Photo gallery: FWAA Awards Breakfast

Photos from the annual FWAA Awards Breakfast on Jan. 7 at the San Jose Marriott.

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Former Alabama, NFL RB Shaun Alexander is namesake of the FWAA’s Freshman of the Year Award

Shaun Alexander, namesake of the FWAA’s Freshman of the Year Award, and the award’s first winner, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

Editor’s Note: Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence was named the first annual FWAA Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year at the FWAA’S Annual Award Breakfast on Jan. 7 at the San Jose Marriott in conjunction with the CFP National Championship Game.

By Ron Higgins

When Shaun Alexander became the namesake of the FWAA’s Freshman of the Year Award several months ago, the Alabama and NFL star was honored.

But he also felt like it was something bigger than just an award. He believed the honor and its influence would touch many great athletes and families as they all traveled their sports and life journeys.

His involvement with the players could become an immense help to others and would be a natural fit for him, just like the day in the fourth grade he decided to become a running back after returning two kickoffs (and nearly a third) for touchdowns.

“Until that day, I was happy playing defense because I wanted to be a defensive playmaker like Deion Sanders,” Alexander recalled. “But because of all the attention after the game I got from friends and family, I asked my brother Durran what position scored the most touchdowns. When he told me `running back,’ then that’s

what I was from that day on.”

Durran, who later became a drummer in the famed Notre Dame marching band, probably thought he was just answering a question for his younger brother. But it turned out to be solid career guidance for Shaun, who became the all-time leading rusher in the history of Boone County (Ky.) High School, Alabama and the Seattle Seahawks.

“I’ve had great people around me all my life,” said Alexander, a successful 41-year-old entrepreneur, public speaker, and advisor to leaders in business, ministries, and philanthropy for the last 10 years since a barrage of injuries led to his quiet retirement from the NFL after one final season with the Washington Redskins. “It started with my family, some wonderful people at the University of Alabama and my Seattle mentors running backs coach Stump Mitchell, along with teammates Ricky Watters, Mack Strong, and Cortez Kennedy. I’ve been extremely blessed.”

Which is exactly why Alexander is thrilled to announce the FWAA’s first Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year in San Jose.

The winner receives a gold coin with the traits associated with the award displayed on one side: “Talent, Character, Ambassador, Legend, Faith, Passion, Focus, Leader.” On the other side of the coin, the phrases “Carry the Coin” and “Finish the Game”; are inscribed.

“If this award is named after me, how can I add who I am to it?” Alexander said when he was pondering how to make the honor significant.

Alexander answered his question by looking in the mirror.

The winners each year will have Alexander as a resource for advice and guidance for the rest of their careers and lives.

Alexander’s career is well documented. But almost every player on the 2018 FWAA Freshman All-American team was still in diapers when he permanently jumped into the national sports spotlight his freshman year at Alabama in 1996.

For about 10 seasons – two at Alabama and eight in the NFL with the Seahawks – there were few running backs on the planet better than No. 37.

No player in SEC history still has scored more rushing touchdowns in his junior and senior seasons combined – 32 – than Alexander did in 1998 and 1999.

Alexander’s 28 TDs (27 rushing, one receiving in 2005) still ranks at the second best in NFL history and he’s tied with Priest Holmes (Kansas City, 2003) for the second most rushing TDs (27) in an NFL season.

Alexander is the first and only Alabama running back ever to win the NFL rushing title (1,880 yards) in 2005.

He was the first running back in NFL to score 15 or more TDs in five consecutive seasons.

He was the first NFL running back to score 19 TDs (rushing and receiving) in only

10 games (2005).

He, Jim Brown and Jerry Rice are the only players in history to score five or more touchdowns in a game in college and in the NFL, and Alexander is believed to be the only player to score five TDs in a game in high school, college, and in the NFL (all TDs in the first half of a 2002 Sunday night game vs. Minnesota).

He was first Seahawks player ever to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

He holds 20 Seahawks records (all-time leading rusher 9,429 yards), 14 Alabama records (all-time rushing leader 3,565 yards and most yards in a game with 291 as

a freshman vs. LSU) and two Kentucky high school records.

Alexander is in a select group of nine running backs to win the rushing title the same season they were named the AP’s NFL Most Valuable Player and AP Offensive Player of the Year. The others are Pro Football Hall of Famers O.J. Simpson (1973), Walter Payton (1977), Earl Campbell (1978-79), Marcus Allen (1985), Barry Sanders (1997), Terrell Davis (1998) and LaDainian Tomlinson (2006) as well as Adrian Peterson (2012).

Alexander is the one of four former SEC running backs Jim Taylor (LSU/Green Bay), Emmitt Smith (Florida/Dallas) and Terrell Davis (Georgia/Denver) to be named the AP’s NFL Most Valuable Player. He’s also just one of two Alabama players (QB Bart Starr, Green Bay 1966) to win an AP NFL MVP honor.

Through all the success, Alexander kept his perspective, his sanity and his faith.

“When you finally become ‘the guy’ it happens so fast and is so big it can overwhelm everyone involved,” Alexander said. “My goals were to enjoy the moment, be thankful, still love the game, and get out of it still alive in life.

“It starts with faith and discipline and it all runs together. Faith is the substance of things that you hope for and the conviction of things that you don’t see. I could only put my true, faith and trust in things that were bigger than life, which is Jesus.”

Because of his strong religious faith that started with a solid foundation provided by his mother, Alexander has always had a servant’s heart. He established a foundation a month after his final college game, the 2000 Orange Bowl.

His biggest post-career mission, besides home-schooling and raising his nine children along with his wife Valerie, is providing career and life advice to others, including a special place in his heart for athletes taking same roads he once traveled.

It’s a major reason why Alexander is honored and eager to be the namesake of the FWAA’s Freshman of the Year.

“When you have been taught well, you don’t mind teaching,” Alexander said. “When somebody puts their arms around you, you don’t mind putting your arms around others. You use what you have been given.”

Alexander understands being a freshman in today’s college football is different than when he played.

“Kids now are positioning themselves for high school like it’s college, trying to find the high school that best benefits their careers,” Alexander said. “They understand at an early age the sacrifice it takes to be great.

“They lift and train and do drills with purpose and intensity. They study playbooks and schemes and break down film. They are more athletic. They have to deal with more criticism, especially from social media.”

The fact more and more incoming college signees are playing and starting as freshmen just speeds their thought process towards an NFL career after three years of college.

“Because college football is so big with all the lights and constant media attention, kids are sometimes deceived that more players are going to make it to the pros,” Alexander said. “That number is still small.

“And for the guys who do make it to the league, statistics show almost 80 percent of them are broke and/or depressed just two years after the end of their careers. They wrestle with their identity. They don’t understand football is just something they do, but it’s not who they are.”

It’s an area of life that Alexander is eager to help winners of his freshman award navigate.

“Freshmen are so young, they’re still teenagers,” Alexander said. “I got some help when I was young, but I would have loved to have had a little more insight on the field, off the field, how to handle fame, family, friendships, finances, and how to make plans for the future.

“I, my team of advisors from Legends Access, Living Well Family Office, and Soma along with my family, will walk the winners of my award through finding the answers to big questions, which are `Who am I really?’, `What is success?’ and `What are some good next steps to take?’

“Those answers are a little bit different for everybody on the planet. That’s the uniqueness of man.”

And of the FWAA’s Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year Award.

 

Nebraska QB Adrian Martinez wins FWAA’s first Shaun Alexander Inspirational Freshman of the Year Award

By Ron Higgins

They don’t make people much tougher than Nebraska true freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez.

When he was 10, Martinez’s mother Deanna died from cancer.

Adrian Martinez

“It forced me to grow up a little sooner, just to realize how real the world can really get sometimes,” Martinez told the Big Ten Network earlier this season. “I had to get back up and fight.”

When he sat out last season as a senior at Fresno (Ca.) Clovis West High recovering a torn labrum he sustained late during his junior football season, he served as player-coach tutoring the younger quarterbacks.

“As good of an athlete as he is, he’s an even better person,” Clovis West coach George Petrissans said of Martinez.

When Martinez exited this year’s Nebraska’s season opener against Colorado after suffering a knee injury while posting 304 yards total offense and three TDs in his college debut, Cornhusker Nation gulped.

Martinez didn’t blink. Two weeks later, he was back in the lineup, and on his way to completing a season that ranks as one of the most spectacular debuts in Big Ten history.

For consistently overcoming adversity, Martinez has been named the FWAA’s first Shaun Alexander Inspirational Freshman of the Year Award.

“My sophomore season at Alabama, I had a mid-foot sprain which basically I dislocated my foot,” said Alexander, the Crimson Tide’s second all-time leading rusher from 1996 to 1999 who later went on to a phenomenal nine-year NFL career. “I hardly played, we went 4-7 and I was getting verbal jabs wondering if I had been lucky as a freshman or maybe I had a sophomore slump.

“I got knocked down as a sophomore, but as a junior I was going to be the starter. I had the keys to the car. The first carry was coming to me. I scored five touchdowns in the (1998) season opener (against Brigham Young) in my first start.

“It’s why I always wanted to inspire people to get up if you’ve been knocked down. That’s why I like this Martinez kid. He got knocked down and he got up.”

Martinez, who averaged 237.9 passing yards and 57.2 yards rushing, became just the sixth freshman FBS quarterback since 1990 to average 200 passing and 50 rushing yards. That prestigious group has a pair of Heisman Trophy winners, including Marcus Mariota.

It was a comparison to Mariota that first brought Martinez to the attention of then-Central Florida head coach Scott Frost and quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco. As Oregon’s offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, Frost had coached Mariota when he won the 2014 Heisman.

“I just had this notion in my mind that he just reminded me of Marcus Mariota,” Verduzco said earlier this year after he recalled watching just a handful of plays of Martinez’s high school game film.

Martinez was the top QB on the recruiting board for Frost and Verduzco at UCF. When Frost was announced as Nebraska’s new coach last December, his first call was to Martinez who had verbally committed to Tennessee.

Even while Frost was preparing UCF for its bowl game, he flew cross-country to visit Martinez. One of the things that swayed Martinez to break his Tennessee commitment was Frost’s loyalty to stay and coach UCF for the bowl game.

“It speaks volumes that he’s going out to coach the bowl game,” said Martinez before signing with Nebraska last Dec. 20 and enrolling last January “He’s going to finish it out with his players. That’s a big deal. That definitely impressed me. It showed me he wouldn’t give up on his players, that he wasn’t selfish. He’s demonstrated a lot of great things throughout this process in making the transition to Nebraska. It speaks to his character.”

Though Martinez ran for 60 yards and three TDs on 14 carries in the Huskers’ spring game, he wasn’t named starter until late in fall camp. He was the first true freshman quarterback in Nebraska’s storied football history to start a season opener.

“At the end of the day we’re more dangerous if we have a quarterback that’s also a threat to run,” Frost said of Martinez as the season progressed. “I’m always careful about making comparisons, but he’s doing some things like quite a few of the special guys I’ve been around. There’s no way I would have been ready to do what he’s doing right now as an 18-year-old. It says a lot about who he is as a person.”

In a tough rebuilding year for Nebraska as the Huskers finished 4-8 overall and 3-6 in Big Ten play, Martinez gave Nebraska fans hope for the future.

In Frost’s no-huddle spread-option offense, Martinez had a school-record seven 300-yard total offense games and threw for more than 260 yards in seven league contests. He led Nebraska to at least 450 total offense yards in seven straight games, the longest streak in school history.

Martinez also recorded three 400-yard total offense games (414 vs. Purdue, 441 at Wisconsin, 401 vs. Minnesota).

One of his most impressive stats was completing 24-of-26 passes for 269 yards and three TDs in leading Nebraska to TDs on seven game-opening drives.

“He’s one of the better players in the country already,” Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said of Martinez. “He’s a running back that’s an incredible quarterback. He’s so fast, he’s so quick, he’s bigger than you think, and he can hurt you.”

Frost believes Martrinez’s best attribute is his desire to not be satisfied with status quo.

“There’s not going to be anybody better than Adrian once he gets as good as he can be,” Frost said. “I don’t think he’s ever going to be happy until he plays a perfect game, which is never going to happen, so he’s going to be hungry.”

Martinez’s patience and maturity, far beyond his years, should continue to serve him well.

“Just the experience I’ve gained throughout this process I think has really helped,” Martinez said. “Just different situations and growing with my teammates and coaches. Really, to point back to the great people I’m around it really just helped me progress to this point.

“I still feel like I haven’t scratched the surface.”

 

Rondale Moore wins FWAA’s first Shaun Alexander Freshman Breakout Performance of the Year

By Ron Higgins

Shaun Alexander knows what it’s like to have a breakout performance on a football field.

On a November 1996 Saturday night in a 26-0 win at LSU, Alexander went from a barely-used third-string Alabama freshman redshirt running back to recording the most yards rushing in a game in Crimson Tide history.

His incredible numbers – 291 yards and four touchdowns on 20 carries – have remained as the gold standard in Tuscaloosa, Ala. No running back in SEC history has rushed for more yards in one half than Alexander’s 274 yards on 19 carries in the second half against an LSU defense that held many offenses down in that 1996 season.

“After I scored the second TD,” Alexander recalled, “I told our fourth-string running back Montoya (Madden) that `I feel like I’m about to be in a zone.’ It’s a feeling I got in high school, college and in the pros when I felt I could score every time I touched the ball.”

Rondale Moore

Purdue true freshman wide receiver Rondale Moore can appreciate Alexander’s sixth sense.

Six times this year in Moore’s fabulous first season, he had 11 or more catches as he finished with an FBS-leading 114 catches for 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also set a school season record with 2,215 all-purpose yards, was named a consensus first-team All-Big Ten and All-American and won the Paul Hornung Award as college football’s most versatile player.

His biggest show came on the brightest stage. The 5-9, 180-pound Moore caught 12 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns in Purdue’s stunning 49-20 beatdown of then-No. 2 and eventual Big Ten champion Ohio State on Oct. 20.

Add Moore’s two rushes for 24 yards, three kickoff returns for 49 yards and one punt return for 9 yards against the Buckeyes and it’s enough to be named as the FWAA’s first Shaun Alexander Freshman Breakout Performance of the Year.

“I saw most of the Ohio State game,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said, “and the way he (Moore) played against that type of competition was unusual. It would have been impressive for a senior. But to consider him being just out of high school, it’s awfully impressive.”

Alexander agrees with Ferentz’s assessment.

“I saw Moore’s first catch of the game and asked myself `Is he electric?’” Alexander said. “Then, as the game went on, he kept answering the question with a `Yes.’ It was special to see a freshman put in work like that.”

Admittedly, Alexander and Moore took different paths to grabbing the national spotlight for the first time.

In his senior season at Boone County (Ky.) High School in 1994, Alexander scored a mind-blowing 54 touchdowns, including 50 rushing scores. Yet when he reported to Alabama for the first time in the fall of 1995, he understood his place on the depth chart behind Dennis Riddle and Curtis Alexander (no relation to Shaun).

“I was still 17 years old when I reported and there were grown men there,” he said. “I still thought I was better than most of the guys. I felt like I was going to be good.

“But I didn’t feel like I felt in high school, which was when I walked on the field, I was going to take the game over. I didn’t want to be just a good player, I wanted to dominate. My desire to totally take the will out of the other team is the thing that drove me. I wanted to play at that level in college like I did in high school.”

Alexander was totally in agreement with then-Alabama coach Gene Stallings to redshirt him as a true freshman.

“You get to fine tune your game,” Alexander said when he considered the positives of being redshirted. “You get to learn the ebbs and flows of defense and how they scheme. I had the ability to look at the big master plan and say `OK, I can get there.’”

Even the next season in 1996 when he finally got chances to play, the moments were fleeting. Stallings, in the final season of his storied 39-year coaching career, was old school and simply didn’t believe most true freshmen or redshirt freshmen should get anything more than token minutes here and there.

But times have changed.

Now, when a college head coach such as Purdue’s Jeff Brohm lands a talent like Moore, the state of Kentucky’s 2017 Gatorade Player of the Year at Louisville’s Trinity High, you give him an immediate shot at playing time.

Moore didn’t disappoint. Starting with a school-record 313 all-purpose yards in the season-opener against Northwestern, Moore quickly became a weapon just as Brohm expected.

“He came into camp with us and from day one, he’s been making plays, taking every rep,” Brohm said of Moore. “He’s been dynamic and exceptional. He’s a difference maker. He brings it every game.”

Because Moore works with the same intensity every day and has adapted flawlessly to drawing more attention, on and off the field.

“I put in the work and my teammates have done a great job around me,” Moore told the Big Ten Conference network. “When you play at a certain level, you get more and more people who look up to you and pattern their life after you. You have to grow up and do things the right way.”

All of Moore’s physical attributes – his 4.33 40-yard speed and his incredible leg strength that allows him to squat 600 pounds – were on display against Ohio State.

Purdue was 3-3 after an 0-3 start when they welcomed the 7-0 Buckeyes and proceeded with a 29-point win that eventually played a major factor in keeping Ohio State out of the College Football Playoff.

On the Boilermakers’ first offensive play, the one that caught Alexander’s eye, Moore received a short pass and made four Ohio State tackles miss for a 23-yard gain. Moore’s last catch of the day was a 43-yard fourth-quarter touchdown in which he shook off a tackler that appeared to have him stopped near the sideline.

Moore had seven catches for 90 yards in the first half including a 9-yard touchdown with 27 seconds left before halftime for a momentum-grabbing 14-3 lead at the break. He added five receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown in the second half.

He celebrated the win by staying awake until 3 a.m. before the game tape was e-mailed to him so he could watch it and grade himself.

Moore also had 12 catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns in a regular-season ending win over Indiana that gave Purdue six wins and a bowl bid.

“He’s really fast and really, really strong,” said Indiana coach Tom Allen, whose Hoosiers were victimized by Moore’s 12 catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns. “He’s hard to tackle. He breaks a lot of tackles.”

Moore cited Ohio State and Indiana as his biggest games of the year.

“The Indiana game meant a lot to me personally,” Moore said, “because it gave our seniors a chance to play one more game in a bowl.”

Before the Music City Bowl, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn called Moore “one of best players in college football.” Moore was one of the bright spots in his team’s loss to the Tigers when he had 11 receptions for 94 yards and scored one of the Boilermakers’ two touchdowns on a seven-yard run.

As great a season as Moore experienced, he understands it’s only the beginning.

“There are a lot of areas I can improve,” Moore said. “Blocking is something I’ll focus on this spring and in the summer. Also, with a year of experience under my belt, I have to take on more of a leadership role.”

 

Trevor Lawrence named FWAA’s first Shaun Alexander National Freshman of the Year

By Ron Higgins

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney is a nice guy who faces hard decisions.

When Swinney makes any lineup change, it’s done with the understanding no starting job is sacred. There’s no entitlement in the Tigers’ program. It was never more apparent this season when Swinney promoted true freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence to starter, supplanting returning starter and 2017 ACC title game MVP Kelly Bryant after Clemson’s 4-0 start.

Trevor Lawrence

Swinney said the decision was based on “data.”

In the first four games, Bryant led the offense to seven scores (five touchdowns and two field goals) in 20 possessions. Lawrence came off the bench and guided the offense to 16 scores (13 touchdowns, three field goals) in 23 possessions.

The stats didn’t lie then, and they certainly don’t now. Lawrence just finished an 11-0 season as a starter with being named the Most Valuable Offensive Player in Clemson’s 44-16 win over Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, which gave Clemson a 15-0 record and its second national title in the last three years.

Lawrence’s remarkably consistent, poised performances during the regular season is why he’s the clear-cut winner of the FWAA’s Shaun Alexander National Freshman of the Year Award.

“As we looked over all the great freshman players this year, Trevor was everything we want in a student athlete and he is everything we want as a player and a person to carry the Shaun Alexander National Freshman Player of the Year Award,” said Alexander, who revealed Lawrence as the winner at this morning’s annual FWAA awards breakfast in San Jose, Calif.”

Lawrence embodies the eight traits – Talent, Character, Ambassador, Legend, Faith, Passion, Focus, Leader – inscribed on the gold coin he received as the Alexander winner.

One quality that has served Lawrence well and kept him level-headed in his meteoric rise to stardom is faith.

“Football is important to me, but it’s not my life,” Lawrence said a few days before he threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns in Clemson’s 30-3 CFP semifinal rout of No. 4 Notre Dame at the Coton Bowl. “My faith is the biggest thing in my life. It comes from knowing who I am outside of football. So, no matter how big the situation, it’s not going to define me. I put my identity in what Christ says and who He thinks I am. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what people think about me or how good I played.”

Lawrence, who turned 19 years old in October, has completed 239-of-365 passes for 2,933 yards, 27 touchdowns and four interceptions. Swinney is running out of words to describe his chill 6-6, 215-pound signal-caller, who just a year ago was ranked as the nation’s No. 2 high school quarterback at Cartersville (Ga.) High.

“What you see is who he is,” Swinney said. “Trevor is poised, he’s polished, he doesn’t get rattled. He’s accurate, athletic, can see the field. He’s got a gift of an arm. He’s got a rare confidence and focus. Just has always been really locked in on himself and who he is and not worried about things he doesn’t control.

“I love his humility and how consistent he is with his demeanor and his preparation day in and day out. Easy, easy, easy guy to coach and easy guy to get behind and support. His teammates love him. He just has never looked like a freshman.”

When Bryant, a graduate senior, announced that he was transferring just days after Lawrence was named the starter (eventually settling on Missouri), it was an unexpected occurrence that could have unsettled a Clemson team seeking a fourth straight trip to the College Football Playoffs.

But it didn’t because of the way Lawrence handled it.

“You just have to earn respect and just kind of show what you can do and prove yourself a little bit, but not to be that guy that’s cocky and comes in and thinks he’s going to do all these things,” Lawrence said. “You can be confident, but I think it’s just got to show through how you play, going to work, just controlling what I can control and gradually showing what I could do that earned the respect of my teammates.”

From the get-go, Lawrence has impressed Clemson’s veterans.

“Trevor has just gotten better every week,” senior wide receiver Hunter Renfrow said. “I got to spend some time with him in the quarterback room. I saw from the third week to the fourth week to the fifth week, how he slowed everything down, how he was able to process everything and really just command the attention of the team.”

The only thing that initially surprised the Clemson coaching staff about Lawrence is that he was more advanced than they anticipated.

“You can see it when a kid has that ‘it’ factor and is special and, you know, he probably was a little bit further along when he came in in January than maybe we were expecting,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott. “He’s the kind of guy that during his lunch breaks is going into the coach’s office and watching film. We knew recruiting him he was going to be the type of player that he is.”

As the season progressed, Lawrence, who wears the number 16 in honor of Peyton Manning because he was his favorite player, earned rave reviews from opposing head coaches.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who tutored both Peyton and Eli Manning in college in his earlier coaching stops at Tennessee and Ole Miss, was suitably impressed with Lawrence.

“You don’t stop him, you just try to minimize the damage,” said Cutcliffe, whose team lost to Clemson 35-6 when Lawrence threw for 251 yards and two scores. “You have to defend, cover and try to create some great rush. He has incredible arm strength. He certainly looks very poised for a true freshman.”

Boston College coach Steve Addazio was just as wowed by Lawrence, who passed for 245 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score in the Tigers’ 27-7 November road win over the Eagles.

“He’s accurate, he’s got size and he’s got some savvy,” Addazio said of Lawrence. “He’s the real deal.”

With Lawrence’s final challenge against Alabama, Lawrence has a chance to become the first true freshman to lead his team to a national title since Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway in 1985.

“He’s very instinctive in terms of making the reads he needs to make, and he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes where he wants to throw the ball,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said of Lawrence. “He’s done a good job of reading the defense and taking what the defense gives him.

“We tried to recruit him. He’s a fine young man and a great competitor. He’s certainly proven that over the course of this season. He doesn’t look like a freshman, that’s for sure.”

The fact Lawrence is facing Alabama in the championship game makes the first FWAA Shaun Alexander National Freshman of the Year Award even more special for the award’s Crimson Tide namesake.

“Alabama playing against Dabo Swinney-led Clemson will always be special because of how much the ’Bama family loves Dabo,” Alexander said of Swinney, a member of the 1992 Alabama national championship team and later an assistant coach with the Crimson Tide. ”But Trevor, being the first (Shaun Alexander National Freshman of the Year) winner who’s coached by a ’Bama national champion like Dabo going against Alabama for all the marbles has just sweetened the pot.

“But that’s what special players do. They add to the game the potential for possible moments people will remember for a long time.”

 

FWAA names 2018 Freshman All-America Team

18th annual team features 32 first-year stars

SAN JOSE, Calif. The 18th annual Football Writers Association of America Freshman All-America Team features five players taking part in tonight’s College Football Playoff National Championship at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., and includes Clemson starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Alabama starting cornerback Patrick Surtain II.

The Southeastern Conference leads all conferences with six total selections, led by Georgia, which led all schools with three: offensive linemen Cade Mays and Isaiah Wilson and defensive lineman Jordon Davis. The Big 12 was second with five, followed by the Big Ten with four. All 10 FBS conferences and two independents are represented on the team.

Heading into tonight’s National Championship, Lawrence has posted one of the best regular seasons by a true freshman quarterback in history. Lawrence, a highly-touted early enrollee, played in the Tigers’ first four games before taking over as the starter. The Cartersville, Ga., product has thrown for 2,933 yards and 27 touchdowns and only four interceptions while averaging 12.3 yards per completion. Clemson’s offense is just 293 yards shy of breaking its own ACC record of 7,718 total yards set in 2015. The Tigers are averaging 530.4 total yards and 44.3 points per game. Lawrence has completed 65 percent of his passes.

Purdue’s Rondale Moore, among two Freshman All-Americans to be named to the FWAA’s All-America Team last month, leads the FBS with 114 receptions, the second-most in a season by a Big Ten player, and led the conference with 1,258 yards and 12 receiving touchdowns. Including his special teams yardage, Moore led the conference in all-purpose yards with 2,215, fourth nationally. In his debut, Moore set the Purdue single-game record with 313 all-purpose yards against Northwestern on Aug. 30, gaining 79 rushing yards, 109 receiving yards and 125 kickoff return yards.

Kicker Andre Szmyt of Syracuse was also a first-team FWAA All-America selection. He led the nation in scoring with 151 points, making 30 of 34 field goal attempts – including 3-for-3 beyond 50 yards – and all 61 extra-point attempts. Szmyt’s teammate, safety Andre Cisco, among the national leaders with seven interceptions, gives the Orange a pair of players on the team. Alabama is the only other school with teammates honored, as wide receiver Jaylen Waddle was selected to the team.

Josh Heupel, who coached UCF to a 13-0 regular season and the American Athletic Conference title, is the First-Year Coach of the Year.

The 13-person panel of nationally-prominent college football experts represented each of the FBS conferences along with independents in the selecting the team. Both true freshmen (18 players) and redshirt freshmen (14 players) were considered for the team and are so noted on the list below.

2018 FWAA FRESHMAN ALL-AMERICA TEAM

OFFENSE (13)

Pos. Player School Ht., Wt. Hometown
• QB Trevor Lawrence Clemson 6-6, 215 Cartersville, Ga.
• QB Adrian Martinez Nebraska 6-2, 220 Fresno, Calif.
• RB Jermar Jefferson Oregon State 5-11, 211 Harbor City, Calif.
RB Anthony McFarland Maryland 5-8, 193 Hyattsville, Md.
• WR Rondale Moore Purdue 5-9, 175 New Albany, Ind.
• WR Jayden Reed Western Michigan 6-0, 170 Aurora, Ill.
• WR Jaylen Waddle Alabama 5-10, 177 Houston, Texas
• OL Trace Clopton Southern Miss 6-2, 290 Brookhaven, Miss.
OL Keegan Cryder Wyoming 6-4, 291 Littleton, Colo.
OL James Empy BYU 6-4, 297 American Fork, Utah
OL Creed Humphrey Oklahoma 6-5, 325 Shawnee, Okla.
• OL Cade Mays Georgia 6-6, 318 Knoxville, Tenn.
OL Isaiah Wilson Georgia 6-7, 340 Brooklyn, N.Y.

DEFENSE (14)

Pos. Player School Ht., Wt. Hometown
• DL Jordan Davis Georgia 6-6, 320 Charlotte, N.C.
• DL Jamal Hines Toledo 6-2, 216 Cincinnati, Ohio
DL Juwuan Jones WKU 6-3, 270 Sugar Hill, Ga.
• DL Austin Lewis Liberty 6-6, 230 Jonesborough, Tenn.
LB Zaven Collins Tulsa 6-4, 250 Hominy, Okla.
LB Carlton Martial Troy 5-10, 216 Mobile, Ala)
• LB Merlin Robertson Arizona State 6-3, 235 Gardena, Calif.
• LB Mike Rose Iowa State 6-3, 228 Brecksville, Ohio
DB Paulson Adebo Stanford 6-1, 189 Mansfield, Texas
• DB Andre Cisco Syracuse 6-0, 199 Valley Stream, N.Y.
DB Adrian Frye Texas Tech 6-1, 175 Houston, Texas
• DB Caden Sterns Texas 6-1, 192 Cibolo, Texas
• DB Patrick Surtain II Alabama 6-2, 202 Plantation, Fla.
• DB Bryce Thompson Tennessee 5-11, 180 Irmo, S.C.

SPECIALISTS (5)

Pos. Player School Ht., Wt. Hometown
P Clayton Howell Appalachian State 6-0, 183 High Point, N.C.
K Andre Szmyt Syracuse 6-1, 195 Vernon Hills, Ill.
KR K.J. Hamler Penn State (5-9, 173 Pontiac, Mich.
PR Marcus Hayes New Mexico 6-0, 199 Rockford, Ill.
AP Pooka Williams Jr. Kansas 5-10, 170 Marrero, La.

HEAD COACH

Josh Heupel, UCF
• Denotes true freshman

Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America consists of 1,400 men and women who cover college football. The membership includes journalists, broadcasters and publicists, as well as key executives in all the areas that involve the game. The FWAA works to govern areas that include game-day operations, major awards and its annual All-America team. For more information about the FWAA and its award programs, contact Steve Richardson at tiger@fwaa.com.

2018 FWAA FRESHMAN ALL-AMERICA COMMITTEE

Shaun Alexander

Mark Anderson, Las Vegas Review-Journal (MW)

Mark Blaudschun, TMGCollegeSports.com (ACC)

Scott Dochterman, The Athletic (Big Ten)

Mike Griffith, Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Chair/Independents)

Tommy Hicks, Freelance (Sun Belt)

Ron Higgins, Freelance (SEC)

Blair Kerkhoff, The Kansas City Star (Big 12)

Matt Murschel, Orlando Sentinel (American Athletic)

Nick Piotrowicz, Toledo Blade (MAC)

Steve Richardson, FWAA Executive Director

Grant Traylor, Huntington Herald-Dispatch (Conference USA)

Ryan Young, Rivals.com (Pac-12)

Texas Tech student Mallory Rosetta receives Meece Scholarship

Mallory Rosetta, a freshman at Texas Tech University, was named the 22tst winner of the Volney Meece Scholarship on Monday.

Mallory Rosetta

The scholarship is awarded annually by the Football Writers Association of America and named for the late Volney Meece. Meece served 22 years as the FWAA’s executive director and was the organization’s president in 1971.

The scholarship is a $1,000 annual grant for four years. It is awarded to a deserving son or daughter of an FWAA member.

The 19-year-old Rosetta is the daughter of long-time FWAA member Randy Rosetta.

Mallory compiled an impressive list of academic and extracurricular achievements during high school at the Parkview Baptist School in Baton Rouge, LA. She maintained a 3.918 GPA while also being involved in various school and church activities.

She has continued that success during her first semester at Texas Tech. Majoring in public relations, she compiled a 3.6 GPA and was named a features writer for the student newspaper.

At Parkview Baptist, she was president of the honor society and drama club, secretary of the student council and a member of the Louisiana all-state choir three years. Mallory served as a ministry mentor for middle school students at Istrouma Baptist Church and volunteered at the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank and American Heart Association.

Past winners of the Volney Meece Scholarship
1997  Brett Goering  Topeka, Kan.
1998  Kelly Brooks  Denver, Colo.
1999  James Butz  Schaumberg, Ill.
2000  Sara Barnhart  Atlanta, Ga.
2001  Patrick Davis  Coventry, Conn.
2002  Jacqueline O’Toole  Gaithersburg, Md.
2003  Garrett Holtz  Denver, Colo.
2004  Katie Hersom  Oklahoma City, Okla.
2005  Katie Wieberg  Lawson, Mo.
2006  Kaylynn Monroe  Winter Park, Fla.
2007  Nate Kerkhoff  Overland Park, Kan.
2008  Jack Caywood  Lawrence, Kan.
2009  Haley Dodd  Overland Park, Kan.
2010  Donald Hunt  Philadelphia, Pa.
2011  Alaina Martens  Papillion, Neb.
2012  Emily Alford  Tupelo, Miss.
2013  Sarah Helsley  Edmond, Okla.
2014 Robert Abramson Palos Verde, Calif.
2015 Danielle Hoover Tulsa, Okla.
2016 Dolen Helwagen Pataskala, Ohio
2017 Elizabeth Schroeder Norman, Okla.

Blair Kerkhoff named winner of Bert McGrane Award 1

Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star was named the FWAA’s Bert McGrane Award winner on Monday. The prestigious award is tantamount to the organization’s Hall of Fame.

Blair Kerkhoff, Kansas City Star: The 2019 Bert McGrane Recipient

Age: 59

Blair Kerkhoff

College: Appalachian State

Personal: Worked at the Raleigh News & Observer and Raleigh Times as a part timer/intern (1978-80); Roanoke Times (Va.) covered Virginia Tech, small colleges, high schools (1981-89); Kansas City Star have covered Kansas, Kansas State, Big 12/SEC, Royals, Chiefs, national colleges (1989-to present)…

Authored five books, four about college sports. Winner of APSE national awards and state writing awards in Missouri and Virginia. Three children: Nate, 29, was a Volney Meece Scholarship Recipient (2007), Ben and Anna. Karen, wife, of 34 years.

Influences/Mentors: I was influenced by the sportswriters of newspapers wherever we lived, plus those who wrote for Sports Illustrated, Sport magazine, The Sporting News and any other publication that came through our home.

Growing up in Raleigh, I’d attend college football games or listen to them on the radio, take notes and scribble short stories on a legal pad then compare it to the game story in the next day’s newspaper.

The first college football game I attended was in 1971, William & Mary at North Carolina. The Tar Heels beat Lou Holtz’s team 36-35 with a late touchdown and two-point conversion. I was hooked.

The next year I attended every N.C. State home game, walking to the stadium from my home about two miles away. I’d go to North Carolina and Duke games during the day and watch the Wolfpack at night.

Rewarding Stories: If you live in the same place for as long as I have, sometimes you’re privileged to write about people who have influenced you or your family. A few years ago, a coach, teacher and fantastic person at a local high school died at the shockingly young age of 47.

Two of my kids had him as a coach, the third as a teacher and by the end of the day without prompting they had all shared a story about him with me. I was able to construct a tribute from those recollections.

I’ve covered every college football championship game since 1995 and a half-dozen or so Division II championships. Sometimes the better stories and certainly better access is found with the smaller schools.

Blair Kerkhoff

Best Advice: Do your homework, and always be prepared for an interview, event or game that you’re covering. I heard this from more than one mentor.

If I could advise aspiring journalists, build a foundation on the fundamentals of writing and reporting, develop contacts and understand how to use them. Be fair and accurate, and don’t think any assignment is beneath you.

For veterans, do your best to keep up with the changing technology, be open to video and audio. The audience doesn’t always come to you like it once did. You have to find the audience and give it a reason for repeat business.

Best Moments: Too many to count.

*Riding in a limo and chatting with Eddie Robinson on the way to an awards banquet.

*Sitting in a conference room with every conference commissioner as the BCS was being planned.

*Nearly getting tossed in the Riverwalk, accidently I think, by Nebraska fans before a Big 12 title game.

*Taking the media bus back to the hotel from Boise State’s dramatic victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, thinking I had captured the essence of this remarkable game, only to learn about the marriage proposal while listening to a radio show, and scrambling at the hotel to add that detail.

*Having beers with Joe Paterno the night before a game, about the time the bad stuff was happening and wouldn’t be known for more than a decade.

*A recurring one: Having the privilege to vote on the Good Works Team and Armed Forces Award.

Best interview: I can’t single one out, but I covered Frank Beamer’s first two years at Virginia Tech. I was the only media member on a regular basis and instead of using that numbers advantage to shut me out, Beamer and his staff opened their doors and allowed me to gain insights into the team.

What the FWAA has meant: My year as FWAA president was incredible for a few reasons.

I was the last person selected by Volney Meece to serve as an officer and enter the president rotation. It allowed me to get to know Volney, one of the greats in our profession.

After Volney passed the FWAA plunged into uncertainty. I remember at the Nebraska-Florida Fiesta Bowl after the 1995 season. Ivan Maisel was President. At the annual meeting, he was there, along with Vahe Gregorian and myself. We discussed a path forward for the organization and we came up with expanding the directory. At the time it looked more like a pamphlet. Soon, it became a media guide.

Not long after that, Tiger Richardson took over and the FWAA has become a model of stability and a positive force in our profession.

Receiving the Bert McGrane Award: If I’m around next July, it will be 30 years for me at The Kansas City Star, mostly covering college sports.

I greatly appreciate that my bosses have found it worthwhile over the years to send me college football’s title game, and I hope whatever audience I have also found it worthwhile.

Winning the Bert McGrane Award is an incredible honor. The roll call of winners includes people who have gained my admiration and readership for decades.

There are more deserving of this award, none more appreciative.

Chris Vannini: FWAA Co-Beat Writer of the Year

Chris Vannini of The Athletic and Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com will be named co-winners of the FWAA’s Beat Writer of the Year Award on Monday. The following is a profile of Dodd. For a profile of Dodd, CLICK HERE.

Chris Vannini, The Athletic: Co-2018, FWAA Beat Writer of the Year

Age: 29

College: Michigan State

Chris Vannini

Personal: Claimed FWAA Best Writing Game Story HM (2018) and FWAA Best Writing Feature Story HM (2018). I also won Best Sports Story when working at The State News- Michigan State student newspaper (2011)…I have been married to wife Gabi and since 2012…Dogs and pro wrestling are my passions. You will see both subjects all over my social media accounts. My wife, a dog trainer on the side, has worked at various animal shelters. We always have different dogs coming in and out of the house, along with the ones we own. I am also a pro wrestling fan, watching WWF/E since I was a kid. Writing about the transition ex-football players make to become pro wrestlers was a very fun story to do, combining two of my passions.

Mentors: I have to start with the various editors at The State News. When I was hired as an intern. I had very little journalism experience. I was writing alongside high school journalism all-stars. My early stories were critiqued heavily by the editors. They helped me figure things out. I owe my career foundation to the people at The State News: Joey Nowak, Julie Baker, Kris Turner, Cash Kruth, Matt Bishop, professional adviser Omar Sofradzija and others. The standard at that paper put in place by the students ahead of me was so high, winning a Pacemaker Award every year I was there, and I hoped to keep up that standard when I became an editor as a senior. Even after graduation, Omar was always a sounding board for me. Jason Beck from MLB.com became another mentor when I worked alongside him covering the Detroit Tigers in 2011. Pete Roussel, a former college football coach, hired me at CoachingSearch.com. Although he didn’t have a writing background, he taught me how to simplify subjects in a concise matter and get to the point and make the point. All of these people helped me get where I am today.

Most Rewarding Stories: Writing about the families honored on UAB’s children’s hospital jerseys was very meaningful. Each player was paired with a current or former patient. Some of the names were of children who had passed. Talking to Tracey Thompson, whose son “Jack-Jack” was honored on the quarterback’s jersey, she explained that you miss hearing your child’s name after they die. People don’t bring it up to you, for fear of upsetting you, but the silence makes their lives feel insignificant. So the fact that UAB used his name, especially in such a prominent position with the QB, was honoring Jack-Jack in a way where people would never forget him. I hoped my story had the same effect for those families. On a less serious topic, I pushed hard to write a story on how football players become WWE wrestlers. It took months to complete because I had to work to convince WWE to let an outlet they’d never heard of speak with active wrestlers, who were vital to the story. I also had to convince editors it was worth running during the season. But several events happened during the season to make it feel timely, and it turned out to be a hit with readers. It was a niche topic with a unique angle, but it worked.

Best piece of advice: When I was a college student at Michigan State, I was grappling with the time commitment of journalism (how it takes away from having a personal life) to go along with the declining state of the industry. I was enjoying college life as one does, but when I joined The State News as a sophomore, time with friends outside the paper decreased. I e-mailed Terry Foster, a Detroit News columnist whose radio show I listened to, and I asked about that balance and sacrifice. He responded with this: “If you like journalism, don’t do it. If you love it, then come into the club. You need passion to get through the rough days.” Ten years later, I still have that e-mail printed out, and I still think about that advice every day.

What has changed most in the journalism profession? I can really only speak for the last 10 years, but even so, I’ve experienced a big change on the print side. When I started at The State News as a sophomore, our paper had two eight-page sections every day. By the time I became sports editor as a senior, we only had one section, sometimes at six pages. The quick decline of print advertising took its toll. But I was an early adopter of Twitter in 2009. It was evident then how valuable it could be as a tool. Our sports account at The State News became a must-follow when I was the editor, like when Tom Izzo flirted with the Cleveland Cavaliers job in summer 2010. We had updates throughout the day, photos from the airport, photos from rallies and other news. That wasn’t normal at the time. Professional reporters covering Michigan State sports used to rib me over my constant Twitter usage. Now they are on it just as much as I am. Every job I have gotten has come in large part because of Twitter, whether that was finding a job opening or someone else finding me. Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman discovered my work at CoachingSearch.com through Twitter, and that eventually led to Mandel bringing me to The Athletic.

Best Interview: One of the interviews I’m most proud of was with Ohio University Football Coach Frank Solich this past August. I did a ton of research before the interview, and a colleague tipped me off to something about a class. I asked him an obscure question about being in a class taught by Tom Osborne when he was a Nebraska student-athlete, and he brought up that he nearly went into the FBI. I followed up on that a few times and got more details, which became the lead of the story. After the interview, an Ohio communications staffer told me that he never talks about the FBI topic with anyone, so the fact I found my way into the topic and got him to open up about it was encouraging. I was also told before the interview that he wouldn’t talk about Nebraska and his firing there, but I was able to ask numerous questions in ways that invited him to open up about it in a comfortable way. I got the important insight the story needed. I’d consider that one of my best interviews.

Colorado SID Dave Plati to receive FWAA’s Lifetime Achievement Award

Editor’s Note: Dave Plati, a long-time FWAA member, will receive the association’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual FWAA Awards Breakfast on Jan. 7 at the San Jose Marriott prior to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

By Neill Woelk

BOULDER, Colo. — He has worked for six athletic directors, eight head football coaches and seven men’s basketball coaches. He has overseen national championship seasons in four sports and shepherded the campaigns for a long list of national award winners, including a Heisman Trophy, two Thorpe awards, two Butkus awards, a Mackey winner and literally dozens of football All-Americans.

 

Dave Plati

He was also recently selected for the national CoSIDA Hall of Fame, making his career one that has become a standard of the industry. But, as he closes in on wrapping up his fourth decade at the same school, Colorado’s David Plati still approaches his job with the same goals every day.

Take care of his student-athletes, coaches and the university by making sure they get the best possible representation in every manner available. It has produced a career that has earned him legendary status among coaches and athletes, as well as his peers and those who cover the Buffaloes.

“I have him on my very short Mount Rushmore list of sports information directors, from a bygone era, who have bridged the gap from old-school to space age without losing a step,” said former Los Angeles Times writer Chris Dufresne. “Coaches and athletic directors have come and gone in Boulder. It is Plati who has remained the department stabilizer, in good times and bad. Dave has been a fair broker with the media, understanding our jobs are different than his job. From our end, he also runs a lean, mean, no-nonsense and professional working press box. On top of that, he is a talented, versatile, funny editor and writer who (arguably) produces the best game notes packages in the country.”

Plati, 58, was named the 13th full-time sports information director in CU history on July 24, 1984, after serving for three years as the assistant SID. The youngest SID in the nation at the time of his hiring, he previously worked as a student assistant and statistician after coming to CU as a freshman in 1978.

His primary responsibilities are with the football and men’s golf programs, though he oversees the sports information efforts for all sports, and at one time or another he has personally handled nine sports during his CU career. He has worked or covered more than 2,150 CU events, including 455 football games heading into the 2018-19 school year. Of those 455, he worked 410 in a row, a stretch that ended in 2017 due to a minor health issue.

Through those years and events, he left an indelible impression on coaches and student-athletes.

“Dave was an incredible resource during my time at CU,” said former CU All-American and Butkus Award winner Matt Russell. “The exposure he generated for all of us and our teams, spearheading our award campaigns and highlighting our achievements, was second to none. He was a friend and mentor to me and my teammates, an advocate and a voice in our ear helping us to manage the spotlight. He always made sure we represented ourselves and our school in a positive way as student-athletes.”

Plati also always earned the trust of his coaches — in good times and in bad.

“Three words jump in my mind when I think of Dave Plati,” said former CU coach Bill McCartney, who led the Buffaloes to a 1990 national title. “Wholehearted, genuine and thorough. He’s all-in. You know the expression, ‘All-in or nothing at all’ — he’s all-in. Every day he hits the ground running and gets the job done, and he’s a Buff through and through. With me, he was always respectful, honoring, genuine and helpful. I trusted him, and that’s important for a head coach.”

Throughout his career, Plati has also earned a reputation for tutoring and preparing young assistants for professional careers. Dozens of his former students and assistants have gone on to high-profile jobs in professional and collegiate sports.

“He is one of the hardest working individuals I have ever known and his passion and love for the Buffs is unmatched,” said South Carolina Assistant AD/Communications Steve Fink. “His unique and creative mind, along with his penchant for numbers, trivia and pop culture, is unrivaled in the field.”
Under Plati’s direction, Colorado has also won seven FWAA Press Box and/or Super 11 awards, given to sports information departments and programs that “exemplify excellent media relations.”

“Dave likes to run his press box by FWAA rules — to the letter,” said B.G. Brooks, who covered the Buffs for 25 years for the Rocky Mountain News. “Dave wants professionalism from his staff, his student assistants and press box patrons. Tight ship, in other words. All that said, don’t get the idea it’s a prison ship. Dave likes an enjoyable, cordial environment. But keep it professional.”

Plati’s peers in the business have also always accorded him great respect.

“I’ve always had a great respect for Dave because of his commitment to executing the fundamentals of our profession without compromise and also because of his unbending loyalty to the University of Colorado,” said Doug Vance, former Kansas SID and current executive director of CoSIDA. “Without question, he’s one of the most hard working and creative SID’s I’ve ever encountered.”

But Plati has never been one to seek the spotlight or accolades.

“When you think of Dave, the song ‘Nobody Does it Better’ comes to mind,” former CU football coach Gary Barnett said. “That is simply true. Everyone who ever received a national or league award over all these years has Dave Plati to thank. He emerged early on as a force in his business and established himself as one of the very best.”