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Heisman: Think young

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By GARY SHELTON

© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 16, 2001


There are a million reasons to vote for Rex Grossman as the Heisman Trophy winner.

Near as I can tell, there is only one reason to vote against him.

He's 21 years old.

And darn him for it.

There you have it. There is the entire counter-argument to the growing Grossman-for-Heisman sentiment. He hasn't blown out enough candles to deserve it.

Well, guilty.

Grossman is a sophomore, the nerve of him. He is 21, and he looks younger, and the voters may not forgive him for it. He has two more years to play, and pass it on.

Around the country, you get the idea the voters are talking in such terms. "Not that the yardage isn't staggering, not that the touchdowns aren't impressive, but how old did you say he was again?"

This is silly. Twelve months ago, there were voters who argued that it was perfectly fine to suggest Chris Weinke was too old to win a Heisman, and now here we are, listening to them argue that being too young will hurt Grossman. Who's voting here? Goldilocks?

Nevertheless, here we are. Grossman is a sophomore, and a sophomore has never won the Heisman, and therefore there are voters who will not consider Grossman this season. There is a word for such voters. It's called "idiot."

College football has changed. If the Heisman ever was a lifetime achievement award, that day has passed. Seniors don't win the Heisman any more, because there aren't any seniors. Yesterday's senior is today's NFL rookie.

So are we to believe the Heisman has become a junior award? Please. The last statistic that should be counted is someone's birth year. Put it this way: If Grossman were a junior, would his completion percentage be more impressive? Would his touchdown-to-interception ratio be more eye-popping. Of course not.

If ever there was a reason to vote for a sophomore, this is the year. No one has reached out and claimed it, unless you believe that UCLA's DeShaun Foster was driving that Ford Expedition so he could load it in back. Oh, Joey Harrington is a fun player, but has his play really lived up to his billboard in Times Square? Well, no.

Ken Dorsey will get some run as the quarterback for unbeaten Miami. And there is North Carolina's Julius Peppers, the annual argument the award shouldn't be just for running backs and quarterbacks, although it is. Come to think of it, you could also vote for Nebraska's Eric Crouch as a protest that quarterbacks shouldn't always win the Heisman even though, technically, he is one.

Grossman deserves it more than anyone. Despite his age.

Vote for a sophomore? Why not? Once again, there are a million reasons.

No. 1-No. 3,244: That's Grossman's passing yardage for the season. That includes nine starts and nine 300-yard games. Do you see anyone else doing that?

No. 3,244-No. 3,274: Add Grossman's 30 touchdown passes. That's against only 10 interceptions, by the way, and four of those were against Auburn.

No. 3,274-No. 3,295: Grossman had 21 touchdown passes last season. The 51 touchdowns is an NCAA record for a guy playing his freshman and sophomore seasons.

No. 3,295-3,305: Do you think Florida runs up the score? Consider this number: 10. Take away Auburn and Georgia, where close games kept Grossman in all the way, and Grossman has thrown exactly 10 passes in the fourth quarters of Florida's other games. People, if Spurrier wanted to run it up, Grossman could have 5,000 yards by now.

No. 3,305-3,370.89: For all the deep passes the Gators throw, Grossman is completing 65.89 percent of his passes. That's two completions in every three tries. The guy turns a post pattern into a handoff. Even in his worst game, Auburn, he completed 59.5 percent.

No. 3,370.89-No. 1,000,000. He's still standing.

Above all, the testament to how good a quarterback Grossman is is that he's still playing. Given the frustration level of coach Steve Spurrier, and the speed at which he attains it, this is no small task. Most years, you hate to vote for a Gators quarterback to win an award because, by the time it comes back from the engraver, you don't know if the guy will still be in the lineup.

Not Grossman. He has not exactly granted Spurrier the gift of calm, but he has kept the visor on his head for the most part. There is something about Grossman's approach to the game that Spurrier trusts. So far, Tyrannosaurus hasn't eaten Rex. That should tell the voters something.

Oh, there also are voters who will suggest that somehow, Spurrier's presence hurts Grossman's chances. It's a quarterback's system, they sniff. Right. And Woody Hayes ran a tailback's system. Should we reclaim Archie Griffin's trophies because of it? Danny Wuerffel won it, they chide, and he hasn't been much of a pro.

Such critics miss the point. You can't give Grossman higher praise than to compare him with Wuerffel who, like Grossman, wasn't built like the prototypical quarterback. He, too, had a toughness that enabled him to withstand the heat of Spurrier's voice. Grossman, the scouts say, is a better athlete than Wuerffel. His ball zips quicker, his arm is stronger.

And, whatever you think of the Heisman, Grossman is good enough to win it.

Don't worry, gentlemen. He'll be able to stay up past his bedtime to attend your ceremony.

This once, anyway.

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