ATLANTA — Think Texas can’t produce elite-level talent?
Oklahoma’s imported dynamic duo, the best Texas running back in almost two decades and a monstrous pass-rusher from Texas A&M are all ready to represent the Lone Star state at the Home Depot College Football Awards on Thursday.
The show, broadcast from the College Football Hall of Fame, is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Thursday on ESPN.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield and receiver Dede Westbrook, the Sooners’ two Heisman finalists, are easily the best at their respective positions in the Big 12. Both will get plenty of airtime, too.
Mayfield, the pride of Lake Travis, could take home the Maxwell and Davey O’Brien Awards after leading OU to yet another Big 12 title and leading the nation in pass efficiency. The junior has 38 career touchdown passes, and no matter what happens in the Sugar Bowl against Auburn, Mayfield will be back for more in 2017.
Of course, Mayfield would much rather talk about his alma mater’s recent demolition over Westlake in the state playoffs. “It was fantastic. Makes my heart happy,” he said. “It’s been 10 years. I guess they need to bring Nick Foles back to win.”
Clemson’s Deshaun Watson won the Davey O’Brien Award last season, and he’s back in Atlanta as a finalist again this year. Mayfield will also have to sneak by Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, a sophomore that national pundits are slotting first on their Heisman ballots.
“I wouldn’t say I started from the bottom, but my journey hasn’t been the easiest,” Mayfield said. “I think that’s helped me face adversity and helped me be successful up to this point.”
Westbrook, a Cameron Yoe graduate, could become OU’s first Biletnikoff winner. He had 1,465 receiving yards by zig-zagging through Big 12 defenses and hauling in a school-record 16 touchdown passes.
“If (Mayfield) wasn’t here beside me, I’d be nervous as ever,” Westbrook said. “But just to have him here so we can laugh and play around with one another, that just makes the experience a lot better.”
To win, Westbrook will have to race past Zay Jones, an Austin High grad who’s had a standout career at East Carolina. Jones had an FBS-best 1,746 receiving yards and eight touchdowns this season. He finished a spectacular four years with an FBS-record 399 receptions, 4,279 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns.
“Lifelong maroon, I can tell you that,” Jones said, referring to his high school. “Just to be among the nation’s best is truly an honor. I’m so blessed to be here, but I also feel like I deserved it. I consider myself to be among the best and I’m excited to be here.”
D’Onta Foreman, the second rusher in UT history with more than 2,000 yards, is up for the Doak Walker Award. Ricky Williams set the Longhorns’ single-season rushing mark in 1998 on his way to winning the Doak and Heisman Trophies.
“I want it a lot,” said Foreman, a junior who has already announced he’s going pro. “It wasn’t a goal I set at the beginning of the season, but as the season went on and the level of play I was at, it was something I strived for as the season went on.”
Foreman, the Texas City native, didn’t get invited to New York as a Heisman finalist. The snub came despite the fact he’s rushed for 13 consecutive 100-yard games dating back to the 2015 season. He rushed for 2,028 yards this year in only 11 games.
Foreman isn’t the only one here flashing the Hook ’em hand sign. Texas punter Michael Dickson, a deputized Longhorn from Australia, is a finalist for the Ray Guy Award.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” said Dickson, who is essentially self-taught. “It’s a strange feeling. It always kind of sinks in when you go back to your hotel room, and it’s your hotel room for yourself. You feel like… I don’t know. It’s a good feeling to have an entire room to yourself.”
Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett would love to bullrush the stage and take home the Bednarik Award as the nation’s best defensive player. But he plans on keeping still while Alabama’s Jonathan Allen and Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers go at it.
“No, I’m not expected to win,” Garrett said with a huge laugh. “OK, we’ve got one guy who’s on an undefeated team who scored touchdowns and has as many sacks as me and played in more games. And we have another guy who’s up for the Heisman.
“Both these guys are sitting right next to me,” he added. “I don’t have a chance in hell. Not a snowball’s chance.”
A&M quarterback Trevor Knight is also in Atlanta as the 2016 Wuerffel Trophy winner. The award is driven by on the field excellent and for community service. Knight has been to Haiti with teammates from his two schools, Oklahoma and A&M, and continues to look for future opportunities.
“I was fortunate enough early on in my career to realize there’s a platform that comes with this,” Knight said. “These 4-5 years, there are people and kids that look up to you and hear what you have to say. For me to not make the most of that would have been a letdown.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.