DALLAS (Oct. 18, 2023) – The semifinalists for the seventh 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 ACC led the way with five selections, while the Big Ten had four. The SEC and Big 12 had three each, while the PAC 12 had two. The American Athletic and MAC each had one semifinalist, as did independent Notre Dame.
The full list of semifinalists includes: DeWayne Carter (Duke), Matthew Cindric (California), Brian Dooley (Eastern Michigan), Jordan Travis (Florida State), Dylan Leonard (Georgia Tech), Jack Freeman (Houston), Isaiah Williams (Illinois), J.J. Weaver (Kentucky), Josh Williams (LSU), Blake Corum (Michigan), Xavier McDonald (Navy), Joe Shimko (North Carolina State), Sam Hartman (Notre Dame), Cade Stover (Ohio State), Caleb Williams (Southern Cal), Joe Milton III (Tennessee), Tony Bradford, Jr. (Texas Tech), Mike Hollins (Virginia), Zach Frazier (West Virginia) and Chimere Dike (Wisconsin). Three finalists will be named for the award on Wednesday, December 13.
The winner will be announced at the award ceremony in Frisco, Texas, on February 15, 2024.
Last year, Deslin Alexandre of Pittsburgh won the sixth annual award. The first five Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year awards were presented to Shaquem Griffin of UCF in 2017, D’Cota Dixon of Wisconsin in 2018, Trey Smith of Tennessee in 2019, Sam Ehlinger of Texas in 2020 and Joshua Paschal of Kentucky in 2021.
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, 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 an honor to announce the semifinalists for the Collegiate Man of the Year,” said Witten. “This fantastic group of twenty young men are great student-athletes and perfect examples of what makes college football so great. They have demonstrated exceptional character and leadership, often while facing large challenges. They are great representatives for their schools and 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 16 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.
2023 JASON WITTEN COLLEGIATE MAN OF THE YEAR SEMIFINALISTS
DeWayne Carter, Duke (Sr., DT) – The first three-time team captain in program history has earned the nickname ‘Mr. Duke’ because he embodies everything a student-athlete at Duke should be. He is respected by his teammates and coaches as well as his professors, university peers and the local community. On the field, Carter is a two-time All-ACC selection and a 2022 All-American. But he doesn’t just lead on the football field, he is a two-time Academic All-ACC recipient and a National Football Foundation Hampshire Honor Society honoree. Additionally, Carter was named a 2023 Campbell Trophy semifinalist, a 2022 AFCA Good Works Team Member, a 2022 Arthur Ashe Jr. Sprots Scholars finalist and serves on the executive board for Duke’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, United Black Athletes and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. In what free time he does have, Carter is a tutor for KIPP Durham College Prep and DPS Ignite and makes numerous visits per month to Glenn Elementary School and Duke Children’s Hospital. During the social justice movement, Carter realized his passion for education and made the decision to pursue a teaching career after his football playing days are over.
Matthew Cindric, California (Sr., OL) – A two-time national semifinalist for the prestigious Campbell Trophy, also known as the “Academic Heisman”, and a member of the 2023 AFCA Allstate Good Works Team, Cindric has been a starter on the Golden Bears’ offensive line for five years. He picked up Cal’s Frank Schlessinger Coaches Award in 2019 and 2021 for his outstanding athletic ability and academic success, earned his bachelor’s in business administration in May of 2022 and is currently in his second year of pursuing a master’s in education. He is a three-time member of the Pac-12 Academic Honor Roll, the co-founder of the Golden Buddies Football Clinic pairing disabled youth with those of regular abilities, and the president of the Cal chapter of Athletes in Action, which organized a community service trip to Croatia. Cindric also served as student director of Cal’s Haas School of Business Student-Athlete Mentorship Program that helps student-athletes through the rigorous process of application to the prestigious business school.
Brian Dooley, Eastern Michigan (Sr., OL) – A two-time captain for the Eagles, Dooley is also two-time All-MAC honoree who has started 53 games and played in 55 in his career, just three shy of the school record in each category. His dedication to the community is impressive, having participated in a mission trip to Guatemala and regularly volunteering in schools near campus. But perhaps his most selfless act came last Fall when he gave his full-ride scholarship to fellow lineman Zach Conti, who was working construction and donating plasma to try and pay for tuition.
Jordan Travis, Florida State (Sr., QB) – Travis holds FSU career records for touchdown responsibility, rushing yards by a quarterback and rushing TDs by a quarterback, and he is the captain and leader of the undefeated Seminole offense. He was a second-team All-ACC selection a year ago, when he also earned his bachelor’s degree. A story of perseverance, Travis nearly quit football before transferring to FSU and waiting nearly an entire season for playing time, then overcoming health issues to help lead the Seminoles back to prominence. He has been active in the community, frequently donating NIL funds to causes like KidsCancerFoundation and Hurricane Ian relief.
Dylan Leonard, Georgia Tech (Sr., TE) – A former walk-on, Leonard impressed Georgia Tech coaches enough as a freshman that he found his way onto the field and into a scholarship role. The recipient of the prestigious ACC Postgraduate Scholarship, he is a Campbell Trophy semifinalist and four-time member of the ACC Academic Honor Roll. Having already earned his degree, Leonard is pursuing a master’s in analytics. He is a regular visitor to Children’s Hospital of Atlanta, where he befriended a young cancer patient.
Jack Freeman, Houston (Sr., C) – Freeman has been a mainstay both on and off the field, helping lead the Cougars to 23 victories since the start of the 2021 season, and he has made 31 career starts since joining the program in 2018. Freeman earned his degree in Bachelor of Science, Fitness & Sports during fall 2022, having previously earned a spot on the American Athletic Conference’s All-Academic Team. In his free time, has been active in the community including engaging with his hometown Midlothian Youth Football League as part of his passion to empower students to pursue dreams with confidence.
Isaiah Williams, Illinois (Jr., WR) – A member of the Wuerffel Trophy Watch List and semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy, Williams is a two-time Academic All-Big Ten and a two-time captain of the Illini. A 2022 All-Big ten honorable mention selection, he has already earned an undergraduate degree and is working toward his master’s in strategic brand communication. Williams took a mission trip to Africa with three teammates this past Summer, and he was voted to the board of EMPOWER (Illinois’ diversity and inclusion group for student-athletes). He has been credited as one of the players to shift the culture of Illinois football, and he works a mentor to young people, including serving as a coach in a local youth flag football league.
J.J. Weaver, Kentucky (Sr., LB) – Weaver is a standout linebacker for the Cats and a member of the Wuerffel Trophy, Bednarik Award and Reese’s Senior Bowl Watch Lists. Elected as a captain in two straight seasons by his teammates, Weaver overcame a torn ACL as a freshman then the sudden loss of both his father and his beloved high school coach a year later. His strong will to return established him as a leader, and he has become an advocate for mental health and grief counseling. He has established a foundation that has organized a bike drive and a back-to-school event in his hometown of Louisville. This Fall, he launched a peer-led, first-of-its-kind grief counseling group on UK’s campus.
Josh Williams, LSU (Sr., RB) – A former walk-on who rose all the way through the program to earn LSU’s offensive player of the year award last season, Williams’s legendary work ethic has made him an unquestioned leader in the Tigers locker room. Graduating with a 3.4 GPA, Williams is a three-time member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll. He spent time learning abroad in Senegal and is a volunteer at the Baton Rouge Food Bank. His story as a former scout team player who is now a starter in the SEC is an inspiration to many who are told they are too small or slow to play college football.
Blake Corum, Michigan (Sr., RB) — Corum is one of the most decorated players in college football, and the top contributor to Michigan’s high-powered rushing attack. Though he’s a force on the field, where he was a unanimous All-American choice in 2022 and where has scored more than 40 rushing TDs in his storied career, his generous spirit has made him even more impactful in the community. Corum has dedicated countless hours to feeding, clothing, educating, and providing opportunities for folks in nearby Ypsilanti and Detroit, Michigan, the local Ann Arbor community, and near his home in Virginia. Using NIL earnings, he has given away over 600 Thanksgiving meals, provided Christmas toys and school supplies to those without, and cherished his opportunity to be a role model to children as a coach and educator through speeches and spending time reading to kids. He has famously made “Football is my passion, but giving back is my purpose” his mantra.
Xavier McDonald, United States Naval Academy (Sr., DB) – Xavier McDonald overcame an enormously challenging childhood to become a high achiever in both academics and athletics in high school, while working 30 to 35 hours a week and taking care of four younger siblings. McDonald took on that heavy responsibility as a freshman in high school after both his parents were incarcerated simultaneously. To help support himself and his siblings, McDonald got a job as a cashier at Winn-Dixie. Despite the dire situation, McDonald made it to the United States Naval Academy where he is an operations major. He has played in 27 games in his career at Navy, including every game this season, while also completing over 50 hours of community service over the last year.
Joe Shmiko, North Carolina State (Sr., LS) – Shmiko, who has the most game experience of any player on the Wolfpack squad, has made an impact that extends beyond the game. A 2022 cum laude graduate of NC State, he has consistently made a positive difference in various communities, not just in the city of Raleigh, but in his hometown of Belmar, N.J. His philanthropic efforts include working with Gigi’s Playhouse in Raleigh, a Down’s Syndrome Achievement Center. Shimko has also raised money for the Vin Gopal Civic Association and the Monmouth Ocean Children’s Foundation. He has been NC State’s long snapper for an impressive 55 games and has never had a bad snap in more than 540 career snaps.
Sam Hartman, Notre Dame (Sr., QB) – Hartman leads all FBS quarterbacks in career touchdowns and passing yardage, becoming just the ninth QB in college football history to throw for more than 13,000 yards and 120 TDs. He was named a captain in his first season with the Irish after helping Wake Forest to their program-record seventh-straight bowl berth last year. Hartman has overcome many challenges in his life to achieve the great things he has done on the field, including a diagnosis of Paget-Schroetter Syndrome, which caused him to have one of his ribs removed, as well as the loss of his adopted brother to suicide. Hartman has become an advocate for mental health, speaking openly about his own challenges.
Cade Stover, Ohio State (Sr., TE) – On the cusp of becoming just the third tight end in school history to reach 1,000 receiving yards, Stover is a two-time team captain for the undefeated Buckeyes. Recognized as a leader who steps up to do the hard tasks no one else wants to take on, Stover has made no less than three position changes in his career, eventually settling in as a full-time tight end, where he was initially relied on only as a blocker before eventually becoming a receiving threat. Off the field, Stover prepares meals for the MidOhio Food Bank and regularly visits classrooms to read to children.
Caleb Williams, Southern California (Jr., QB) – The reigning Heisman Trophy Winner, Williams is a record-setting unanimous first-team All-American. His achievements on the field are nearly too many to mention, but Williams is no less of a star off the field, where he demonstrates a passion for serving others through the Caleb Cares Foundation, which he started to advocate for mental health awareness, anti-bullying and youth development. He was selected to the 2022 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team for his work in the community, and he is trailblazer in the NIL era, as he works to include his teammates in the many partnerships brought his way by being the most recognized player in the sport.
Joe Milton III, Tennessee (Sr., QB) — Despite season-altering injuries at Michigan and Tennessee during his first season as a starter at both programs, Milton used that adversity to continue to grow as a player and a leader. After losing the starting job due to injury two seasons ago, Milton chose to stay at Tennessee and is now the undisputed leader of Tennessee’s explosive offense. The MVP of last season’s Orange Bowl win over Clemson, Milton overcame many hardships in his childhood, including the passing of his baby sister to become a father figure to his younger sisters and one of the most recognized figures in the Knoxville community. He has built a strong bond with his teammates, which has included involving them in some of his NIL partnerships, and he regularly visits the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital and local elementary schools.
Tony Bradford, Jr., Texas Tech (Sr., DL) – A four-year starter at Texas Tech, Bradford is a two-time All-Big 12 honorable mention honoree who ranks third has registered 27.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks in his outstanding career. Nicknamed “The Mayor” for his consistent presence in the West Texas community, he was named to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team last season. He was in fact named “honorary mayor” of Lubbock by the city’s actual mayor last year, and he is a longtime member of the Texas Tech Student-Advisory Committee. He was previously selected as one of two Big 12 representatives on the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee Student-Athlete Connection Group, and the aspiring police chief has served as a campus security guard for the Texas Tech Police Department the last three years.
Mike Hollins, Virginia (Sr., RB) – As a victim of the tragic shooting that took place at UVA in November of 2022, where Hollins lost three of his teammates while they were returning from a school field trip, his battle to come back to the field has inspired his teammates, the University and the community for his strength, determination and will. After being shot in the back while trying to help his teammates, Hollins was in critical condition, but has since completed an amazing journey back to the playing field. He now participates in visits to the UVA Children’s Hospital and other team community service opportunities, and he was a member of the 2022 ACC Honor Roll.
Zach Frazier, West Virginia (Jr., DB) – The 2023 preseason All-American has already earned a spot on three previous All-America teams over his outstanding career and is widely regarded as one of the top centers in the country. Over his four years at WVU, Frazier has registered more than 170 knockdowns, but his leadership among teammates and in the community is even more impressive. A West Virginia native, Frazier takes the responsibility of playing for his home state very seriously, and he regularly volunteers his time in the Morgantown community and is an active member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Recently married, Frazier is a two-time Academic All-Big 12 selection and a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy for his academic achievement.
Chimere Dike, Wisconsin (Sr., WR) – Averaging more than 18 yards per reception so far during his senior season, Dike is building off a 2022 campaign that saw him selected as honorable mention All-Big Ten. A team captain this season, as voted by his teammates, Dike is widely regarded as one of the conference’s top receivers. Off the field, Dike is a two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree and also made efforts to make an impact in his community. After his close childhood friend passed away from a heart condition in high school, Dike started a football camp in his hometown to honor his friend and raise funds and awareness for sudden cardiac arrest and its relation to young athletes. Through his youth camps, Dike has made a deep connection to the community in Wisconsin and connected his teammates to kids with big dreams and a passion for sports.