Back-to-back: Young gives Alabama consecutive Heisman wins

Dec 11, 2021, 4:04 AM | Updated: 8:54 pm
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young holds the Heisman Trophy at an award ceremony, Saturday, Dec. 11, 2...

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young holds the Heisman Trophy at an award ceremony, Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, in New York. (Todd Van Emst/Heisman Trust via AP, Pool)

(Todd Van Emst/Heisman Trust via AP, Pool)

NEW YORK (AP) — Bryce Young didn’t just meet the standard set by the star quarterbacks who preceded him at Alabama, he exceeded it and gave the Crimson Tide a rare Heisman back-to-back.

Young became the first Tide quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night, making Alabama the fifth school with consecutive winners of college football’s most prestigious player of the year award.

“This is amazing,” said Young, dressed in all black with a sparkling diamond chain around his neck, as he started his acceptance speech.

He thanked his father, Craig, for being his “best friend,” his mother, Julie, for “always having my back,” and his offensive line for “protecting me.”

Young received 684 first-place votes and 2,311 points to easily outdistance Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (78, 954), who became the third defensive player to be Heisman runner-up and first since Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o in 2012.

Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett (28, 631) finished third and Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud (12, 399) was fourth. Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. (31, 325) was fifth, putting two defensive players in the top five for the first time since 1962.

A year after former teammate DeVonta Smith won the Heisman, Young received 83% of total points available, the seventh highest among 87 winners. He was named on 90% of all ballots, also the seventh highest in Heisman history.

Young has passed for 4,322 yards and 43 touchdowns this season, leading No 1 Alabama to a Southeastern Conference title and a spot in the College Football Playoff. The defending national champion Crimson Tide will play No. 4 Cincinnati on Dec. 31 in the Cotton Bowl.

Young is Alabama’s fourth Heisman winner, all in the last 13 years under coach Nick Saban. Only four schools have won more: Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Southern California each have won seven.

The other schools to have Heisman winners in consecutive years are Yale (1936-37), Army (1945-46), Southern California (2004-05) — though Reggie Bush’s 2005 victory was later vacated — and Oklahoma (2017-18).

Running backs Mark Ingram (2009) and Derrick Henry (2015) were Alabama’s first two Heisman winners and Smith, a receiver, was No. 3 last year.

It seemed only a matter of time before a Tide quarterback took one home. Saban’s Alabama dynasty has evolved into QB U.

Young, a sophomore, stepped into the starting role held by Mac Jones last year and Tua Tagovailoa the two seasons prior. Both are starting in the NFL after being selected in the first round of the draft.

“It was big for me understanding the quarterback tradition and the standard that was being a quarterback at the University of Alabama,” Young said. “It was important for me to live up to that, to meet that standard.”

Tagovailoa was the Heisman runner-up to Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray in 2018 and then finished 10th in the voting in 2019, a season cut short by injury.

Jones put up even better numbers than Tagovailoa in 2020, but settled for third in the Heisman voting behind his favorite receiver, Smith, and Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

Then came Young, the five-star recruit from Southern California, who was Jones’ lightly used back-up last year.

Leading an inexperienced offense that was replacing a mountain of NFL talent, Young wasn’t afforded the luxury of growing into the job.

“A lot of the other teams that we’ve had have been older, with lots of really good players and the quarterback didn’t need to be the focal point that Bryce had to be on this team this year,” Saban said.

Young showed immediately he was up to the task. He threw for 344 yards and four touchdowns in his starting debut against Miami to begin the season, but it was the way he finished that won him the Heisman.

The race appeared mostly up for grabs heading into November. Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker, who finished sixth, Stroud and even Young’s teammate, Anderson, all briefly surged to the top of the leader boards.

Young led Alabama on a 97-yard, game-tying touchdown drive in an overtime victory against Auburn on Thanksgiving weekend, shaking off what was overall one of his poorest games of the season to deliver when it mattered most.

“In some ways you could say I was more nervous today (than before the drive against Auburn), because so much of this is out of your control,” he said.

Even-keeled confidence might be Young’s strongest trait.

“That’s just always been there,” his father, Craig Young, said earlier this week. “It’s just been the ability to stay calm within chaos and not perceive it as chaos.”

Bryce Young followed up that clutch performance in the Iron Bowl with a masterpiece from start to finish. Young passed for an SEC championship game record 421 yards and the Crimson Tide tore up Georgia’s vaunted defense in a 41-24 victory.

“He was fantastic down the stretch,” Saban said.

The Heisman race went from wide open to done deal as Young helped Alabama pass yet another milestone with the greatest season ever for Tide quarterback.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com

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Back-to-back: Young gives Alabama consecutive Heisman wins