The National College Football Award Association gives out 21 awards to stand out college football players every year, none more universally recognized than the Heisman Trophy. As you likely know, the Heisman is awarded to the country “most outstanding player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.” In other words, it’s for the best quarterback or running back on one of the nation’s top 5 teams.
Other admittedly similar awards include the Maxwell Trophy, awarded to the college football player of the year. I know, I know. The awards are quite similar, although you don’t see many players celebrating by doing “the Maxwell” pose. Similarly still is the Walter Camp Award, given to the collegiate American football player of the year. Um…
Okay, to be fair, these three awards are voted on by different make-ups of college coaches, broadcasters, committees, and athletic directors. It’s just always funny to me how alike they seem to be, which usually explains why a guy like Derrick Henry wins all three.
And much like Alabama’s Derrick Henry a year ago, there seems to be a unanimous favorite for these awards through nine weeks of the 2016 season: Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. You’ll get no argument from me, considering he is responsible for an average of 29.1 points per game, more than about 60 FBS teams as a whole average. Just a quick reminder of his season stats: 2522 passing yards and 22 TDs, 996 rushing yards and 16 TDs. He’s 19 years old and just a freak of nature. As long as his stats continue to trend upward and his doesn’t falter against Boston College, Wake Forest, Houston, or Kentucky (wow), he should be a lock for these three awards.
Through it all though, there has been another player that has been similarly brilliant, albeit slightly overshadowed by Jackson’s near perfect season. Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers has far and away done more amazing things on the football field this year than almost anybody. Unless you’re a Big 10 football fan or are just unabashedly obsessed with all things college ball, you probably haven’t realized that Jim Harbaugh’s lockdown linebacker has played more positions than any player in the NCAA.
No seriously, hear me out. While his major role on the defensive end is the linebacker role, he has played at least 10 different positions over the course of the season. Actually, he played 10 positions in a single game, against Michigan State a day ago. According to the Detroit Free Press, Peppers played “42 plays at linebacker, 12 at cornerback, nine at Nickelback, six at the wildcat quarterback, one at safety, one at H-back, one at receiver, plus serving as kick returner and punt returner.” Now, I got winded just writing that. I can’t imagine how Jabrill felt after that standout performance where he scored a rushing TD and a scoop-and-score off a fumbled two-point conversion by State.
All of his amazing feats over the course of this season leads me to this point: he’s likely not going to win any of those three awards, but if he doesn’t end this season with any of the major college football awards, it will be a travesty. That is why, I present you the following case for a brand new NCFAA award: The Jabrill Peppers Award, given to college football’s most versatile player.
While there won’t always be a player that can do it so effectively on both sides of the ball like Peppers, freak athletes are being born and bred every day. You may not have a 10-position player every year, but I bet you’ll see more guys like Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, who can catch the ball as well as he can run it, and who can actually throw the ball out of the Wildcat when given the chance, and is a fantastic punt returner.
Or how about someone like USC’s Adoree Jackson, who just became the school’s all-time leading kick returner and has recorded 34 solo tackles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery while playing his natural position of cornerback.
The NCFAA needs an award for this type of versatility, because you just don’t see it every day. Jabrill will probably not win an award this year, because of Lamar Jackson, or possibly DeShaun Watson, or Jake Browning…all quarterbacks by the way. All three of those names are having lights out seasons but none of them are even close to as versatile of an athlete as Peppers. He deserves the same level of recognition that these quarterbacks are getting and, outside of the Michigan sports media, that doesn’t seem to be happening enough. An “award watch” situation would certainly help with that.
So, while there’s nothing we can do for Jabrill, I’d love to see a NCFAA award that can recognize someone who can do it and do it well from so many different positions.
*Disclaimer: the Louisville Sports Commission created such an award, named after Paul Hornung, a former Notre Dame quarterback and Louisville native. This award is not affiliated with the NCFAA, however.