FORT WALTON BEACH, FL – When Gabe Ikard was informed last year that he’d won the Wuerffel Trophy, the Oklahoma offensive lineman was overwhelmed.
Overwhelmed to be singled out as the college football player who best combines excellence in the classroom, on the field and in the community.
Overwhelmed to join Tim Tebow among a who’s who of past recipients.
Overwhelmed to be connected with the trophy’s namesake Danny Wuerffel, a College Football Hall-of-Famer who led Fort Walton Beach to a state title in 1991 before guiding the Florida Gators to four straight conference titles from 1993-96, culminating in a Heisman Trophy-winning campaign and national title in ’96.
Now, another college football player will soon get to experience that same honor.
The All Sports Association kicked off its 10th anniversary Tuesday with the release of its 12 Wuerffel Trophy finalists, including a host of players for national-title contending teams: Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah, Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly, Ohio State long snapper Bryce Haynes and Ole Miss linebacker Deterrian Shackelford.
But this award isn’t about just about the highlight reels on the gridiron. It also encompasses exemplary community service and academic achievement.
“Each year I’m amazed by the quality of student athletes who are nominated by their schools, and this year is no different,” Wuerffel said. “Not only is it very difficult to pick a winner, it’s even a struggle to select the finalists. In a time when so much negative attention gets directed to a few players and their poor choices, it’s refreshing to see the positive impact these young men are having in their communities.”
Ever since LSU’s Rudy Niswanger was named the inaugural Wuerffel trophy winner in 2005, the award has gained a meteoric rise as one of the premiere postseason accolades in the nation. Judging by this year’s candidates, the spotlight will only continue to shine brighter.
A look at this year’s finalists:
- When Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly, who earned his Educational Studies degree in May with a 3.31 GPA and is now pursuing a Master’s degree, isn’t leading the sixth-ranked Sun Devils to transformative wins over USC, Stanford, Utah and Notre Dame, he’s mentoring students at local high schools and volunteering his time at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
- Chris Conley’s philanthropy endeavors could fill an encyclopedia. The Georgia wideout and proud owner of a 3.32 GPA mentors youth through dozens of programs, visits numerous hospitals and is a huge advocate of children’s literacy. And, oh yeah, all while continuing to lead the Bulldogs in every major receiving category.
- Brennen Beyer, a defensive end at Michigan sporting a 3.16 GPA, has been an active member of Athletes in Action since 2012, taking three missionary trips (two to Los Angeles, one to Puerto Rico). He also finds time to frequently visit CS Mott Children’s Hospital and co-coach a fourth-grade flag football team.
- Deterrian Shackelford is more than a middle linebacker helping lead the Ole Miss defense to a nation-leading scoring defense. He’s a man who owns two degrees (history and masters in higher education with a 3.57 GPA) and a humanitarian who’s helped lead two mission trips to Haiti and Panama while also mentoring local youth.
- Ameer Abdullah, a 2013 All-American, is regarded as one of the premiere backs in the country with 19 touchdowns and 1,419 yards. Simply put, he’s the key cog in Nebraska’s outside national title hopes. Off the field, he sports a 3.18 GPA, mentors youth, has helped raise money for pediatric brain cancer, and made the dreams of cancer patients a reality with tours and hosting duties on game day
- OSU long snapper Bryce Haynes, who sports a 3.58 GPA and was named a Big 10 Conference Distinguished Scholar for the 2012-13 academic year, has been instrumental in mission trips to Africa and Peru. He was an integral part of installing a water system and setting up a pharmacy in Ghana, and he brought medicine to orphanages in Peru and is helping them acquire transportation.
- Trevor Knight, the play caller for the Sooners’ offense, has a 3.31 GPA and has been a part of two different mission trips to Haiti, where he’s helped build and rebuild facilities and homes.
- South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson, who has a 3.43 GPA and is the 13th quarterback in school history to throw for more than 3,000 yards, has always given back to the community by donating his time to schools, hospitals and churches.
- Corey Acosta, a two-time all-conference kicker for Southern Miss and the proud holder of a 3.81 GPA , has helped aid in tornado relief and has visited with countless schools to read to youth.
- Sam Rodgers, a four-year starter at long snapper who hasn’t missed a game with Syracuse, has a 3.85 GPA and has taught children English, organized soccer clinics and built green houses, schools health clinics and an elderly home in a 2013 trip to Haiti.
- Greg Mancz, a Toledo center named freshman All-America by Yahoo! Sports in 2011, has started every game in his career. He also boasts a 3.59 GPA, has organized fundraisers for student-athletes with cancer and has served the local Boys & Girls Club among many youth nonprofit causes.
- Andrew East, Vanderbilt’s four-year starter at long snapper, has taken mission trips to Mexico, Haiti and Peru, mentoring kids and using his engineering skills to help build houses for impoverished families. He’s regarded as one of the top long snappers in the nation.
Seth Stringer is the sports editor for the Northwest Florida Daily News. He can be reached at (252) 414-4239 or at firstname.lastname@example.org