.”

King had tallied 6,346 yards of total offense and 78 total touchdowns from 2016-19 while at Houston. He transferred to Miami after the 2019 season, in need of a fresh start. But this past year has presented no shortage of challenging moments off the field.

In November 2019, King’s mother, Cassandra, was diagnosed with breast cancer. On Feb. 15, just before the Hurricanes were set to start spring practice, King’s father, Eric, died of a heart attack at the age of 48. He had been a youth coach in the Houston area, and his loss was devastating to his family and community.

D’Eriq King in action against the Pitt Panthers on Oct. 17.
(Photo by Eric Espada/University of Miami Athletics)

The COVID-19 pandemic had sent players home from Miami in mid-March, which served as a blessing in disguise for King, as he got to spend more time with his grieving family.

His mother was declared cancer-free on July 20. Two months later, King took the field with the Hurricanes for the first time.

The 5-foot-11, 202-pound King has helped lift Miami to a 6-1 record and a No. 9 ranking in the AP poll. The team captain has completed better than 63 percent of his passes for 1,831 yards with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. He has added 406 rushing yards and two more scores on the ground.

On Friday at NC State, King led a fourth-quarter comeback and finished with 536 yards of total offense and five passing touchdowns. He earned multiple national player of the week honors for his efforts, and he became the first player since 2018 to throw for 400 yards and five touchdowns while also rushing for 100 yards in the same game.

The person who last accomplished that feat? Also King, while at Houston.

The Courage Award was first presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) in 2002. A select group of writers from the FWAA vote on the winner each year. The requirements for nomination include displaying courage on or off the field, including overcoming an injury or physical handicap, preventing a disaster or living through hardship. The winner of the award will be included in festivities during Capital One Orange Bowl week and receive his trophy at an on-field presentation.

Previous winners of the Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award are Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson (2019), SUNY Cortland linebacker Kyle Richard (2018), Wisconsin safety D’Cota Dixon (2017), Pitt running back James Conner (2016), Miami offensive lineman Hunter Knighton (2015), Duke offensive lineman Laken Tomlinson (2014), San Jose State defensive lineman Anthony Larceval (2013), Clemson wide receiver Daniel Rodriguez (2012), Michigan State offensive lineman Arthur Ray Jr. (2011), Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand (2010), the University of Connecticut football team (2009), Tulsa’s Wilson Holloway (2008), Navy’s Zerbin Singleton (2007), Clemson’s Ray Ray McElrathbey (2006), the Tulane football team (2005), Memphis’ Haracio Colen (2004), San Jose State’s Neil Parry (2003) and Toledo’s William Bratton (2002).

About the Orange Bowl
The Orange Bowl is a 380-member, primarily-volunteer non-profit sports organization that promotes and serves the South Florida community. With its primary mission since being created in 1935 to bring tourism to South Florida through an annual football game and events, it has also maintained a legacy of charitable contributions and community outreach. Orange Bowl community outreach efforts are comprised of four pillars: youth sports, fundraising and community events, academic programs and scholarships, and legacy gifts. The Orange Bowl features a year-round schedule of events culminating with the Capital One Orange Bowl on Jan. 2, 2021. The Orange Bowl also led a community-wide effort to bring the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship to South Florida. It will be played on Jan. 11, 2021 (2021miami.com). For more information on the 2020-2021 Orange Bowl events, including promotional and volunteer opportunities through the Ambassador Program presented by Panera Bread, log on to orangebowl.org or follow @OrangeBowl on social media.

Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America consists of 1,200 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.

2020 Orange Bowl Courage Award Nominees

O’Donnell named recipient of 2020 Armed Forces Merit Award

FORT WORTH, Texas — Bluefield College defensive lineman and military veteran Collin O’Donnell has been selected as the ninth recipient of Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA).

Collin O’Donnell

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 within the realm of the sport of football.”

Brant Ringler, executive director of the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, and Doug Lesmerises, FWAA president, announced Wednesday during a teleconference that O’Donnell was selected from a list of 41 nominations (38 individuals and three programs) as the 2020 recipient by a nine-person committee made up of FWAA members and Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl officials.

“Collin has distinguished himself as a collegiate football player, an Army veteran and now as a businessman,” said Ringler. Lesmerises added “O’Donnell joins a list of remarkable individuals and programs that have been recipients of the Armed Forces Merit Award. With so many deserving individuals and programs, it is difficult to honor only one recipient annually.”

O’Donnell, who maintains a 3.4 grade point average. is a captain on the Bluefield College football team. In his first two seasons with the Rams, 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.

Serving in the U.S Army from 2013-2016, O’Donnell was injured in Afghanistan and 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.

Since arriving at Bluefield College in the Summer 2018, O’Donnell has demonstrated constant leadership to the Ram football team as well as service to the community.

  • 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.
  • From his start in 2018 to spring 2019, O’Donnell volunteered at nearly every community service event that football has offered, as well as in his spare time.
  • In 2019, on Martin Luther King Day, O’Donnell and several players help pack food boxes at the Bluefield Mission for the local hungry people of Bluefield, Va. and W. Va.
  • In 2019. Collin took part in a local church organization – The Mercer County (W.Va.) Hunger Challenge to feed displaced Ugandan children, where he and his football teammates prepared more than 1,500 meal packages.
  • In the fall of 2019, O’Donnell took part in the Tazewell County Business Challenge for entrepreneurs seeking to open a new business. He proposed an extensive business plan and his idea for a coffee and bake shop located in downtown Bluefield, Va. O’Donnell won the small business grant and opened his Coffee and Bake shop called “The Grind” this past May 2020. The recorded town session for the business pitch is available on the Tazewell County (Va.) Business Challenge Facebook page, Collin presented second.
  • O’Donnell received Bluefield College’s 2019 Champion of Character award from the Mid-South Conference.

Armed Forces Merit Award

Army West Point coach and military service veteran Mike Viti was the 2019 recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA. A graduate of West Point, Viti is in his fifth 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).

Kansas State and its football team were honored in November 2017 as the sixth recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA 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.

ESPN Events, a division of ESPN, owns and operates a portfolio of 35 collegiate sporting events nationwide. The roster includes four early-season college football games, 17 college bowl games, 11 college basketball events, a college softball event and two college award shows, which accounts for approximately 400 hours of live programming, reaches nearly 64 million viewers and attracts over 800,000 attendees each year. With satellite offices in more than 10 markets across the country, ESPN Events builds relationships with conferences, schools and local communities, as well as providing unique experiences for teams and fans. For more information, visit the official website, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube pages.

The Football Writers Association of America (FWAA, http://www.sportswriters.net) consists of the men and women across North America who cover college football for a living. Founded in 1941, 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 an All-America team. Through its website, the FWAA works to improve communication among all those who work within the game. The FWAA also sponsors scholarships for aspiring writers and an annual writing contest. Behind the leadership of President Matt Fortuna of The Athletic, Executive Director Steve Richardson and a board of veteran journalists, the FWAA continues grow and work to help college football prosper at all levels. There are now over 1,400 members.

Bluefield College is a Baptist liberal arts college in Bluefield, Virginia. Founded in 1922 with an enrollment over 1,000, Bluefield College offers 22 majors with bachelor and master’s degree offered. Nestled in the scenic Appalachian Mountains, Bluefield College’s 82-acre campus is about 150 feet from the state line between Virginia and West Virginia.

Media Contacts

  • Tim Simmons, Armed Forces Merit Award Coordinator, 720/244-6580, bfishinc@aol.com
  • Steve Richardson, Football Writers Association of America, 214/870-6516, tiger@fwaa.com
  • Drew Harris, Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, 254/716-8573, drew@firstpitchpr.com
  • Bob Redd, Bluefield College, 276/326-4342, rredd@bluefield.edu