Alabama’s Smith becomes 1st WR to win Heisman in 29 years

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NEW YORK — On an Alabama team stacked with stars, DeVonta Smith emerged as the best player in college football while playing a position that rarely gets that kind of recognition.

Smith became the first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy in 29 seasons Tuesday night, breaking the monopoly quarterbacks have had on the award by beating out three of them.

“Just to be one of the very few that played receiver to win the Heisman, it means a lot to me,” Smith said.

Smith finished with 447 first-place votes and 1,856 points to easily outdistance Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence (222, 1,187), Alabama teammate Mac Jones (138, 1,130) and Florida’s Kyle Trask (61, 737).

Crimson Tide running back Najee Harris finished fifth in the voting, making No. 1 Alabama the second team in the 85-year history of the Heisman to have three of the top five vote-getters. Army did it in 1946 with Glenn Davis (first), Doc Blanchard (fourth) and Arnold Tucker (fifth).

“I want to thank my teammates,” Smith said during his acceptance speech. “With team success comes individual success so without you all, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today, winning this award.”

Smith is just the fourth receiver to win the Heisman, joining Michigan’s Desmond Howard in 1991, Notre Dame’s Tim Brown in 1987 and Nebraska’s Johnny Rodgers in 1972.

Quarterbacks had won 17 of the previous 20 Heisman trophies, including the last four.

Smith was presented the award in a virtual ceremony orchestrated by ESPN. The usual trip to New York for the finalists was called off because of the pandemic and the winner was announced later than it had ever been before.

Smith accepted the trophy in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, decked out in a deep crimson jacket and shiny black bow tie.

He got a big hug from his quarterback, who told Smith that he loved and was proud of him. Then Smith held back tears during his speech, recalling how many thought he was too small to become a football star.

“To all the young kids out there that’s not the biggest, not the strongest, just keep pushing. Because I’m not the biggest. I’ve been doubted a lot because of my size and, really, it’s just comes down to you just put your mind to it, no job’s too big,” said the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Smith.

Meanwhile, his parents watched from a community center in his hometown of Amite, Louisiana, where a socially distanced watch party was held.

“We love him. Everybody here is supporting him, we’re so proud of him. Continue being humble. Let God lead him. And we are here to support him every step of the way,” Smith’s mother, Christina Smith-Sylve, said to ESPN.

Smith is the third Alabama player to win the Heisman, all since 2009. Like Tide running backs Mark Ingram (’09) and Derrick Henry (2015), Smith will play for the national championship as a Heisman winner.

Alabama faces No. 3 Ohio State on Jan. 11 in the College Football Playoff title game in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Smith said he returned for his senior season to earn his degree and win a national title.

“I checked one of those boxes. Just trying to check the other one now,” Smith said during his Zoom news conference.

The Heisman voting was complete on Dec. 21, so playoff performances were not a factor. But Smith made those who supported him feel good about it with a brilliant three-touchdown game against Notre Dame in the CFP semifinals last weekend.

Smith has 105 catches for 1,641 yards and 22 total touchdowns going into the final game of his college career – which will also be his third national championship game.

Smith carved out a place in Alabama’s storied history as a freshman, catching the winning touchdown pass from Tua Tagovailoa on second-and-26 in overtime against Georgia to give the Tide the 2017 national championship.

The story of the game was the guy who threw the walk-off TD pass. Tagovailoa became Alabama’s Heisman contender and most beloved player for the next two years.

Smith was the overlooked star in the Tide’s talented 2017 class of receivers that included All-American Jerry Jeudy and the blazingly fast Henry Ruggs. Both of those players decided to skip their senior seasons and enter the draft last year. Both were selected in the first round.

“I kind of like being out of the way and not in the mix,” Smith said. “I’m not the most vocal person. I don’t like talking that much. It was enjoyable while it lasted.”

He returned to school to form an explosive combination for the Tide with junior Jaylen Waddle. Then Waddle went down with a season-ending leg injury on Oct. 24.

As the Tide’s undisputed No. 1 receiver, Smith shined. The week after Waddle went out, Smith had 11 catches for 204 yards and four touchdowns against Mississippi State.

Smith’s soaring one-handed TD grab against LSU was not just his signature play, but one of the 2020 season’s best.

A former four-star recruit, Smith came to Tuscaloosa from LSU’s backyard, disappointing many Tigers’ fans in his hometown.

The understated Smith quietly led the Tide in receptions and yards last year as a junior and became a second-team All-American.

Smitty – as teammates and coaches call him – didn’t emerge as a Heisman contender this season until Waddle went down.

And then he took off.

Starting with that Mississippi State game, Smith went on a four-game tear with 35 catches for 749 yards and 11 touchdowns that earned him another nickname: Slim Reaper.

Whatever you want to call Smith, he’s been quite a catch for Alabama.

Air Force football sanctioned for recruiting violations

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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Air Force football program received two years of probation from the NCAA and had its squad size reduced by 10 for four years as part of its sanctions for recruiting violations.

The penalties were announced Thursday after Air Force and four individuals reached an agreement with NCAA enforcement staff on recruiting violations. A fifth individual in the case has contested their role and will be heard by the committee on infractions.

The sanctions also include a fine and a reduction of 46 total official visits for the football program in the 2022-23 and `23-24 academic years. In addition, there’s a prohibition on unofficial visits in football from Sept. 1 through Oct. 12, 2022, and a reduced number of evaluation days this fall.

Air Force has around 115 players on its varsity roster, plus a JV team that all count as NCAA athletes and its roster size.

“The (committee) appreciates the parties’ efforts in working collaboratively together to reach agreement on the violations, levels, classifications, and significant and meaningful penalties,” Gary Miller, the chief hearing officer for the panel and president at Akron, said in a statement. “The panel also recognizes that Air Force has gone above and beyond in its overall approach to this case.”

In a joint statement, Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark and director of athletics Nathan Pine said: “The U.S. Air Force Academy is pleased that our case has progressed to the point of the NCAA accepting our negotiated resolution. We will continue working with the NCAA on this ongoing self-reported case from the COVID dead period, as it’s our responsibility to ensure integrity of the institution, athletics department, cadet-athletes and staff.”

The Falcons are off to a 3-1 start and host Navy on Saturday to begin the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy competition. The trophy is presented to the service academy with the best record in the round-robin format.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”