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.

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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.

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.

Dennis Dodd: FWAA Co-Beat Writer of the Year

Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com and Chris Vannini of The Athletic 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 Vannini, CLICK HERE.

Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com: 2018 FWAA Co-Beat Writer of the Year

AGE: 62

Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com

PERSONAL: Married. Wife Janet. Two children–Haley, 26, and Jack 22. Haley is a graduate of Missouri and is working in Los Angeles in social media. Jack is a senior in journalism at Kansas. Dennis has won three FWAA Best Writing Contest Awards. He is one of seven media members to cover all 16 BCS title games. Written two books, one on the history of Missouri basketball and the other on the formation of the Big 12. Calls wife Janet, “the absolute light of my life, guidance counselor, travel companion, cancer survivor and best friend.” One of his hobbies, NCAA Football on the PlayStation, was taken away from him by litigation; Jack took the Xbox to college. His passions are Happy Hour, hockey and Friday nights before Saturday games in college towns dining with media friends. “There’s no better fellowship,” he says.

MENTORS: The gang, Tom Shatel and Steve Richardson, early on. Richardson, Dodd says “mentored him when he came to Kanas City in 1981.” Shatel: “I wish I could be him as a writer and a father.” They can all still be seen in San Diego in somebody’s picture of that little joint by the sea. Dodd started going there 36 years ago; Shatel was along for the ride. Ivan Maisel, he calls his “literary and personal hero.” He also wants to thank Vahe Gregorian, David Jones, Todd Jones, Dick Weiss, Mark Blaudschun, Tony Barnhart, Chris Dufresne, Pat Forde and everyone who has pounded the key boards at midnight with him.

BEST STORIES:  Most proud of two—one was on Dave Redding. Drove up to central Nebraska to see legendary strength coach Dave Redding. In a profession full of characters, rogues and heroes, he was all three. Red Man had been stricken with Parkinson’s. He lived in a house built on the banks on of the Platte River by himself and his dad. His only companions were a couple of dogs and a houseful of memories. He showed me his Super Bowl ring he earned with the Packers. His went in depth on two brothers who made it big in Hollywood before both dying of HIV. He kept asking me if I wanted a drink. It was 2 p.m. It was clear he was lonely. I had to decline because I had to drive back to Lincoln. “I’m really proud of honoring him by winning for that story.”

In 2001, I had the idea to drive out to Cottonwood Falls, Kansas to find the Knute Rockne Memorial. It was the 70th anniversary of the plane crash that killed Notre Dame’s legendary coach. Before the days of GPS or Siri, I drove 90 minutes to Emporia, got directions to Cottonwood Falls, and then got directions again to Bazaar, Kan. That’s the closest spot to the memorial which stands alone on a 1,500-acre plot of land in the Flint Hills. I met a gentle soul named Easter Heathman, who as a 13-year old in 1931, had seen the plane come out of the clouds and crash. He was one of the first persons upon the scene. He remembered seeing a body with the legs wrapped with bandages. Years later, he figured that must have been Rockne because the coach had phlebitis. Well, over the years Easter became a caretaker for the memorial, taking anyone who wanted to see it, up to the site. The land owner had given him a combination to unlock a gate.

BEST ADVICE: Came from Janet, of course: “Listen…listen to her, listen to your children, listen to your heart. Professionally, listen to your interview subjects. They are doing you a favor by talking to you. They have a story to tell. It’s up to you to communicate it clearly. Also read (your story) one more time before sending it. Several editors.”

THE BIGGEST CHANGE IN THE PROFESSION: The lack of intimacy. I don’t have to tell anyone here how hard it is now to connect with subjects. Open locker rooms are few and far between. Interviews are now “media availability”. A chat must fit into an available “window.” I believe schools sometimes are doing disservice to these kids. They come to college to grow as people and, sure, as athletes. For a lot of them this is going to be the time of their lives. I’ve said many times, on the college beat we’re there to write something positive 80-90 percent of the time. Don’t make it so hard. I mourn the loss of access. Often the story that gets told is not THE story.

On the positive side, the best biggest change is the influx of women into our profession. There still aren’t enough, but they keep coming. That’s a good thing. Thank you, Stef Loh for being our 2018 FWAA President. Thanks to all of you for your passion for sports and professionalism.

BEST INTERVIEW:  Jeff Sims.  He’s the coach at Garden City Community College. When I visited a couple of years ago, this was before Last Chance U. Sims grew up in St. Louis and had a dad who smoked marijuana in front of him. He waited outside a prison for a player who was completing 3 1/2 years for armed robbery. There’s a book here somewhere about the desperation at the junior college level — for the players to get there, get good, and get out. During my visit there, I sat across from a linebacker, Alex Figueroa, who’d been kicked out of Miami for sexual assault. His teammate had body-slammed a high school security guard and beaten up his girlfriend on camera in the hallway. These are kids Sims pursued to be on his team. I’m not making value judgments here. I’m just telling you how fascinating the interview was. Coach and players made no excuses about why they there in the southwest corner of Kansas — to get out as soon as possible.

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.”

President’s column: Welcome to the West, and a week of FWAA activities, awards

By Stefanie Loh/2018 FWAA President

SAN JOSE — Welcome to the West Coast, everyone.

2018 FWAA President Stefanie Loh of the Seattle Times

I’m excited to welcome you all to sunny San Jose for our FWAA meetings and to nearby Santa Clara to witness the first College Football Playoff national championship game that will be played in the Pacific time zone.

Thank you all for coming West, to the land both touched and built by the spirit of manifest destiny.

That indomitable pioneering spirit is embodied by Bill Clark, the latest winner of the FWAA/Allstate Sugar Bowl Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award, whom we will honor on Saturday, Jan. 5 at a reception at the San Jose Marriott.

What Clark has accomplished this season at the University of Alabama-Birmingham makes him one of the greatest stories in college football. The Blazers’ remarkable story has unfolded like a Hollywood movie, one I’d love to see on the big screen someday.

Clark was less than a year into his tenure as head football coach at UAB in 2014 when the program was disbanded due to a lack of funding. That decision was reversed six months later, and Clark was signed to a new contract. His challenge? Build an FBS football program from scratch and get the Blazers ready to compete with a regular schedule beginning in the fall 2017.

This fall, in the second season competing after the Blazers reinstated football, Clark led UAB to its first C-USA championship, its first bowl victory in school history – a 37-13 victory over Northern Illinois at the Boca Raton Bowl — and its first 11-victory season. You can’t script this stuff.

So please, give UAB head coach Bill Clark a standing ovation when he’s presented with his well-deserved award.

Following the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Reception, the FWAA Board Meeting with take place on Jan. 6, and we’ll kick off the FWAA Awards Breakfast sponsored by ESPN, on Monday, Jan. 7, before the national championship game. In addition, FWAA Past Presidents will be honored by the National Football Foundation at a private dinner presented by diDNA on Friday night.

At the awards breakfast, we’ll honor the FWAA/Armed Forces Merit Award Recipient, Dr. Chris Howard, the president of Robert Morris University and the first Campbell Award recipient. The Volney Meece Scholarship winner, Mallory Rosetta of Lubbock, Texas, will be honored as well. We’ll also acknowledge the accomplishments of a couple of illustrious members as 2018 FWAA Co-Beat Writers of the Year: FWAA Past President Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com, and Chris Vannini of The Athletic. And our prestigious Bert McGrane Award (FWAA Hall of Fame) will be presented to FWAA Past President Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star. Another longtime tradition, Mike Griffith will announce the FWAA Freshman All-America Team.

In keeping with the West Coast theme, the great Dave Plati, Colorado’s longtime SID, will be honored as our Lifetime Achievement Award winner.

It’s been quite an eventful year for our organization. We made a concerted effort to step up our social media efforts, partnered with the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) to present the Outland Trophy to Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams, and conceived the Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year Award – we’ll announce the inaugural winner at the FWAA Awards Breakfast.

So enjoy your trip to the Best Coast, and let’s raise a toast to the completion of another successful, thoroughly entertaining college football season!

Cortland LB Kyle Richard wins 2018 Orange Bowl Courage Award

Senior survives shooting, promotes assault awareness

DALLAS — SUNY Cortland linebacker Kyle Richard is the winner of the 2018 Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award. Richard, a 6-foot, 230-pound senior has become an outspoken advocate for victims of sexual assault and bystander intervention after being shot twice in the summer of 2017 while interrupting a sexual assault.

“I knew the story itself was one that (affected) a lot of people, but the story is not even really the one I want to be ended with, with a shooting,” Richard said. “It’s more: I want my story to really be about me trying to help other people out. It’s been tough this past year trying to spread as much awareness as possible while being a great teammate and making sure everything is right on the field, but it’s something that I really do take pride in because I get to help so many people. And I know that people out there need a man to really be talking about this stuff and spreading awareness, so I’m just doing my part, really.”

On July 23, 2017, Richard pursued an assailant outside of a party on Long Island. The assailant pulled out a gun and shot at Richard three times, hitting him once in the left quad and once in the right hamstring. A friend, Michael Abiola, was also shot, leading to nerve damage.

Richard underwent intensive physical therapy and was able to return to the field and appear in 10 games that season. He wrote “Michael 200%” on his wristbands before games, knowing that, for reasons that cannot be explained, his friend took the worst of it that July night. Richard finished second on the team with 75 tackles, along with 4.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, two fumble recoveries, nine quarterback hurries and two pass breakups.

In April, Richard was presented with the Biden Courage Award for Bystander Intervention by former Vice President Joe Biden, along with a Next Generation Award from Kristin’s Fund, which is an Oneida County charity that aims to end domestic violence through awareness campaigns. Richard has also received a thank-you note from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

The Lakeview, N.Y., native has spoken at a number of awareness events, deflecting personal attention while hoping that other people around the world can follow his example and step up whenever they are presented with an opportunity to act.

“I just want people to believe that it is true: Anybody can be a hero at any given time,” Richard said. “I believe that my teammates at Cortland would’ve been doing the same thing if they were in the situation that I was in. I want to believe that there are so many people, but the problem is not enough people do it. So just be that hero in somebody’s life. Even if you think of little things, just try to be there for somebody.

“This stuff is happening every day and we need to stop it as as society. And hopefully my generation is the generation that really puts into perspective how much this has to change.”

Richard credits another friend, Sulaiman Aina, for initially recognizing the sexual assault at the July party and attempting to break it up as well.

Richard was a two-time captain for the Red Dragons, who went 7-3 this season. He finished tied for the team lead in tackles, with 71, to go with seven tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, one interception, two pass breakups, three passes defended, four quarterback hurries, one fumble recovery and one safety. He is expected to graduate with a degree in kinesiology this spring.

His inspiration comes from his mother Sandra, a sergeant in her 28th year with the Nassau County Police Department whose tough-love approach helped shape Kyle and his two brothers.

“First let me express how thankful and proud I am of Kyle — as a father of two daughters, his college coach and fan,” Cortland coach Dan MacNeill said. “He is truly deserving of all attention and accolades according to the profound action that draws him into this story of highlight and hardship. The highlight: the obvious action taken two summers ago to save and serve a young girl from assault, along with the actions, that continue to this day to serve society in the pursuit of the perpetrator.

“The hardship: the cost to him as a result of the physical injuries sustained and then recovery handled in a very humble manner. These, along with the many actions and choices prior to and then after this circumstance, define him as ‘special.’

“Kyle was raised and self-prepared for this moment. He is emblematic of having and exuding strong principles, possessing behavioral values we all hold dear, including being an ‘active bystander.’ Kyle is that solution, open to right-minded service in the protection of others. Educated by strong family values instilled at home and then thankfully drawn to our program with similar leadership traits, he embodies our culture, as evidenced and honored by his election as a junior captain prior to this heroic story.

“Kyle’s responsive manner continues as a servant. His story allows him a platform as a spokesman and advocate for justice. Combined with a tough resolve, humble perseverance and extraordinary recovery, he continues to define his success story and journey as our cherished two-time captain and all-time teammate. This award is justly bestowed on the ‘right’ young man, as his actions are a gift to all.”

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. Kyle Richard will be included in festivities during Capital One Orange Bowl week and receive his trophy at an on-field presentation during the Capital One Orange Bowl game between No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Oklahoma on Dec. 29.

Previous winners of the Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award are Wisconsin safety D’Cota Dixon (2017), Pittsburgh 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 360-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 College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl on December 29, 2018. For more information on the 2018-19 Orange Bowl events, including promotional and volunteer opportunities through the Ambassador Program presented by Panera Bread, log on to orangebowl.org. Follow Orange Bowl: @OrangeBowl, Facebook and Instagram.

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.

 

UAB’s Clark wins 2018 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award

Award to be presented on Jan. 5 in San Jose

DALLAS — UAB coach Bill Clark has truly made something out of nothing. It’s a football comeback story that defies the expectations of even the most ardent of Blazers fans. And on Thursday, the 50-year-old Clark was named the 2018 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year recipient by the Football Writers Association of America and the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

In 2015 and ’16, UAB did not have an FBS team playing at Legion Field – or anywhere. The school resumed the program for the 2017 season and posted an impressive 8-5 record that concluded with the school’s first bowl appearance at the Bahamas Bowl. Clark was named the Conference USA Coach of the Year for 2017 and quickly built on that initial success.

In 2018 the Blazers are now a championship team.

This season the Blazers own a 10-3 overall record and are C-USA champions after beating Middle Tennessee, 27-25, in the conference championship game, avenging their only conference loss to the Blue Raiders a week earlier. UAB faces Northern Illinois in the Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl next Tuesday, Dec. 18. The Blazers have not lost at Legion Field since the return, and their 12-0 mark is currently the fifth-longest home win streak in the country.

The 10 victories are already a school record for one of the better defensive teams in the FBS. The Blazers are 10th nationally in total defense (300.2 ypg, five yards behind Alabama), lead the nation in fourth-down defense (27.8 percent opponent conversions) and are second in third-down defense (25.0 percent conversions).

“Bill Clark has done a yeoman’s job in rebuilding the UAB program from scratch,” said 2018 FWAA President Stefanie Loh of the Seattle Times. “The fact the Blazers won the Conference USA title in 2018 is one thing. Considering the circumstances, it goes into the extraordinary category.”

Clark is the first coach from Conference USA to receive the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award, but the second straight coach from a Group of Five school to claim it. Last season, UCF’s Scott Frost of the American Athletic Conference was the recipient when his team finished off an unbeaten 13-0 season.

“It would be hard to imagine someone more deserving than Bill Clark for this award,” said Sugar Bowl President Rod West. “Two seasons ago, UAB didn’t even have a football team, and next week the Blazers will be playing in a bowl game as the champion of Conference USA. We congratulate Coach Clark on everything he has accomplished to date and we welcome him to the list of great coaches to have won the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award.”

The official presentation reception will be on Saturday Jan. 5, 2019, in San Jose, Calif., where Clark will be handed the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year bust during a reception in conjunction with the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

“I am truly humbled to receive the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award and would like to thank the Football Writers Association of America and the Allstate Sugar Bowl for this prestigious recognition,” Clark said. “This honor is the epitome of a team effort and it would not have been possible without the countless hours of the entire staff and the relentless motivation from our student-athletes in striving to make history every day. UAB football would also like to thank the entire city of Birmingham for its tremendous support throughout this journey and making it possible for us to take the field each and every Saturday.”

The other seven finalists for the award were Josh Heupel of UCF; Brian Kelly of Notre Dame; Jeff Monken of Army; Lincoln Riley of Oklahoma; Nick Saban of Alabama; Dabo Swinney of Clemson; and Jeff Tedford of Fresno State. Clark won in a vote of the entire FWAA membership.

In late 2014, the UAB football program was shut down by the school due to financial issues, only to be brought back again in the middle of 2015 with the intention to resume play in 2017. Clark was in his first year as UAB head coach in 2014 when the Blazers posted a 6-6 record but did not receive a bowl invitation, then remained in limbo for several months until a $50 million fund drive by fans helped convince school officials to bring the program back.

“When I came back these were the kinds of things I expected,” UAB kicker Nick Vogel said of playing for championships. “I knew the kind of coach that Coach Clark was. He was part of the reason I came back. I fully believed in him to bring us to this point. It took us two years, which is way shorter than anyone would have guessed, but we’re here and happy to be here.”

The FWAA has presented a coaching award since the 1957 season when Ohio State’s Woody Hayes was named the first recipient. Beginning in 1997, the FWAA Coach of the Year Award has been named in honor of the late Robinson, a coaching legend at Grambling State University for 55 seasons.

Robinson, who passed away in 2007, won 70.7 percent of his games during his illustrious career. Robinson’s teams won or tied for 17 Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) championships after joining the league in 1959. His Tigers won nine Black College Football Championships during his career spent all at the same school.

The Allstate Sugar Bowl has established itself as one of the premier college football bowl games, having hosted 28 national champions, 93 Hall of Fame players, 49 Hall of Fame coaches and 18 Heisman Trophy winners in its 84-year history. The 85th Allstate Sugar Bowl Football Classic, featuring the Big 12’s Texas and Georgia from the SEC, will be played on January 1, 2019. In addition to football, the Sugar Bowl Committee annually invests over $1.6 million into the community through the hosting and sponsorship of sporting events, scholarships and clinics. Through these efforts, the organization supports and honors nearly 100,000 student-athletes each year and has injected over $2.5 billion into the local economy over the last decade. For more information, visit AllstateSugarBowl.org.

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

The Football Writers Association of America, founded in 1941, 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.

Eddie Robinson Award
Eight finalists named for 2018 Eddie Robinson Award
Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award | All-time winners

2018 FWAA All-America Team unveiled

DALLAS — The 2018 Football Writers Association of America All-America Team was announced Monday, headlined by eight players from the Southeastern Conference and six from the Atlantic Coast Conference along with Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Kyler Murray of Oklahoma. Nine of the 10 Football Bowl Subdivision conferences plus two independents are represented on the first and second teams that also include seven repeat All-Americans.

The exclusive announcement came on “Off Campus with Mark Packer” on ESPNU Radio on SiriusXM.

Alabama, the top-ranked team in the upcoming College Football Playoff, leads the field with four selections, two on the first team and two on the second team, while Oklahoma, Clemson and LSU each placed three on the first- and/or second-teams. Alabama leads four SEC programs with at least two members on the All-America team with defensive lineman and Outland Trophy winner Quinnen Williams and offensive lineman Jonah Williams on the first team to go with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and defensive back Deionte Thompson on the second team.

Oklahoma boasts Murray and offensive lineman Ben Powers on the first team and wide receiver Marquise Brown on the second, and Clemson has a pair of two-time All-Americans on the first team in offensive lineman Mitch Hyatt (2nd team in 2017) and defensive lineman Christian Wilkins (1st team in 2016), along with running back Travis Etienne on the second.

The first team includes a mix of nine seniors or graduate students, 10 juniors, six sophomores and two freshmen. The conference breakdown on the first team is: SEC (8), ACC (6), Big Ten (4), Big 12 (3), American Athletic (2), Independents (2), Pac-12 (1) and Mountain West (1). There are four repeat members on the 27-player first team but overall 47 of the 54 honored players are first-time selections to the FWAA All-America team. There are seven repeat members on the full team, and the SEC leads all conferences in members of the full team with 15, well ahead of the ACC’s 10.

Ed Oliver of Houston, now a three-time FWAA All-American (1st team in 2017 and 2nd team in 2016) on the defensive line, highlights the first-team defense along with this year’s Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner, Josh Allen of Kentucky, which the FWAA honored last week as the nation’s most outstanding defensive player. LSU placed two members into the first-team secondary with Grant Delpit and Greedy Williams, and the Tigers’ third All-American is repeat member Devin White (2nd team in 2017) on the second team. Washington linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven, the nation’s tackles leader, is also on the first-team defense along with one of the top sack leaders, Montez Sweat of Mississippi State. Devin Bush of Michigan is the other first-team linebacker, and Boston College and Notre Dame players complete the first-team secondary with Hamp Cheevers and Julian Love, respectively.

Two running backs who have topped 1,900 yards this season fill out the first-team backfield in two-time All-American Jonathan Taylor of Wisconsin (2nd team in 2017) and Memphis running back Darrell Henderson. One of the men who helped clear Taylor’s path, Wisconsin offensive lineman Michael Deiter, is also on the first team, as is center Garrett Bradbury of N.C. State. The nation’s two receiving yardage leaders, Andy Isabella of Massachusetts and Antoine Wesley of Texas Tech, are on the first team along with tight end target Jace Sternberger of Texas A&M. The Aggies also placed punter Braden Mann on the first team.

The first-team specialists include Mann, the nation’s punting-average leader, along with the two freshmen on the first team, Syracuse kicker Andre Szmyt and Purdue all-purpose player Rondale Moore, who leads the nation in receptions in addition to being one of the country’s most dangerous return men. Utah State’s Savon Scarver earned the first-team spot as kick returner, and Wake Forest’s Greg Dortch is the first-team punt returner. Also among the specialists is Matt Gay of Utah, a repeat member who earned second-team mention this season after first-team accolades in 2017.

Utah is one of 10 schools with at least two members on the full team and placed linebacker Chase Hansen on the second team. Boston College also placed a second member among the specialists with Michael Walker as the second-team punt returner. Notre Dame center Sam Mustipher gives the Fighting Irish a second-team All-American and Ole Miss has a pair of second-team members in wide receiver A.J. Brown and offensive lineman Greg Little. Northern Illinois defensive lineman Sutton Smith is one of the seven repeat All-Americans as a second-team defensive lineman (1st team in 2017) and the Mid-American Conference’s lone member on the full team. Smith is tied for the national sack lead with 15.0 on the season along with Louisiana Tech defensive lineman Jaylon Ferguson, who is also on the second team and is Conference USA’s lone selection.

2018 FWAA ALL-AMERICA FIRST TEAM

OFFENSE
QB Kyler Murray, Oklahoma 5-10 195 Jr. Allen, Texas
RB Darrell Henderson, Memphis 5-9 205 Jr. Batesville, Miss.
RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin 5-11 221 So. Salem, N.J.
WR Andy Isabella, Massachusetts 5-10 190 Sr. Mayfield, Ohio
WR Antoine Wesley, Texas Tech 6-5 200 Jr. Las Vegas, Nev.
TE Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M 6-4 250 Jr. Kingfisher, Okla.
OL Michael Deiter, Wisconsin 6-6 310 Sr. Curtice, Ohio
OL Mitch Hyatt, Clemson 6-5 310 Sr. Suwanee, Ga.
OL Ben Powers, Oklahoma 6-4 313 Sr. Wichita, Kan.
OL Jonah Williams, Alabama 6-5 301 Jr. Folsom, Calif.
C Garrett Bradbury, N.C. State 6-3 300 Gr. Charlotte, N.C.
DEFENSE
DL Ed Oliver, Houston 6-3 292 Jr. Houston, Texas
DL Montez Sweat, Mississippi State 6-6 245 Sr. Stone Mountain, Ga.
DL Christian Wilkins, Clemson 6-4 315 Gr. Springfield, Mass.
DL Quinnen Williams, Alabama 6-4 295 So. Birmingham, Ala.
LB Josh Allen, Kentucky 6-5 260 Sr. Montclair, N.J.
LB Ben Burr-Kirven, Washington 6-0 221 Sr. Menlo Park, Calif.
LB Devin Bush, Michigan 5-11 233 Jr. Pembroke Pines, Fla.
DB Hamp Cheevers, Boston College 5-10 180 Jr. Trenton, Fla.
DB Grant Delpit, LSU 6-3 203 So. Houston, Texas
DB Julian Love, Notre Dame 5-11 193 Jr. Westchester, Ill.
DB Greedy Williams, LSU 6-3 184 So. Shreveport, La.
SPECIALISTS
K Andre Szmyt, Syracuse 6-1 195 Fr. Vernon Hills, Ill.
P Braden Mann, Texas A&M 5-11 190 Jr. Houston, Texas
KR Savon Scarver, Utah State 5-11 185 So. Las Vegas, Nev.
PR Greg Dortch, Wake Forest 5-9 170 So. Richmond, Va.
AP Rondale Moore, Purdue 5-9 175 Fr. New Albany, Ind.

2017 FWAA ALL-AMERICA SECOND TEAM

Offense: QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama; RB Eno Benjamin, Arizona State; RB Travis Etienne, Clemson; WR A.J. Brown, Ole Miss; WR Marquise Brown, Oklahoma; TE T.J. Hockenson, Iowa; OL Yodny Cajuste, West Virginia; OL Greg Little, Ole Miss; OL Dalton Risner, Kansas State; OL Calvin Throckmorton, Oregon; C Sam Mustipher, Notre Dame.

Defense: DL Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech; DL Sutton Smith, NIU; DL Kenny Willekes, Michigan State; DL Gerald Willis, Miami; LB Chase Hansen, Utah; LB Tre Watson, Maryland; LB Devin White, LSU; DB Paulson Adebo, Stanford; DB Deandre Baker, Georgia; DB Bryce Hall, Virginia; DB Deionte Thompson, Alabama.

Specialists: K Matt Gay, Utah; P James Smith, Cincinnati; KR Deebo Samuel, South Carolina; PR Michael Walker, Boston College; AP Pooka Williams, Kansas.

The FWAA’s All-America Committee selected this 75th annual team based on nominations from the entire membership. This is just the sixth season in the modern era (post-1950) that the FWAA has named a second team. The FWAA also selected an allpurpose player for a second time, which made for a 54-man full team.

Since 1945, the FWAA All-America Team has been among the five teams used to formulate the NCAA’s annual consensus AllAmerica team, which will be announced later this week. Since the 2002 season, the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA), The Associated Press, The Sporting News and the Walter Camp Football Foundation have joined the FWAA as the five designated selectors by the NCAA.

The FWAA All-America Team was first selected in 1944, three years after the organization was formed. The FWAA’s inaugural team included Army’s Heisman Trophy tandem of Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis and Georgia Tech’s Frank Broyles, who later became Arkansas’ head football coach and athletic director.

Over the years, the FWAA team has highlighted all the game’s great players in several media forums. From 1946-70, LOOK magazine published the FWAA team and brought players and selected writers to New York City for a celebration. During that 25-year period, the FWAA team was introduced on national television shows by such noted hosts as Bob Hope, Steve Allen and Perry Como.

After LOOK folded, the FWAA started a long association with NCAA Films (later known as NCAA Productions), which produced a 30-minute television program. The team was part of ABC-TV’s 1981 College Football Series. From 1983-90, the team was introduced on either ABC or ESPN. In 2002 and ‘03, the All-America team was honored with a banquet at the Citrus Bowl.

The same bowl also was a sponsor when the team was featured on ABC and ESPN from different locations on Disney properties from 2004-07. From 2008-10, the team had been the subject of a one-hour ESPN special.

For seven decades the FWAA has selected an All-America team with the help of its members and an All-America Committee, which represents all the regions in the country. From that All-America team, the FWAA also selects the Outland Trophy winner (best interior lineman) and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner (best defensive player).

Some of the true greats of the writing profession have helped to select this team over the years: Grantland Rice, Bert McGrane, Blackie Sherrod, Furman Bisher, Pat Harmon, Fred Russell, Edwin Pope, Murray Olderman, Paul Zimmerman – and the list goes on and on. The FWAA All-America team is steeped in tradition and history and is selected by a writers’ group with those same attributes.

The Football Writers Association of America, a non-profit organization founded in 1941, consists of more than 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 or call 214-870-6516.

2018 FWAA ALL-AMERICA COMMITTEE

  • Kirk Bohls, Austin American-Statesman
  • Ken Capps, TexasFootball.com (Big 12)
  • Clay Henry, Hawgs Illustrated (SEC)
  • Joey Johnston, Johnston Communications (American)
  • Doug Lesmerises, Cleveland.com (Big Ten)
  • Nate Mink, Syracuse Post-Standard (ACC)
  • Nick Moyle, San Antonio Express-News (Conference USA)
  • B.J. Rains, Idaho Press Tribune (Mountain West)
  • Matt Roberson, Jonesboro Sun (Sun Belt)
  • Tony Siracusa, Last Word on College Football (Pac-12)
  • Phil Steele, Phil Steele Publications
  • John Wagner, Freelance (MAC)

Alabama’s Quinnen Williams wins 2018 Outland Trophy

Nose guard is just second sophomore to win award

ATLANTA — Alabama nose guard Quinnen Williams was named the recipient of the 73rd Outland Trophy on Thursday night during The Home Depot College Football Awards from the College Football Hall of Fame.

The 2018 Outland Trophy, presented by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID), is awarded annually to the nation’s best college interior lineman on offense or defense. NFID is presenting the trophy to help increase awareness about the importance of annual flu prevention. Getting vaccinated each year is your best line of defense against the flu.

Quinnen Williams is the first of Alabama’s now five Outland Trophy winners to play on defense. The other four Crimson Tide winners – Chris Samuels (1999), Andre Smith (2008), Barrett Jones (2011) and most recently Cam Robinson (2016) were all offensive tackles. Williams was selected from a list of three finalists that included Alabama teammate Jonah Williams, an offensive tackle, and Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. He is just the second sophomore to win the award, following Houston’s Ed Oliver last season.

The official presentation to the winner will be made at the Outland Trophy Awards Dinner produced by the Greater Omaha Sports Committee on Jan. 9, 2019.

The 6-foot-4, 295-pound sophomore from Birmingham, Ala., was an unknown first-time starter when Alabama opened its season and was not mentioned on any preseason All-SEC teams by coaches or media. But Williams immediately became a dominant presence on a front line that has held its opponents to 117.0 rushing yards per game and helped the Crimson Tide’s defense rank fourth in the nation, allowing only 14.8 points per game, and ninth in the nation, giving up 295.4 yards per game. Including last week’s Southeastern Conference Championship Game, Williams leads Alabama with 18 tackles for loss and in yardage with 85 yards lost. His 8.0 sacks were second on the team but lead Alabama with minus-57 yards from those sacks.

Despite being in the middle of the line, Williams is third on the team with 66 total tackles and tied for the team lead with 42 unassisted tackles. He won the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Week award three times this season, and earlier this week was one of three players to earn Alabama’s Defensive Player of the Year Award, and one of four to earn the team’s Outstanding Defensive Player based on tackles and points given by the coaches.

Williams gained national attention with his play in Alabama’s keynote prime-time win Nov. 3 at LSU when he posted career-high numbers for tackles (10) and sacks (2.5) and tied his career-best in tackles for loss (3.5) that helped the Crimson Tide limit LSU to 196 yards of total offense. Williams clogs the middle and allows those around him to create havoc – Alabama has had at least 10 tackles for loss in five of 13 games and the Crimson Tide’s 42 sacks are No. 5 nationally. Williams had two tackles for loss (for minus-12 yards) and a sack last week as Alabama defeated Georgia 35-28 in the SEC Championship Game.

University of Wisconsin All-American Joe Thomas, the 2006 Outland Trophy winner who retired earlier this year after a stellar 11-year career with NFL’s Cleveland Browns, has served as the Outland Trophy #FightFlu ambassador on behalf of NFID. Thomas has been an avid supporter of annual flu vaccination and is making media appearances on behalf of the #FightFlu public awareness campaign to remind everyone 6 months and older to get an annual flu vaccine.

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.

About the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases
Founded in 1973, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to educating the public and healthcare professionals about the burden, causes, prevention, and treatment of infectious diseases across the lifespan. Visit nfid.org for more information.

About the Football Writers Association of America
Founded in 1941, the non-profit Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) consists of more than 1,300 members, including journalists, broadcasters, publicists and key executives in all areas of college football. Led by current President Stefanie Loh of the Seattle Times, longtime Executive Director Steve Richardson, and a board of veteran journalists, the association continues to grow and work to help college football prosper at all levels. Visit footballwriters.com for more information about the FWAA and its award programs.

Media Contacts
Doug Drotman (doug@drotmanpr.com or 631-462-1198)
Steve Richardson (
tiger@fwaa.com or 214-870-6516)
Diana Olson (
dolson@nfid.org or 301-656-0003, x140)

On the web:
OutlandTrophy.com, FootballWriters.com

Twitter:
@NFIDvaccines, @OutlandTrophy, @TheFWAA, @JoeThomas73, #FightFlu

Related links:
Outland Trophy presented by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases
Outland Trophy joins forces with NFID to #FightFlu
Download Outland Trophy presented by NFID logo