- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 22, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Here is the forgotten, unpublicized, little-regarded mission by the Heisman Trust — the group that is responsible for the Heisman Trophy:

“The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work.”

Excellence with integrity. Who would have thought?

It’s almost a nostalgic concept — “excellence with integrity” for the best college football player — but voters have a chance to actually fit that criteria, perhaps better than any other recent opportunity, by voting for Keenan Reynolds, the record-setting quarterback at 16th-ranked Navy and a worthy candidate on and off the field.

“Excellence with integrity?” It sure didn’t seem that way when the Heisman Trophy was awarded to Jameis Winston in 2013. He was an outstanding football player whose performance exhibited the pursuit of excellence with no regard for integrity. He was a source of embarrassment to Florida State and college football, from the shoplifting to the vulgar comments on campus to the sexual assault allegations by a female student that are now the subject of an upcoming CNN documentary that Winston is trying to stop from airing.

I wonder if Winston accepting the Heisman Trophy from the Heisman Trust so dedicated to “the pursuit of excellence with integrity” will be part of that documentary.

“Excellence with integrity?” That hardly seemed the case in 2012, when Johnny Manziel, whose drinking and law-breaking resume was as legendary as his play on the field. According to The New York Times, Manziel was subject to random drug testing, drug and alcohol counseling and community service requirements while at Texas A&M and still accepted the Heisman Trust’s honor.

“Excellence with integrity?” Really? Was that in play in 2011 when Cam Newton was on stage in New York accepting the Heisman Trophy? The quarterback who reportedly was sold to the highest bidder by his father to Auburn after he had faced expulsion at Florida for getting caught cheating three times, according to ESPN?

Last year’s winner, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, was a break from the parade of embarrassing Heisman Trophy winners, but now, this year, voters have a chance not just to follow the criteria for the award, but to embrace that criteria — if it doesn’t make them too uncomfortable. Or, will it embarrass voters to acknowledge that “excellence with integrity” in the cesspool of college football should be rewarded?

If that is the case, then just consider it a gift from Reynolds, who meets the criteria for performance on the field as well.

Reynolds broke the Bowl Subdivision record for career rushing touchdowns when he scored for the 78th time in Navy’s 55-14 win over SMU two weeks ago — a game in which he rushed for 137 yards on 14 carries. In a 44-21 win over Tulsa that pushed Navy to 9-1, Reynolds rushed for 81 yards on 19 carries. He has thrown for 687 yards this year and rushed for 1,009 yards. He holds the NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in one season, one game, and a career, and will likely finish his career among the top five rushers in college football history. He has scored more points than any quarterback in NCAA history.

And did I mention he plays for Navy? Unlike LSU’s Leonard Fournette, who is the subject of debate about whether he should be able to leave college football after one season to play in the NFL, Reynolds’ future is a commitment to his country. According to a ranking by NFL.com, Reynolds is among the smartest football players in the classroom in the country.

Reynolds is the Heisman Trophy — at least, what it should stand for.

It’s not about who will be the greatest NFL player. It’s not just about being the best player on the field among the best teams in football. It is about being that player and representing “excellence with integrity.”

We tend to laugh at that notion today and dismiss any awards or honors that include such standards, as if they are unattainable in today’s sports arenas. It’s almost as if we’ve given up the idea that it is possible to have athletic greatness with honor and integrity.

Reynolds proves otherwise.

⦁ Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.


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