In the 78-year history of the Heisman Trophy, just one primarily defensive player — Charles Woodson, 1997 — has won the award, and that was primarily due to the Michigan cornerback seeing time as both a wide receiver and punt return specialist.
Over the past couple of years, though, defensive players have begun getting their share of stiff-armed attention. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o became just the second defensive-only player to finish second in the voting, joining Pittsburgh’s Hugh Green back in 1980. Nebraska defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh finished fourth in the balloting in 2009, while LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu was a finalist in 2011. Even then, Te’o's Heisman profile was boosted significantly by an embellished human drama while Mathieu’s candidacy was aided by his return prowess.
Still, the Heisman has historically been a strictly offensive award. Or, more specifically, a strictly quarterback/running back award — 70 of the 78 winners played one of those two positions, with the trophy going to the former position 11 of the past 12 years.
This year, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney will enter the 2013 season as one of the front-runners for the most prestigious award in the sport. In fact, Clowney may be the front-runner on some of the preseason watch lists that will be dropping over the next couple of months.
He is, though, just a defensive player. And, if Clowney has his way about it, that won’t change, regardless of what it may do for his bid for the Heisman.
“Nah. I have no interest at all in playing offense,” Clowney said according to the Greenville News, adding an emphatic, “forget it.”
If Johnny Manziel can break through the (redshirt) freshman ceiling, can Clowney be the one to do the same on the defensive side of the ball and without the offensive novelty? If the voting is based who is the best player in college football, and not just the best quarterback or running back in the game, Clowney certainly has the talent and athletic ability — and should have the on-field production — to do just that.
Seeing as the current stable of Heisman voters are as offensive-focused as they come, I won’t hold my breath. Hell, when even a man as young as Clowney can see how skewed the Heisman voting is, you can understand why the award is slowly losing its luster.
“It’s strange, but that’s what the people like, touchdowns and more touchdowns,” Clowney. “They don’t worry about the sacks and stuff.”
Maybe one day such inconsequential things will matter in the minds of voters. Again, though, I won’t be holding my breath anytime soon.