Special to College Sports Journal
NEW YORK, N.Y. — The historic Waldorf Astoria Grand Ballroom in New York City witnessed an all-star cast of history’s greatest football players for the 58th National Football Foundation (NFF) Annual Awards Dinner on Tuesday night.
An illustrious College Football Hall of Fame class took center stage at the event, and 12 of the game’s current-leading student-athletes collected $223,000 in postgraduate scholarships.
The festivities culminated with the announcement of Oklahoma’s Ty Darlington as the recipient of the 26th William V. Campbell Trophy, presented by Fidelity Investments, as the top football scholar-athlete in the nation and the induction of the 2015 College Football Hall of Fame Class.
With more than 65 current collegiate head coaches and 40 returning members of the College Football Hall of Fame in attendance, the fabled spectacle lived up to historic expectations.
ESPN’s Mike Tirico emceed the event, and NFF Board Member and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had the honor of introducing all of the great college football coaches in attendance.
“The NFF Annual Awards Dinner continues to grow in both size and prestige each December,” NFF President Steve Hatchell said. “Those in the room tonight care deeply about the game, and the event captured why football matters. This sport transforms lives, opens doors and instills the characteristics in our young people that make our country great. When you listen to the accomplishments of the night’s honorees, you know that the future of our sport remains bright.”
The 2015 College Football Hall of Fame Class boasted 15 All-Americans, five unanimous First-Team All-Americans, five consensus First-Team All-Americans, five multi-year First-Team All-Americans, nine conference player of the year honorees, three NFF National Scholar-Athletes, and winners of the Butkus Award, the Doak Walker Award, the Heisman Trophy, the Maxwell Award and the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award. Also inducted were two head coaches who have a combined five national championships, nine conference championships and 26 bowl berths.
The 2015 class was introduced by NFF Board Members Archie Griffin, a Hall of Fame running back from Ohio State, and Grant Teaff, AFCA Executive Director and Hall of Fame Coach.
Members of the class included Trev Alberts (Nebraska), Brian Bosworth (Oklahoma), Bob Breunig (Arizona State), Sean Brewer (Millsaps [Miss.]), Ruben Brown (Pittsburgh), Wes Chandler (Florida), Thom Gatewood (Notre Dame), Dick Jauron (Yale), Clinton Jones (Michigan State), Lincoln Kennedy (Washington), the late Rob Lytle (Michigan), Michael Payton (Marshall), Art Still (Kentucky), Zach Thomas (Texas Tech), Ricky Williams (Texas), and coaches Bill Snyder (Kansas State) and Jim Tressel (Youngstown State, Ohio State). NFF Chairman and Hall of Fame inductee Archie Manning (Mississippi) conducted the Official Hall of Fame Ring Ceremony.
The 15 players and two coaches bring the total number of players in the Hall of Fame to 963 and the number of coaches in the Hall to 209. Coach Snyder, one of only four active coaches ever inducted into the Hall of Fame, delivered the response on behalf of the class and touched on the importance of football.
“It is an amazing honor for each and every one of us on the dais tonight,” said Snyder. “These are all amazing people, not just from an athletic standpoint, but from a value system, character and those things we all believe when we say football matters… Yes it’s important to be successful on the field and it’s important to win, but the real value of the game of football is what it does to help create an environment in which young people can become successful in their lives.”
The 2015 NFF National Scholar-Athlete Class, presented by Fidelity Investments, joined the Hall of Famers on stage. Comprised of 12 of the most talented and brightest football players in the nation, each member of the class received an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship. Kathleen Murphy, NFF vice chairwoman and president of Personal Investing at Fidelity Investments, led the presentation of the awards.
Ohio State center Jacoby Boren, Mississippi State defensive back Taveze Calhoun, Baylor offensive tackle Spencer Drango joined Darlington as the top candidates in vying for the coveted Campbell Trophy. NFF Chairman Emeritus Jon F. Hanson had the honor of presenting the award to Darlington.
A two-time First-Team Academic All-American, Darlington led Oklahoma to the 2015 Big 12 Conference title and a berth in the 2015 College Football Playoff.
He graduated in 2.5 years with a 3.91 GPA in arts & sciences, and he is currently working toward a master’s degree in higher education. Winning the Campbell Trophy increases his postgraduate scholarship to a total of $25,000.
“Thank you so much to Mr. Campbell, the namesake, and to the National Football Foundation for this award,” said Darlington. “It’s incredible to be even mentioned with the other winners of this trophy. I grew up idolizing many of [the Hall of Famers] and I’ve been walking around like a star struck kid… When people ask me how I’ve been able to do the things I’ve been able to do, it’s that mentality that was instilled in me at a young age. Whatever I was going to undertake, I was going to do it the best of my abilities.”
Other members of the 2015 NFF National Scholar-Athlete Class included E.K. Binns (Navy), Jake Brendel (UCLA), Derek Crittenden (Montana), Jordan Dobrich (Nevada), Spencer Drango (Baylor), Blake Frohnapfel (UMass), Jordan Italiano (Kent State), Hank Spencer (Mount Union [Ohio]) and Jason Vander Laan (Ferris State [Mich.]).
NFF Board Member and TV personality Jack Ford presented the Gold Medal, the organization’s highest and most prestigious award, to Dr. Condoleezza Rice.
After rising to the highest levels of power as the first female African-American U.S. Secretary of State, she currently serves as a professor at Stanford University and as a member of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee. Dr. Rice is the first woman ever nationally recognized by the organization in its 69-year history. Rice touched on the impact football and her father had on her life in her acceptance speech.
“As you know, my father was a football coach and I was supposed to be his All-America linebacker,” said Rice. “He was a little disappointed when he found out he was having a girl, but he decided that he would teach this little girl everything about the sport instead. Football matters to me because it is first and foremost the greatest set of memories with my dad… It was a very special bond between a very special man and his little girl, and for that I will be always be grateful to this game.
“Football also matters to me because it is a reflection of how far our country has come. We are a greater country for the role that football has played in bringing us together… Football is doing its part to hold up that great American creed: that it doesn’t matter where you came from, it matters where you’re going…Football is played on the field, but it is also preparation for life.”
The NFF paid tribute to the thousands of student-athletes who have played football at the nation’s military academies over the years by honoring one representative of each branch as a co-recipient of the 2015 Distinguished American Award. NFF Board Member and College Football Hall of Fame inductee Roger Staubach (Navy) presented Rear Adm. Bill Byrne (Navy), Capt. Jared Tew (Air Force) and Maj. Graham White (Army) with the prestigious honor who reach represented their respective alma maters.
Mike Tirico introduced the other major award winners. Michigan State Athletics Director Mark Hollis accepted the John L. Toner Award for excellence in athletics administration.
Hollis spearheaded the effort to hire Mark Dantonio as football coach, which has resulted in a school-record eight consecutive bowl appearances and three Big Ten Championships. For nine consecutive semesters, Spartan student-athletes have posted better than a 3.0 cumulative GPA, and under Hollis’ leadership, Spartan Stadium has undergone $100 million in renovations.
Tirico also presented the Chris Schenkel Award for excellence in broadcasting to the former longtime Voice of the LSU Tigers Jim Hawthorne, the Outstanding Contribution to Amateur Football Award to placekicking revolutionaries Charlie and Pete Gogolak and NFF Legacy Awards to former Big 12 Senior Associate Commissioner for Football Donnie Duncan and NFF Board Member and former SEC Commissioner Mike Slive.
ESPN studio host of College Football Live Chris Cotter hosted the NFF Awards press conference in the morning, which included comments from all of the major award winners, the 2015 Hall of Famer Class and the 2015 National Scholar-Athlete Class. Click here for photos and quotes from the Hall of Famers and click here for the National Scholar-Athletes. College Football Hall of Famer and 1996 William V. Campbell Trophy recipient, Danny Wuerffel (Florida), announced the winner of the 2015 Wuerffel Trophy Winner. The award honors the college football player who best exhibits exemplary community service, and 2015 Campbell Trophy winner Darlington claimed the award as the first of his two major awards on the day.
Dick Vermeil, the former UCLA and Super Bowl-winning NFL head coach, emceed the NFF Chapter Awards Luncheon, presented by Under Armour. At the event, the five NFF National High School Scholar-Athletes accepted their accolades, and the five winners of the 2015 Chapter Leadership Awards spoke about their passion for strengthening the game for future generations.
The chapter award leaders included Mark Ball (Texas Tech Chapter), Marc Hudak (New York City Chapter), Richard Lewis (Joseph Mewhiney/Central Massachusetts Chapter), Gerry McGuire (Sunflower (Kan.) Chapter), Tom Taradash (Valley of the Sun (Ariz.) Chapter.
The high school scholar-athletes boasted an impressive list of recipients, including Zachary Allen from New Canaan High School in New Canaan, Conn., and currently attending Boston College; Kenneth Brinson Jr. from Marist School in Atlanta and currently attending the United States Military Academy; William Hefley III from Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Ark., and currently attending the University of Tulsa; Jelani Roberts from The Gilman School in Baltimore and the Greater Baltimore Chapter and currently attending Northwestern University; Josh Rosen from St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, Calif., and currently attending UCLA.
George Sechrist, of the Business Media Group (BMG) based in Indianapolis, produced the event for the third time. Daniel Rodriguez returned to sing the National Anthem and God Bless America, while Columbia University Team Chaplain Father Thomas Valenti gave the invocation.
ESPN3.com carried the event live while the American Sports Network produced a live, nationally-broadcast red carpet show leading into the event. Sponsors for the day’s events included the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Delta Air Lines, Fidelity Investments, Herff Jones, iSix, New York Athletic Club, The Pasadena Tournament of Roses, PrimeSport, Spielman Koenigsberg & Parker LLP, SportsBusiness Journal, Sports Systems, Under Armour and UPS.
About the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame
Founded in 1947 with early leadership from General Douglas MacArthur, legendary Army coach Earl “Red” Blaik and immortal journalist Grantland Rice, The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame is a non-profit educational organization that runs programs designed to use the power of amateur football in developing scholarship, citizenship and athletic achievement in young people.
With 120 chapters and 12,000 members nationwide, NFF programs include FootballMatters.org, the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, The William V. Campbell Trophy presented by Fidelity Investments, annual scholarships of more than $1.3 million and a series of initiatives to honor the legends of the past and inspire the leaders of the future.
NFF corporate partners include the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Delta Air Lines, Fidelity Investments, Herff Jones, New York Athletic Club, Pasadena Tournament of Roses, PrimeSport, SKP, the Sports Business Journal and Under Armour. Learn more at www.footballfoundation.org.