Lamar Jackson won the 2016 Heisman Trophy on Saturday night in New York City. For this scribe, it was the first ballot he ever cast.
Last Monday, ahead of Saturday night’s festivities in New York City, I was very honored to cast my very first vote in the Heisman Trophy race.
I first reached out to Heisman Trophy Coordinator Tim Henning in November 2012 to express my interest in possibly obtaining a vote in the annual race for the award, which is given out to the nation’s top player in college football. Tim told me to reach out again in the summer, as the staff typically begins compiling the electorate in the late summer/early fall.
At the time, I was writing a weekly Heisman Trophy Watch column for my role as the College Football Editor/Writer at another publication (I was simultaneously a freelance College Football Insider at Campus Insiders). I had been doing the piece for three seasons up to that point. After following up the next summer, Tim informed me that most states had waiting lists and that the trust was unable to find any open votes in my Midwest region. So I remained on the list for consideration as soon as a vote became available.
We exchanged a few more e-mails, in which Tim informed me that my information remained on file and that they start looking at the electorate later in the year.
On the morning of Nov. 29 this season, I decided to send an e-mail to see if the electorate remained full for 2016. Little did I know I would get a response shortly thereafter.
Tim had just learned of one vote that opened up in my area, so he sent my information over to the team at Deloitte so that I could receive my voting information. And, with that news, I was officially a Heisman Trophy voter.
I was very humbled and honored, as it was a dream come true.
My top three choices for the award this year were as follows: 1. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson, 2. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson and 3. Oklahoma WR Dede Westbrook.
This decision was very difficult to make.
Throughout each college football season, I keep notes on all of the FBS teams from the games I watch as well as various other forms of media. Before casting my Heisman vote this past weekend, I went back and essentially “replayed” the season in my head—what emotions I felt while watching certain players excel on the field and how their teams were affected by their performances. I also looked through my weekly notes. Simply put, I felt that Jackson’s entire body of work was the most worthy of my Heisman vote.
Even though Louisville lost its final two games, Jackson was still the straw that stirred the Cardinals’ drink in 2016. And he may have won the award by the largest margin in college football history if the Cards finished with just the lone loss to Clemson. In 12 games, the sophomore quarterback recorded 3,390 passing yards with 30 touchdown passes and nine interceptions, and he added 1,538 yards and 21 scores on the ground. And he was a Human Highlight Reel at times.
My runner-up selection Watson and the Clemson offense had a bit of a slow start to the season, and there were ups and downs throughout an inconsistent campaign. Still, the junior threw for 3,914 yards with 37 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. In addition, he recorded 524 rushing yards and six touchdowns as he helped lead Clemson to a second-straight trip to the College Football Playoff. He played his best down the stretch and really made this decision tough after finishing third in the 2015 Heisman race. There were just a few times early in the season that I noted how Watson didn’t look quite like his 2015 self. His strong play to close out the campaign made me seriously consider putting him at No. 1, but I kept coming back to Jackson.
I didn’t want to penalize Watson for his turnovers, especially his third interception that helped propel Pitt to an upset victory. I simply wanted to reward Jackson for his excellence.
Meanwhile, Westbrook deserved an invite because he was a huge reason for Oklahoma’s surge toward a New Year’s Six bid. The Sooner, who was the first WR finalist since Alabama’s Amari Cooper in 2014, had a four-game stretch this year that included 35 receptions for 776 yards and 10 touchdowns—which was perhaps the best stretch of any candidate. While the Sooners had fellow Heisman finalist Baker Mayfield at quarterback and the rushing duo of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, Westbrook was a dynamite playmaker this fall.
The last wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy was Desmond Howard in 1991, and a lot of that had to do with his special teams play. Overall, just three at the position have claimed the hardware. While there were certainly a lot of deserving players of an invite to New York, including Mayfield and Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers—as well as those who didn’t make it, including D’Onta Foreman, Jake Browning, Donnel Pumphrey, Jalen Hurts, Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Cooks—Westbrook certainly earned his NYC invite.
I dedicated my first Heisman vote to longtime college football personality Beano Cook, whose influence on me was immeasurable. I was never able to meet him, but he was a huge part of my Saturdays while growing up and eventually getting into this business.
I am very honored to be a member of the Heisman Trophy electorate, and I look forward to the journey toward the 2017 college football season.