Award To Honor Exemplary Leadership By A College Player
DALLAS (Nov. 17, 2020) – The semifinalists for the fourth annual Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year were announced today, a group that includes 20 of the nation’s top leaders in college football.
Compiled by a subset of the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Selection Committee, the semifinalists have all demonstrated a record of leadership by exhibiting exceptional courage, integrity and sportsmanship both on and off the field.
Seventeen seniors and three juniors make up the list. Among conferences, the SEC led the way with six selections, while the Pac 12 and ACC had three each. The Big Ten and Big 12 each had two semifinalists, while the American Athletic Conference, MAC and Mountain West each had one selection. There is also one semifinalist from an FBS Independent program.
The full list of semifinalists includes: Najee Harris (Alabama), Amadeo West (Army), Elijah Hicks (California), Michael Carter II (Duke), Harry Crider (Indiana), Skylar Thompson (Kansas State), Joshua Paschal (Kentucky), Adam Shibley (Michigan), Nick Bolton (Missouri), Cameron Kinley (Navy), Lawson Hall (Nevada), Daelin Hayes (Notre Dame), Spencer Eason-Riddle (South Carolina), Talanoa Hufanga (Southern California), Kingsley Jonathan (Syracuse), Sam Ehlinger (Texas), Kellen Mond (Texas A&M), Andre Mintze (Vanderbilt), Elijah Molden (Washington) and Mike Caliendo (Western Michigan).
Three finalists will be named for the award on Wednesday, December 16. The winner will be announced at the award ceremony on February 16, 2021.
Last year, Tennessee’s Trey Smith won the award. The first two Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year awards were presented to Shaquem Griffin of UCF in 2017 and D’Cota Dixon of Wisconsin in 2018.
The award, presented by Albertsons and Tom Thumb, is the first college football honor to focus primarily on a player’s leadership, both on and off the field. Leadership is a term synonymous with Jason Witten, who, in addition to becoming one of the best tight ends in the history of the sport, has served as one of football’s most prominent role models during his 16-year pro career. In addition to winning the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award in 2012, Witten also received the Bart Starr Award, Pro Football Weekly’s Humanitarian of the Year Award, Home Depot NFL Neighborhood MVP and the Bob Lilly Award, among many others. All of those honors have recognized his work in the community, achievements on the field and dedication to his teammates and family.
“It’s my honor to announce this impressive group of student-athletes as semifinalists for the fourth annual Collegiate Man of the Year,” said Witten. “With all of the challenges this year has given us, these young men are shining examples of what makes college football great. They have demonstrated exceptional character and leadership, often while facing large challenges. They are great representatives for the game of football, and I commend all nominees for getting to this point.”
The winner of the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year will also receive a $10,000 contribution in his name to his school’s athletic scholarship fund. The contribution will be made by Jason Witten’s SCORE Foundation, the official charity of Jason and his wife Michelle. The SCORE Foundation, founded in 2007, has positively impacted tens of thousands of children and families in Texas and Tennessee over the last 13 years. The foundation operates its nationally-recognized SCOREkeepers program, which places trained male mentors on staff to work with children at family violence shelters, at nine shelters in the two states.
2020 JASON WITTEN COLLEGIATE MAN OF THE YEAR SEMIFINALISTS
Najee Harris, Alabama (Sr., RB) – One of the nation’s top running backs, Harris has accumulated 3,091 career rushing yards. He has overcome a challenging childhood in which he faced homelessness to become a vocal leader during the Alabama team’s social justice movement and one of the main voices for his university’s push towards a more unified campus. He has also been an active member in the Tuscaloosa community, recording nearly 50 hours of community service, highlighted by his volunteer efforts with the Alberta Head Start Unity Project.
Amadeo West, Army (Sr., DL) – A starter on Army’s defensive line, West has overcome three season-ending injuries during his career and every time he’s come back stronger than before. His head coach Jeff Monken has called West the best leader he has ever been around in his 32-year coaching career. By setting the example of overcoming repeated adversity, as well as serving as company commander for Army West Point’s first-ever football company, he has become one of the top leaders in an Academy full of them. As the Diversity and Inclusive Officer for his company, he also took a lead role in the effort to create social change at the Academy.
Elijah Hicks, California (Sr., S) – The heralded starting safety for Cal, Hicks has established himself as a leader by example for the Golden Bears. Overcoming a childhood in which he battled food insecurity, Hicks used his experiences as motivation to found his own non-profit, the Intercept Poverty Foundation. His foundation helped to raise more than $60,000 for families affected by COVID-19., and he currently has a 3.29 GPA.
Michael Carter II, Duke (Sr., S) – A preseason All-ACC selection at safety and a team captain for the Blue Devils, Carter is a nominee for the William V. Campbell Trophy, recognizing the nation’s best football scholar-athlete. While on course to graduate this May, he maintains a 3.37 GPA as a public policy major while working towards a markets and management certificate. Carter also helps to coordinate volunteering opportunities with the Durham chapter of Habitat for Humanity.
Harry Crider, Indiana (Sr., C) – A member of the watch list for the 2020 Rimington Trophy, given to the nation’s top center, Crider is a team captain and a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar. Sporting a 3.9 GPA in Indiana’s criminal justice program, Crider sets a great example in the classroom as well as in the community, where he helps raise money and awareness for the fight against diabetes, a condition he was diagnosed with as a child.
Skylar Thompson, Kansas State (Sr., QB) – Despite suffering a season-ending injury in October, Thompson has firmly established himself as the leader of the Wildcats’ football program, becoming the first three-time captain in school history. A member of watch lists for the Maxwell and Manning Awards, given to the nation’s top quarterback, as well as the watch list for the Wuerffel Trophy, given to college football’s most active player in the community. Thompson lost both his mom and his grandfather to cancer within seven months of each other when he was a child, and he has used the experience as motivation to be active in the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program.
Joshua Paschal, Kentucky (Jr., DE) – A two-time captain for the Wildcats, Paschal beat cancer in 2018, after undergoing three surgeries and monthly immunotherapy treatments. He returned to the field last year and started all 13 games, and he is off to his best season yet in 2020. He was elected one of three representatives for UK Football on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and the SEC Football Leadership Council, and he is a member of the Dean’s List and SEC Academic Honor Roll. Paschal lead a peaceful walk for racial and social justice in the city of Lexington, as well as a player demonstration during training camp to raise awareness for those issues.
Adam Shibley, Michigan (Sr., LB) – A two-year letter winner, Shibley is a two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree and has also earned Michigan’s Academic Athletic Achievement Award each year he has been on campus. Through launching his own non-profit organization, TUFF (The Uniform Funding Foundation), Shibley works to advance the lives of youth athletes and fight for social justice by providing uniforms, equipment, and mentorship to underserved sports teams. He also is an active member of the Big Ten Anti-Racism and Anti-Hate Coalition, formed this past summer.
Nick Bolton, Missouri (Jr., LB) – One of the nation’s top linebackers, Bolton was a first-team All-SEC choice last year, as well as a member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll. He grew up aiding his sister who was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and he has taken an active leadership role in the community, helping to lead Mizzou’s march in honor of George Floyd. Bolton is on both the Nagurski and Butkus Award watch lists.
Cameron Kinley, Navy (Sr., CB) – Starting cornerback for the Midshipmen, Kinley was named president of the senior class at the Naval Academy, making him the only FBS player to serve his school in that role. Kinley is also a member of the Midshipmen Black Studies Club, the Midshipmen Diversity Team and he is secretary for the Naval Academy’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Kinley, who is a tri-captain on the football team, plans to be commissioned as a Naval Intelligence Officer.
Lawson Hall, Nevada (Sr., LB) – Selected as a team captain for his senior year, Hall is a three-time Academic All-Mountain West honoree. During the COVID shutdown, he led players through virtual workouts and even organized workouts at local parks with teammates in the Los Angeles area. A vocal leader who is not shy about calling out teammates when needed, Hall has served as a mentor to young athletes in Los Angeles and as a volunteer at the Boys & Girls Club in Reno.
Daelin Hayes, Notre Dame (Sr., DL) – After overcoming a season-ending injury in what would have been his senior season last year, Hayes is in the midst of an impressive fifth-year campaign in which he has led the Irish to become one of the nation’s top teams against the run. Hayes is a 2019-20 ACC Top Six for Service award winner, and he has been actively involved in the Robinson Community Learning Center, an educational initiative that reaches over 8,000 youth in the Greater South Bend area, as well as efforts to promote racial justice.
Spencer Eason-Riddle, South Carolina (Sr., LB) – Fifth-year senior linebacker who overcame a torn ACL late in the 2019 season, Eason-Riddle is the first Gamecock to make the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team. He was named the Male Gamecock Leadership Award winner at the school’s 2020 all-sports gala, and the former walk-on puts in extensive hours each year in volunteer work. Most notably, he has been a regular at both the Dorn VA Medical Center and at the oncology center of the Prisma Health Children’s Hospital.
Talanoa Hufanga, Southern California (Jr., S) – A 2019 All-Pac 12 second team selection at safety, Hufanga has become a leader for the Trojans after growing up on a farm in Oregon and overcoming numerous injuries during his football career. A member of watchlists for the Bednarik, Lott, Thorpe and Nagurski awards, Hufanga was one of two student-athletes on USC’s search committee for a new athletic director in 2019. Off the field, Hufanga regularly purchases food to take to the homeless around South Central Los Angeles, and he spends his time serving at My Friend’s Place, a center for homeless youth in L.A.
Kingsley Jonathan, Syracuse (Sr., DE) – Starting defensive end for the Orangemen, Jonathan is a leader on and off the field at Syracuse. He is one of the ACC’s representatives with voting power on proposed NCAA rule changes and is also one of the student-athlete representatives on the search committee for the next commissioner of the ACC. An All-ACC Academic selection, Jonathan was born in Nigeria and he is the founder of the SAAC Hoodie Drive, which gathers warm clothing for the homeless during winter months.
Sam Ehlinger, Texas (Sr., QB) – Leads all FBS active quarterbacks in career total offense, and is on the watch list for the Maxwell, Unitas, O’Brien and Manning Awards, given to the nation’s top QB. He is on the watch list for the Wuerffel Trophy and has been selected to the AFCA Allstate Good Works Team for his work in the community, including a campaign to raise funds for COVID relief which has netted nearly $200,000. Ehlinger is only the seventh two-time captain in Longhorn history, and he overcame the death of his father at a young age.
Kellen Mond, Texas A&M (Sr., QB) – In his third year as a starter, Mond will finish his A&M career atop nearly every QB category in program history. Mond has been a leader and a role model his entire time as an Aggie, volunteering in local schools, as well as in Boys & Girls Clubs and food banks in San Antonio. He was selected to represent student-athletes, Texas A&M Athletics and members of the student body on Texas A&M President Michael K. Young’s Commission on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Andre Mintze, Vanderbilt (Sr., LB) – A two-time captain, Mintze has taken on a variety of leadership roles within the team and been a starting linebacker for the last two years with the Commodores. Academically, he earned his undergraduate degree in medicine, health and society in December and is pursuing a master’s degree in the same field to help him prepare for life after football. He is also a three-time SEC Academic Honor Roll selection. Mintze was the 2020 Vanderbilt Athletics Godfrey Dillard Courage Award recipient.
Elijah Molden, Washington (Sr., DB) – One of the best defensive backs in the nation, Molden is on watch lists for the Nagurski, Thorpe and Bednarik Awards. He is also a candidate for the William V. Campbell Trophy, given to the nation’s top football scholar athlete. A Pac 12 Academic Honor Roll member, Molden took an active role in the effort for new regulations for Pac 12 student athletes.
Mike Caliendo, Western Michigan (Sr., OG) – A Preseason All-MAC selection who has also been nominated for the Wuerffel Trophy and the AFCA Allstate Good Works Team for his work in the community. Caliendo is also a three-time Academic All-MAC honoree and MAC Distinguished Scholar-Athlete. He is a regular volunteer for Ministry with Community and the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission and YWCA.