Will Dawgs' Gurley be first N.C. native to win Heisman?
Posted May 16
Raleigh, N.C. — When the web site OddsShark.com came out with its early Heisman Trophy handicap list earlier this month, it was no surprise that 2013 winner Jameis Winston was a favorite to repeat.
The Florida State quarterback is listed at 5-to-2 with quarterbacks Marcus Mariota (Oregon) and Braxton Miller (Ohio State) just behind.
But the name that caught my immediate attention was No. 5 on the list - running back Todd Gurley of Georgia.
Gurley is from Tarboro, and a native North Carolinian never has won the Heisman.
South Carolina has produced a winner - Doc Blanchard, Army’s legendary “Mr. Inside” fullback. A McColl, S.C. native, Blanchard won the award in 1945.
Virginia has had a winner - Ron Dayne, the bullish Wisconsin running back in 1999 who was born in Blacksburg.
A guy born in Japan has won - quarterback Robert Griffin III of Baylor in 2011.
Even a kid born in the Philippines won it - quarterback Tim Tebow of Florida in 2007.
But North Carolina is 0-for-ever when it comes to college football’s most important individual award.
UNC’s Choo Choo Justice (Asheville) finished second to SMU’s Doak Walker in 1948 and second again in ’49, when Notre Dame’s Leon Hart won.
There was Shelby’s Bobby Bell, a defensive lineman for Minnesota who was third behind Oregon State quarterback Terry Baker and LSU halfback Jerry Stovall in 1962.
There have been a few more challengers over the years, but Gurley, a junior who rushed for 989 yards last season (despite an ankle injury) and 1,385 yards as a freshman in 2012, may have the best chance yet.
It starts with Winston’s situation. Even though the odds favor him, the odds are also again the Seminole. Only one player ever - Ohio State running back Archie Griffin in 1974 and ’75 - has repeated.
Remember that it was a year ago about this time that the 2013 odds came out with 2012 winner Johnny Manziel handicapped well ahead of the pack. Winston, a red-shirt freshman at the time, wasn’t on anyone’s list at all.
Something else in Gurley’s favor is the fact that a running back winner is about due again. Other than Alabama’s Mark Ingram in 2009 and Southern Cal’s Reggie Bush in 2005, quarterbacks have dominated the century.
The unknown is Gurley’s health. Like classmate and Raleigh-native Keith Marshall (Millbrook High), Gurley had a frustrating run in 2013.
Marshall’s 2013 season ended with a knee injury in early October after he had rushed for 759 yards as a freshman and 246 yards in four games before the injury.
Gurley sat out three games in mid-season and wasn’t completely at full speed thereafter.
Both are expected to be in sound health when Georgia hosts Clemson to start the season on Aug. 30. After the opener, the Bulldogs go to South Carolina on Sept. 13 to begin SEC play. If Gurley puts together big performances in both of those high-profile games, he should be able to grab the early Heisman lead.
For the local schools, it was a bleak day when Georgia coach Mark Richt and his staff were able to invade North Carolina and pick off both Marshall and Gurley. It epitomized the talent drain that has plagued college football in the state for decades.
But Gurley and Marshall left for the lure of the “big time” and 2014 will be their chance to be on the biggest stages in the sport. The Bulldogs are likely to be favored to win the SEC East and Gurley will start squarely in the Heisman chase.