Many a defensive player has been in the running for college football’s most prestigious honor but only one actually walked away with the award. South Carolina defensive end Jadaveon Clowney believes he can do what others could not. Clowney feels that in 2013 he will become the first defensive player since Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997 to win the Heisman trophy.
He will have his work cut out for him since it is blaringly obvious that voters are partial to offensive skill position players.
When Pitt linebacker Hugh Green finished second in 1980 and UCLA safety Kenny Easley finished ninth it was a breakthrough. Then no defensive player made a run for 17 years.
Woodson made history that year, though his win comes with an all-purpose asterisk since he played both sides of the ball and returned punts. When it comes to inclusion, pure defensive players are simply overlooked.
Not to take away from Clowney’s goal but 2012 should’ve been the year America saw a true defensive Heisman candidate take the title. Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o was the first player to win the Nagurski, Butkus, Bednarik, Lombardi, Lott, Maxwell and Walter Camp awards and his 321 first-place votes and 1,706 points were the most for a defensive player.
Still, no Heisman trophy to call his own.
The fact that a freshman like Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel won doesn’t mean that voters are becoming more open-minded. They showed they weren’t age biased five years ago when Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win.
They’d have been open to a freshman candidate before now, so long as he passes and throws the ball.
Sure, Manziel had those ‘Heisman Moments’ that the panel loves but so did Te’o.
Notre Dame stopped Stanford twice on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line in overtime to steal a 20-13 victory, and Te’o was there in crunch time for the Irish — knocking back Stanford tailback Stepfan Taylor near the goal line on third down, and contributing the game-saving tackle on fourth.
This was just a month after Te’o lost both his girlfriend and grandmother who’s deaths came just six hours apart.
After the game his eyes were bloodshot and brimming with tears when he admitted that Stanford was where his girlfriend went to school.
There’s your ‘Heisman Moment’.
Meanwhile, another defensive prodigy was passed over in 2009 when NFL problem child Ndamukong Suh came through the ranks. The Detroit Lions’ defensive tackle dominated the field his senior year at Nebraska but it was not enough to earn the Heisman. His individual performance against No. 3 Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game was awe-inspiring. His numbers in that game: 12 tackles, including 7 for losses with 4.5 sacks. He single-handedly kept an offensively inept Cornhusker squad on the verge of a shocking upset.
Suh, though, was far from a one-game wonder. He finished the year with 82 tackles, 12 sacks, 23 tackles for loss, 24 quarterback hurries, 10 pass breakups, one interception and three blocked kicks — amazing totals for a defensive tackle.
However, when it was time to select a Heisman winner, it was Alabama running back Mark Ingram who walked away with the honor, not Suh.
These days Suh is known as the dirtiest player in the league. Perhaps he’s still a little bitter?
It’s just a sad truth that Heisman voting is slanted toward offensive players. Growing up I actually thought the Heisman was an award that only quarterbacks were allowed to win.
Clowney is a beast, no doubt about that. He leads the Southeastern Conference in sacks with 13 and also has a single-season school record 21 1/2 tackles for loss so far this year.
If ever there was a pure defensive player who could make Heisman voters take notice it’s him. It also helps that he’s promoting himself so early — the proactive Heisman exposure definitely can’t hurt his chances.
I just hope that in his quest for the stiff arm trophy Clowney will remember those who went before him. If Heisman voting holds true to form in 2013 he will not be the one hoisting the bronze trophy above his head. However, like Te’o, Suh, and all the other jilted defensive phenoms, Clowney will be able to take solace in the fact that there is a long, illustrious career ahead of him in the NFL getting paid to put skill players on their backs.
It’s not always about the hardware an athlete takes away from his college career. Sometimes it’s about the name he makes without it.
And for Clowney that’s the beauty of being a beast.