Mullen and Gators need to join SEC’s parade of true freshman quarterbacks

If Dan Mullen doesn’t start Emory Jones at quarterback next season, the Florida Gators hired the wrong coach.

That’s because freshmen are all the rage in college football these days. No more waiting around to get the system completely down. These big, strong, smart kids are having systems built around them, improvisations and mistakes included.

Former Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen gives the scoreboard in the closing seconds of the team’s 31-28 loss to Mississippi on Nov. 23, 2017. Three days later he was hired to coach the Florida Gators. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Is this any way to run a major college program?

Well, Nick Saban went 14-1 at Alabama in 2016 with true freshman Jalen Hurts. On Monday night he benched Hurts at halftime and got just enough from Tua Tagovailoa, another true freshman, to win the 2017 national championship over Georgia and Kirby Smart’s true freshman quarterback, Jake Fromm.

Now comes word from FAU coach Lane Kiffin that Tagovailoa probably would have transferred if he hadn’t gotten into that title game. That’s insider knowledge from Alabama’s former playcaller, as announced on Dan Patrick’s national radio show.

What’s more, the Seattle Times is reporting that Jacob Eason, a former freshman starter at Georgia, is expected to transfer to Washington rather than sit the bench behind Fromm.

Young people are impatient by nature, of course. They want to play. They want to know that the promises they heard during recruiting were genuine, and that they won’t be left out when all the high-profile signees start stacking up at quarterback.

More important to this discussion, Mullen needs to shake things up at Florida with a bold approach that has nothing in common with the cautious offenses that Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain rolled out before him.

If Jones, the nation’s No. 4 dual-threat prospect, was good enough to get offers from Alabama and Ohio State and FSU, he’s good enough to start for the Gators against Charleston Southern on Sept. 1.

After all, Florida made a coaching change because 4-7 doesn’t work around there. Mullen was the choice because he develops dual-threat quarterbacks into big winners. Jones was Mullen’s choice in his first round of Gator recruiting because the top target of the former Florida staff, Matt Corral, is more of a pro-style quarterback.

Add it all up and there’s no reason for the Gators to look toward anyone but Jones, who as a January enrollee is already on hand and ready to dive into offseason workouts and spring practice.

Feleipe Franks is brawny and can run but his decision-making is spotty and often too slow. It figures that McElwain would have played any of the other underclassmen last year if they were ready, if only to save his own job. If this isn’t the time for a fresh look at a freshman quarterback, when will it ever be?

The need is not so urgent for Mark Richt at Miami. He’s got a returning starter in Malik Rosier who has flaws but also has wins over Notre Dame and Virginia Tech and the honor of clinching the program’s first ACC Coastal Division title. Still, N’Kosi Perry spent his freshman season watching from the sidelines last season and Jarren Williams, the highlight of a great early signing period for UM, may prove to be better than both of them if given a chance.

It’s a risk playing freshmen at quarterback, but a waste to keep the best ones idle.

Most have forgotten this, but freshmen weren’t eligible to play varsity football or basketball until the NCAA approved the idea in 1972. The old Big Eight Conference voted against it at the time but in 1985 one of its members, Oklahoma, turned to true freshman quarterback Jamelle Holieway when Troy Aikman broke a leg in an October game against Miami.

Holieway, a great option quarterback, led the Sooners the rest of the season, helping Barry Switzer to the last of his three national titles.

[Somehow, the latest national title in Bama’s dynastic run came as a shock]

[Richt next task is to surpass his Season 2 highlights at Georgia and UM]

[$10 million sure didn’t buy Dolphins much with Jay Cutler]

Bravo to college football for making a national title by its greatest dynasty come as something of a surprise

Is it possible to be shocked when Alabama wins a national championship?

I would have said no before Monday night. That 26-23 overtime win over Georgia was almost too much to process, even for Nick Saban, who when it was over actually sputtered “I’ve never been happier in my life.”

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, right, sits next to head coach Nick Saban during a press conference in Atlanta, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Alabama beat Georgia in overtime to win the NCAA college football playoff championship game. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Think of what just happened here. The Tide won with Saban grasping for straws this time, not mechanically processing and dominating one situation after another.

When his young star quarterback got off to a lousy start, Saban switched to an even younger one, true freshman Tua Tagovailoa, and came climbing out of a couple of 13-point holes. Oh, and the hero is a lefty from Hawaii wearing lucky No. 13. You know, the usual.

When Alabama’s kicker missed two standard-range field goals, including what should have been the game-winner in regulation, Saban forfeited his usual bonus of stellar special-teams play but overcame that, too.

Finally, when a disastrous sack opened Alabama’s overtime possession, Saban hoped that new playcaller Brian Daboll, a former Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator, could come up with something remotely positive to get his balky kicker in position to force a second extra period.

Who could have dreamed that the game would end on the next play, a 41-yard touchdown bomb, and that Georgia’s night would turn out so horribly wrong after the Bulldogs had done so many things right?

It’s not like Saban has never been shocked and disappointed in a similar manner. Clemson beat Alabama in last year’s national title game with one second remaining. Also, at the end of the 2014 season, the top-ranked Tide drew No. 4 Ohio State in the first College Football Playoff and lost 42-35.

This year, though, it was Alabama’s time to squeeze into the last playoff spot. That got a lot of people grumbling, and not only because the Tide didn’t even win their division, or because the title game was an all-SEC affair. The biggest annoyance was that everybody kind of figured Saban would win it all again, like always.

Well, Alabama did win it, but not like always. This was a crazy demolition derby, with tensions so high that one Tide player had to be restrained from going after an unidentified man on the sidelines and another player needed emergency personnel to cart him away with some kind of medical issue.

Put it all together and you’ve got five national titles in nine years for Saban at Alabama. Miami fans don’t need that kind of dynasty to be explained to them. The Hurricanes won four titles in nine years, plus five in the space of 19, and ESPN made an epic 30-for-30 documentary about it.

What if I were to tell you that Saban isn’t slowing down at the age of 66, and that after winning six national titles, including one with LSU in 2003, he’s still adapting and finding new ways to crush the competition?

That’s not a documentary. It’s a horror movie, played on an endless loop.

[Richt must advance beyond his Year 2 highlights at Georgia and UM]

[$10 million sure didn’t buy Dolphins much with Jay Cutler]

[Does anybody, including Nebraska’s Scott Frost, want a piece of UCF now?]

First order of business on the Gator coach search is finding a guy who’s not afraid to give it a try

For years now I have been clinging to the same philosophy when it comes to coach searches at Florida.

You don’t get a guy who has no SEC experience to step into a pressure cooker like the Gators job. He needs to know the region and its recruiting rhythms. Needs to have been a big winner as a head coach already. Needs to have a ton of confidence and the ability to snatch up and develop a championship quarterback or two or three.

ANNAPOLIS, MD- OCTOBER 21: Head coach Scott Frost of the UCF Knights stands with his players during the play of the Navy Midshipmen fight song following the Knights 31-21 win at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on October 21, 2017. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

So when the Gators hired Urban Meyer, I had major doubts about going with a flavor-of-the-month from the old Mountain West. (Wrong about that)

And when the Gators hired Will Muschamp, I felt pretty good about it based on SEC roots and recruiting power and was willing to overlook the lack of head coaching experience. (Wrong about that, too)

And when the Gators hired Jim McElwain, I was somewhat ambivalent but satisfied that at least with a reputation for building a quarterback at Colorado State he probably could do it again. (Wrong, wrong, always wrong)

So what’s the proper combo for 2017? The only right answer now is whatever makes fans and boosters happy in the moment because they’re just about ready to shred their season tickets right now.

The Gator program has jettisoned too much of its cachet with this constant coaching churn. Whoever gets the job now will be lucky to keep it for three years. McElwain couldn’t, and he won the SEC East title in each of his first two seasons there.

I’d probably be wrong, under the circumstances, to eliminate Scott Frost as a candidate because he is winning big in the American Athletic Conference and hasn’t even been doing that for long. (Florida wouldn’t want anything to do with playing Central Florida right now or anytime soon).

Probably wrong about crossing off Dan Mullen, too, just because he got rolled by Georgia and Auburn this year and is about to get rolled by Alabama, too.

Probably wrong about doubting Willie Taggart for being 5-5 in his first year at Oregon, or Mike Norvell for being at little ol’ Memphis, or Matt Campbell for pulling off a few flashy upsets in the Big 12 but being 9-12 at Iowa State overall.

The only thing that might feel just right, at least at this very moment, is Justin Fuente, but Miami just slowed his progress at Virginia Tech with a thorough whipping of the Hokies on Saturday night.

The whole thing will have to be wrapped up, one way or the other, by Dec. 10 or so. Got to get the next recruiting class coming in. Got to find a guy who is willing to do more than just play Florida for a bigger contract at his current job. Got to prove to Gator boosters that the program didn’t peter out the day Tim Tebow left.

Whatever happens, the reaction column I write can’t possibly be as strong and as certain as they used to be. Nothing about Florida is certain anymore, including the idea that any ambitious young coach would die to be there and to stay there for years and years to come.

That may be true again one day, but for now, with even UAB a major threat to stick it to the Gators in a few weeks before a half-empty stadium, what’s happening at Florida may actually be enough to scare some pretty good candidates off.

Notre Dame has already lost to one elite team but is Miami in that class?

 

Notre Dame has crushed every ACC team it has played this season, beating Boston College, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Wake Forest by an average score of 41-20, but maybe that’s not the way to measure Miami’s chances of knocking off the Fighting Irish on Saturday night.

Notre Dame offensive lineman Quenton Nelson in action during the first half of an NCAA college football game against North Carolina State, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

If you want to believe that the Hurricanes are candidates to win their way all the way into the four-team College Football Playoff, it’s more encouraging to look at what Notre Dame did against another team in that elite class.

We’re talking about the Georgia Bulldogs, the only real threat to Alabama in the SEC and a team loved by the CFP ranking committee. In September Georgia went to South Bend and built a 20-19 signature win on swarming defense.

Mark Richt is right to talk about the muscle that Notre Dame packs on the line of scrimmage, offensively and defensively, yet Georgia did just fine.

The same Notre Dame team that rushed for 515 yards and seven touchdowns against Boston College managed just 55 rushing yards against the Dawgs.

On the other side of the ball, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel each averaged around 5 yards per carry against the Irish. It can be done, and it will have to be done by Miami if Malik Rosier is going to have time to hit some of his favorite passes way downfield to Ahmmon Richards and Braxton Berrios and Darrell Langham.

Overall, Georgia and Notre Dame were an excellent match, and it’s conceivable that they might meet again in the playoffs depending on the dozens of things that still must play out. Miami can either prove on Saturday night that it belongs in that same class or settle back onto the other good path that’s available to them, the path to a first-ever ACC title.

To me, the Hurricanes have a defensive front seven that plays and produces like Georgia’s does. The bonus is Richt’s playcalling on offense and a willingness to trust Malik Rosier in ways that Georgia coach Kirby Smart can’t quite do with his freshman quarterback, Jake Fromm.

There even were a few gadget plays early in last week’s 28-10 dismissal of Virginia Tech. That steals some of the confidence from a physical defense when it comes to teeing off on basic handoffs and conventional dropbacks. It slows down every reaction just a bit and keeps the strongest players slightly off balance, even when those gadget plays, throwbacks to the quarterback and such, don’t quite work to perfection.

Bottom line, I’m not so worried about the 710 yards in total offense that Notre Dame ran up on Wake Forest, a 2-3 team in the ACC. Same goes for the way that the Irish limited North Carolina State to 50 yards rushing.

Miami is supposed to be the cream of the ACC now and would be expected to muscle up on those conference rivals if they met them right now.

Instead it will be the Irish on Saturday night, a team that has pushed everybody around except Georgia, and should find the Hurricanes pretty tough to bowl over, too.

Following blowout loss to Georgia, Jim McElwain sounded like he knows he is finished at Florida

 

Jim McElwain is 3-4, which might not seem so bad except the last time the Gators were 3-4 was way back in 1986.

That’s how it works when you’re coaching the Gators, a team with three national titles and a fan base that has gotten used to beating up on Georgia.

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, left, and Florida head coach Jim McElwain meet at midfield after a 42-7 Georgia victory at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Nothing has been officially announced or even publicly discussed, but it sure looks like Saturday’s 42-7 loss to the Bulldogs at EverBank Field was the last straw for McElwain as Gators coach.

It was Georgia’s largest margin of victory in this series since a 44-0 victory in 1982 and it would have been a shutout if not for a late touchdown drive led by Malik Zaire, the quarterback who transferred in from Notre Dame but had gone unused by McElwain until now.

Replace all of that competitive sorrow with SEC championships and McElwain easily survives the kind of mess he caused early last week by dropping the unsubstantiated inference that he and his family and his players had received death threats. It would have been viewed as a poor choice of words and forgotten.

When it’s going like it’s going for the Gators these days, nothing is forgotten, or forgiven, by boosters who expect so much more.

“When you look back, I’ve made mistakes in my life,” McElwain said. “Yet I’ll stand by everything that occurred. It is what it is. It won’t be the first to ever happen to anybody and I get that.

“We put a lot into this program. People have been great to my wife and I. We’ll see what happens. That’s the stuff that’s out of your control, and yet I’m proud of our team. I know we haven’t won and yet those guys are what it’s all about.

“Look, we haven’t been good on offense. I get it. We’ve won a few games, but we haven’t won enough, haven’t won a championship. That’s real. That’s life. That is this business, and I take full responsibility for all of it. There’s no doubt.””

McElwain’s offenses did not rank within the top 100 of major-college teams even when the Gators were winning the 2015 and 2016 SEC East titles. He has not developed redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks and on Saturday, even after a bye week, 14 penalties showed a lack of focus by Florida, including a series of illegal procedure and false start flags against the offense.

Asked if he still wants to be the coach at Florida after all that is reported to be happening behind the scenes, McElwain said “Yeah, you know, this is a dream job. It’s a great place. Great fans. Great support. The resources are there to win. Obviously I’m disappointed that I haven’t been able to deliver in the time I’ve been here, but this is one of those places I’ve said from the start where you should have the opportunity.

“My concerns are not at all me. My concerns are these guys, this university. You know, it’s a great place and that really is my concern.”

And if McElwain remains as Florida’s coach for the rest of the season, beginning with next Saturday’s trip to Missouri, how do he and the team bounce back?

“That was a blowout, and something I’m not proud of,” said McElwain, “but how you rebound when something doesn’t go right is you certainly don’t run the other way. You come back to work and get ready to go play this game next week.”

McElwain also was asked about being photographed with a smile on his face as he walked with wife Karen off the field and into the tunnel. The questioner suggested it was not a good look for a coach who just got beat by 35 points.

“She told me to keep my chin up,” McElwain said. “That’s something my dad used to tell me. It doesn’t do you any good to hang your head. Just like I told our guys. I’ve never been about good looks, so I apologize for that, I guess.”

 

Flying high again with the ever-changing Central Florida Knights

Some college football programs are consistently strong. Others are consistently overmatched. Then there is Central Florida, where thunderous mood swings are king.

Four years ago the Knights finished 12-1 with a Fiesta Bowl win. That was good enough for a school-best No. 10 ranking in the final AP poll.

Two years ago UCF was 0-12 and lost those game by an average score of 38-14. That was bad enough to get George O’Leary fired, seven bowl appearances and all.

CINCINNATI, OH – OCTOBER 07: Tre’Quan Smith #4 of the UCF Knights celebrates with Wyatt Miller after a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bearcats during the first half at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Now it’s 2017 and the Knights have flipped the switch again. They are 4-0 and ranked No. 22, which is higher than the Gators and Seminoles. UCF leads the nation with a scoring average of 47.5 points per game and is building momentum for showdowns with South Florida and Navy, the other two American Athletic Conference teams in the AP Top 25.

Among the reasons to watch the Knights is redshirt junior wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith from Village Academy in Delray Beach. He leads the team with seven touchdown catches, including three in last week’s 51-23 blowout of Cincinnati.

Now here’s where it gets tricky.

The coach behind this latest turnaround is Scott Frost, who played quarterback on an unbeaten team at Nebraska and later called the plays for Oregon as offensive coordinator. Either one of those programs could come calling for him to be their head coach some day, just like Oregon came to get Willie Taggart from South Florida, and that could abruptly turn the Knights’ train around once more.

Best, then, to root for Nebraska to upset Ohio State this week. The Cornhuskers are a disappointing 3-3 under Mike Riley, who is 18-14 there overall. These are the times that have Nebraska fans antsy.

And these are the conditions that keep UCF fans antsy, too. Perpetually so, whether the team is flying or crashing.

[Even UM’s national title teams learned how tough it is to run the table]

[Mood swing for Gase, who enjoyed NFL-record scoring extremes at Denver]

[Is it possible that Derek Jeter has rarely even seen the Marlins play a game?]

Gators’ Jim McElwain follows the clumsy coaching norm by keeping Antonio Callaway on the team

 

Antonio Callaway, the only sure playmaker on a Florida offense that has ranked among the nation’s worst for a couple of years now, is suspended for the season opener against Michigan.

The kid earned every bit of it, and really should be kicked off the team by now. This latest case of misusing school-issued funds to buy textbooks and then resell them is piled on top of previous problems.

GAINESVILLE – Florida wide receiver Antonio Callaway runs after a reception against Kentucky a 2016 game. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Pleading no contest to a marijuana charge and paying a fine. Being suspended for a semester by the university during a sexual assault investigation that eventually came to nothing. Getting pulled over as a passenger in a car with a 40-year-old man whose criminal history is well known to police. Being far too well acquainted, overall, with the school’s hearing system for student conduct code violations.

Of course, Gators coach Jim McElwain needs this spectacular wide receiver and kick returner against the Wolverines on Sept. 2. Heck, the way this offense struggles to put points on the board, he needs Callaway against Northern Colorado the following week.

“Very disappointed,” is how McElwain described his reaction, as well as the necessity to suspend six other players for the opening game because of the same text-book scam.

Very light, in Callaway’s case, the punishment. He isn’t learning anything from all of these close calls and dodges except that McElwain, like most major coaches trying to get a shot at the national title, will do whatever he can to keep his best players eligible.

Here, meanwhile, is what I have learned through the years of watching college players trade touchdowns for true accountability.

First, there is a reason that the Gators and many other high-profile programs generally schedule an easy game or two to open each season and have done so forever. It allows room for painless suspensions in response to offseason idiocies. This Michigan opener is an experiment, and with the exception of Miami as a season kickoff game in 2019, it’s not the kind of instant challenge that Florida will pursue on a regular basis.

Second, Cam Newton got away with a lot of stuff before he left the Gators in 2009 but more than that we probably still don’t know the whole story.

Urban Meyer knew what he had in this transformational quarterback, the logical successor to Tim Tebow, and he didn’t want Cam to get away. So even though a Fox sports report said Newton was caught three times for academic cheating before and after an arrest for buying a stolen laptop computer, he only decided to transfer to a junior college when the university threatened to expel him for repeated violations of the school’s honor code.

Was Newton worth the trouble that Meyer and his staff must have gone through to try to keep him on the team?

The fraternity of coaches probably has a different answer on this than you might, but consider that Gene Chizik had an undefeated and national championship at Auburn in his one season with Newton at quarterback. Two years later, without Newton, Chizik bottomed out and got fired.

[Is there anything with this waivers thing to worry about with Giancarlo Stanton?]

[Pahokee’s Anquan Boldin will have a strong influence on Buffalo Bills]

[The two places in America where there’s nothing but love for Jay Cutler]

“I saw these strides, right, and then sometimes you take a step back,” McElwain said of Callaway’s suspension. “Yet I’m sure he’s not the only one that’s done that, and yet it’s my responsibility to keep teaching.”

Teach on, just like Nick Saban has done by deciding not to suspend Da’Shawn Hand for the season opener against Florida State, even though the star defensive end was charged with DUI for being asleep at the wheel of a car while impaired.

This is how it works with the best players, in every sport, at every level. This is how it always will.

The two places in America where there is nothing but love for Jay Cutler

There are all kinds of opinions around the NFL on new Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler but there also are at least two places in America where you will never hear anything but good.

One of them is Lincoln City, Ind., down near the Kentucky border. Abraham Lincoln spent most of his childhood on a farm near there and, a little bit later, Cutler led the local high school, Heritage Hills, to its first state championship in any team sport during the perfect 15-0 football season of 2000.

Jay Cutler throws for NFL scouts at Vanderbilt’s Pro Day on March 17, 2006 in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Cutler scored the winning touchdown in overtime of the state final against Zionsville, and he did it as a receiver.

First Cutler threw a lateral to a teammate and then he released down field to make himself wide open for a 12-yard score. The rest of the passing attack hadn’t gone all that smoothly for Cutler, who threw three interceptions that night, but he also scored a touchdown on a quarterback sneak earlier in the game and was credited with 19 tackles as a two-way player at safety.

Cutler was a three-year starter at quarterback for Heritage Hills and a first-team All-State selection in football and basketball so, yeah, the good folks of southern Indiana aren’t too interested in hearing from anybody who is disappointed in their boy.

The next stop was Vanderbilt University, which last year added Cutler to the Commodores’ Hall of Fame.

Vandy is the only private university in the SEC and they don’t do a lot of winning. It was no different during Cutler’s time there, but in four seasons as the starting quarterback he put a major scare into some of the league’s traditional powers.

One of the most memorable games was a 49-42 double-overtime loss at Florida in his senior season of 2005. The Gators appeared to be in good shape, leading 35-21 with 4:11 to play and getting a couple of touchdowns off Cutler turnovers. However, two quick Cutler touchdown drives, sandwiched around a successful on-side kick, tied the game and Vandy actually came awful close to winning it in regulation.

A celebration penalty on the receiver who caught Cutler’s fourth touchdown pass of the game prevented coach Bobby Collins from trying for a two-point conversion and the win. Ultimately, Cutler, who passed for 361 yards in the game, was intercepted in the second overtime to end the upset bid.

Cutler was voted the SEC’s Offensive Player of the Year as a senior and he remains the career leader at Vanderbilt in passing yards (8,697) and touchdown passes (59) and total offense (9,953 yards).

Not bad for a player whose scholarship offer from Illinois was withdrawn, leaving Cutler to fight his way through an 11-35 career with a Vanderbilt program that was overmatched at every position but quarterback. Cutler still keeps his offseason home in Nashville, close to Vanderbilt, and he got a little emotional while addressing the crowd at his Hall of Fame induction there.

“It snuck up on me a little bit,” he said. “I have such fond memories here and have been surrounded by so many people at this university and within this organization.”

A former Vanderbilt teammate, wide receiver Brandon Smith, said Cutler would step into the huddle at the roughest moments and say “It’s time to play, I’m going to be your leader, that’s what I’m here for, trust me.”

A little bit of that would go a long way with the Dolphins now.

[Any legend you hear about Vince Wilfork is probably true]

[Lamar Jackson bucking tons of Heisman history in trying to win second trophy]

[No second-guessing Adam Gase on Jay Ajayi’s training-camp concussion]

Cutler didn’t win any championships at Vanderbilt but his final play there was just as dramatic as the way he wrapped up his high school career in Indiana.

With the last pass of his college career, a 5-yard touchdown to Earl Bennett with 1:11 to play, Cutler gave Vanderbilt its first victory over Tennessee in 23 years.

Not quite a fairy tale, not with a 4-27 record in every other game Cutler played against SEC competition, but a foundation. The guy just keeps coming, and there are at least two places in America where people believe he always will.

Any story you hear about Vince Wilfork is probably true, all the way back to Santaluces High School

There’s nobody like Vince Wilfork, the Pro Bowl nose tackle who got his start at Santaluces High School in Lantana and also starred at the University of Miami.

This week he announced his retirement from the NFL with a hilarious video tweet that doubled as a commercial for Kingsford charcoal. Vince, 35, is shown hanging up his cleats and grabbing a pair of  tongs from the same locker to head out into the parking lot and grill up some meat. In his overalls.

Former Houston Texans nose tackle Vince Wilfork waits between plays in the second half of an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015 (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Any story you hear about the guy is probably true.

He has weighed 300 pounds and more since his sophomore season at Santaluces, at least, yet his quickness confounded blockers through 13 NFL seasons with the New England Patriots and the Houston Texans and one national title season at Miami.

Bill Belichick paid an incredible tribute to Wilfork when the retirement news broke, calling him “a special, special, special player.” Wow. Three superlatives in a row. Maybe Belichick will reel off four “specials” when Tom Brady hangs it up one day, but that’s all.

I looked back to find some of the Post’s old articles about Vince. There’s one recounting the time that Wilfork, a 350-pound Miami freshman, lined up outside to cover D.J. Williams on a pass route. They were just having fun at a bowl practice, and with the blessing of UM coaches, but instead of getting blown away on a streak up the sidelines, Vince stayed close enough to the speedy receiver to knock away Ken Dorsey’s pass.

“A lot of people are ashamed of their weight,” Vince said in that 2001 article. “I’m not. Dudes line up across from me think I’m sorry, that I’m a big load. Right off the bat, they’re thinking I’m slow. But I fool them. After that first play, they know I’m real.”

Vince left Miami after his junior season and was drafted in the first round, 21st overall, by New England. He won a couple of Super Bowls with the Patriots and in 2009 was voted onto the franchise’s 50th anniversary team. Yeah, he was for real.

[Lamar Jackson would have to knock down a lot of Heisman history to win it again]

[Crazy waves of schools adding football shows future is still strong for sport]

[No second-guessing Adam Gase on Jay Ajayi’s training-camp concussion]

Here’s one of the old Santaluces nuggets I came across, though, from a time before everyone knew his name.

At the 2000 Florida High School Athletic Association meet in Gainesville, Vince won state titles in the shot put and discus throw in 4A, the highest classification of member schools.

Santaluces finished ninth in the team competition with 23 points and Vince accounted for 20 of those. Now that’s throwing your weight around, and making everybody else duck.

 

 

Lamar Jackson would have to knock down a whole lot of Heisman history to win his second trophy

Is there any reason why former Boynton Beach High School star Lamar Jackson can’t win his second consecutive Heisman Trophy in 2017?

Well, actually, I can think of about 13.

Louisville’s Lamar Jackson poses with the Heisman Trophy after winning the Heisman Trophy award, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

That’s how many Heisman winners returned to school to try to win it again but came up short. We’re not talking about juniors who left early to play pro ball, just underclassmen who had another crack at it.

Billy Sims of Oklahoma came the closest. He finished second to Charles White in the 1979 Heisman voting after winning the trophy in 1978.

Here’s the list, with the years each guy won it and where he finished in the voting thereafter.

 

Doc Blanchard (Jr.) 1945 – 5th in 1946

Doak Walker (Jr.) 1948 – 3rd in 1949

Vic Janowicz (Jr.) 1950 – Not a finalist in 1951

Roger Staubach (Jr.) 1963 – Not a finalist in 1964

Billy Sims (Jr.) 1978 – 2nd in 1979

Ty Detmer (Jr.) 1990 – 3rd in 1991

Jason White (Jr.) 2003 – 3rd in 2004

Matt Leinart (Jr.) 2004 – 3rd in 2005

Tim Tebow (So.) 2007 – 3rd in 2008, 5th in 2009

Sam Bradford (So.) 2008 – Not a finalist in 2009, left early

Mark Ingram (So.) 2009 – Not a finalist in 2010, left early

Johnny Manziel (Fr.) 2012 – 5th in 2013, left early

Jameis Winston (Fr.) 2013 – 6th in 2014, left early

 

Now, of course, injuries got in the way with some of these guys. Other times, especially in recent years, Heisman winners like Bradford and Winston and Manziel gave up a couple of years of college eligibility to enter the NFL draft early. Always, voters are looking for a new name to follow, a new legend to write, and that also plays into this.

There are some great names, too, who won the Heisman as juniors and didn’t return to school, superstars like Herschel Walker and Barry Sanders and Cam Newton.

Frankly, it always amazes me that Griffin won a couple. His senior year was nowhere close to the dominance of his first Heisman season.

His touchdowns went down from 12 in 1974 to four during his senior season of 1975. His rushing average dropped from 6.6 yards per carry to 5.5. His rushing total also slipped slightly from 1,695 to 1,450.

These are super numbers, but Chuck Muncie, Ricky Bell and Tony Dorsett all outgained Griffin on the ground in 1975. They all rushed for 13 touchdowns, too.

Overall, Jackson and Louisville will have to improve on last year’s 9-4 record if he’s going to have a chance at a second Heisman. He’ll have to beat Florida State and defending national champion Clemson and keep going from there. That’s asking as much as anyone ever has of a returning Heisman winner.

Tebow had some advice for Jackson at last year’s Heisman ceremony, and he shared it recently with the Sporting News.

“Know going into the season it’s going to be harder,” Tebow said. “The other teams; they don’t care if the other guys get the big plays. Their game plan will be to stop you and shut you down. Focus on getting your teammates involved, and that’s also going to help you. It can’t be on the numbers, it’s got to be on, ‘Did I do my job every single play?'”

[Crazy wave of schools adding football proves game still in good shape]

[Snakes mixed with Dolphins at team’s first training camp in 1966]
[NBA checking to see if Jupiter man is league’s oldest former player]

Good luck to Lamar. He has the maturity to process that information and the courage to accept the challenge. The temptation is to chase stats, and that really isn’t the fault of players. Heisman voters and ESPN talking heads and dopey newspaper columnists lean on those flashy touchdown numbers way too much.