DeVonta Smith wins The Heisman Trophy by Gareth Evans

DeVonta Smith wins The Heisman Trophy by Gareth Evans
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DeVonta Smith wins The Heisman Trophy

Alabama’s standout receiver DeVonta Smith lifted the top individual honour in college football last night. He became the first wide receiver to do so for 29 years. The first since Michigan’s Desmond Howard back in 1991. Smith had an exceptional career for the Crimson Tide. Including catching the winning pass in the 2017 national championship game as a freshman. And outperforming Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs last year. This year, he was in a class of his own. 22 touchdowns and 1,641 yards as he approaches his third national championship game.

Trevor Lawrence, Clemson’s quarterback and arguably the best player in college football for the last three years, finished second. The quarterbacks from Alabama and Florida, Mac Jones and Kyle Trask, finished third and fourth.

In his acceptance speech, Smith said: “It means a lot just to be one of the very few that play receiver that won the Heisman. That means a lot to me.”

The NFL Awaits

This year, the four finalists’ lives will likely be changed by their impending move to the NFL. The top two in this year’s voting, Devonta Smith and Trevor Lawrence project as first-round picks. Mac Jones could join them in the first round. Potentially to the Patriots at number fifteen. Kyle Trask could be a Day Two pick. The Heisman though, is something special.

The calibre of previous prizewinners indicate what an accolade this is. The winner is traditionally surrounded by his new elite peer group of fellow trophy holders when he’s giving his acceptance speech. Last night, in a virtual ceremony, DeVonta Smith was flanked by his team-mate and fellow nominee Mac Jones. 

As the best college football player reflects on his well-deserved win, here’s a look at Heisman history and why this trophy is so special.

The History

New York’s Downtown Athletic Club awarded the then DAC trophy to the “Most Outstanding Player in College Football”, Jay Berwanger from the University of Chicago, in 1935.  In 1936, its name was permanently changed to the Heisman Trophy. This after the passing of the DAC’s athletic director, John W. Heisman. Then renowned as an innovative coach and the driving force in making the forward pass a legal play.

The early years of the Heisman saw a lot of winners in military schools who went off to war. The winners in the years 1939-44 all served. And the 1945 and 1946 winners, Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis both played for Army.

As the profile of college football continued to rise through the Sixties and Seventies, the recruitment of high-quality talent became more and more important. There were few bigger draws for a high school player than a college who could boast a Heisman win. Schools would go to great lengths to lobby for their star players to win. A player linked with the Heisman trophy gave them a great profile in the recruitment battle. The 1970 Heisman Trophy was no exception.

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Notre Dame quarterback Joe Theismann, later of NFL’s Washington team, was told by his athletic director Roger Valdiseri, to change the pronunciation of his name. From “Thees-man” to “Thighs-man” so it rhymed with Heisman. The “Theismann for Heisman” campaign was born, complete with badges. Although Joe finished second in the voting to Stanford’s Jim Plunkett.

1977 saw the first televised ceremony, won by Texas running back Earl Campbell. Who appropriately wore a yellow rose, and the Heisman’s profile grew further.

How to win it

(Image credit: Kent Gidley/Crimson Tide Photos)

To become the “Most Outstanding Player in College Football”, a deliberately vague title, you typically need impressive individual statistics, dominant performances in the big games and a “Heisman moment”. Your highlight-reel play. Smith’s was undoubtedly the one-handed touchdown catch against LSU.

It is said that Boston College’s Doug Flutie’s highlight reel Hail Mary won him the Heisman in 1984. However the votes had already been counted by then.

It helps to be a quarterback

While DeVonta Smith has bucked the trend, signal callers have won nine of the previous ten awards. Alabama running back and current NFL Titan Derrick Henry broke the pattern in 2015. Since then, Lamar Jackson (Louisville), Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray (both Oklahoma) have lifted the Heisman. All before LSU’s Joe Burrow received the highest number of first-place votes in history in winning the trophy last year.

Desmond Howard was the last wide receiver before Smith to win, in 1991. His fellow Wolverine, Michigan’s Charles Woodson is the only defensive player to win the award. His seven-interception season and cameo plays on offense giving him the trophy ahead of Tennessee’s Peyton Manning in 1997.

Brand name colleges tend to win

It’s rare for lesser known colleges to win. You would have to go back to 1990 to see a win for a college outside the Power 5 conferences (Ty Detmer from Brigham Young). Oklahoma, Ohio State and Notre Dame have seven wins each while Smith’s win gives Alabama it’s third Heisman in eleven years.

The late Paul Hornung won the Heisman in 1956 where Notre Dame’s season finished 2-8. Few other schools would have had that influence. He beat Jim Brown, a black running back and all time NFL great Cleveland Brown who played for Syracuse. Brown did it all, even kicking extra points! Different times then, and with the benefit of hindsight, he was robbed.

“It changed my life”

Ohio State running back Griffin is the only player to have won this prestigious award, for college football’s best player, twice. He lifted the trophy in 1974 and 1975.

“My name is not only Archie Griffin, it’s two-time Heisman trophy winner Archie Griffin. Once you win the award it’s with you for the rest of your life, and I realise that and I’m proud of that. It changed my life.”

DeVonta Smith now prepares for the biggest game of his career. The national championship game against Ohio State on Monday. As Archie Griffin mentioned, this win will change his life. But with two huge challenges ahead of him in the CFP Final and a career in the NFL, his approach, as quoted from his acceptance speech, shows he’s ready for it:

“If it’s something that you really want to do, you have to truly believe in it and work for it, and just keep working and you’re going to get everything that you’re looking for.”

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