Award To Honor Exemplary Leadership By A College Player
DALLAS (Nov. 16, 2022) – The semifinalists for the sixth 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.
Sixteen seniors and four juniors make up the list. Among conferences, the Big Ten led the way with six selections, while the ACC had five. The SEC and Pac-12 had three each. The American Athletic had two semifinalists and the Big 12 had one selection.
The full list of semifinalists includes: Derick Hall (Auburn), Matthew Cindric (California), DeWayne Carter (Duke), Holton Ahlers (East Carolina), Dillon Gibbons (Florida State), Tailon Leitzsey (Illinois), Kaevon Merriweather (Iowa), Blake Corum (Michigan), Tanner Morgan (Minnesota), Austin Williams (Mississippi State), Xavier McDonald (Navy), Isaiah Moore (North Carolina State), Kamryn Babb (Ohio State), Brendon Evers (Oklahoma State), Alex Forsyth (Oregon), Sean Clifford (Penn State), Deslin Alexandre (Pittsburgh), Hendon Hooker (Tennessee), Sam Hartman (Wake Forest) and Edefuan Ulofoshio (Washington).
Three finalists will be named for the award on Wednesday, December 14. The winner will be announced at the award ceremony in Frisco, Texas, on February 23, 2023.
Last year, Joshua Paschal of Kentucky won the fifth annual award. The first four 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 and Sam Ehlinger of Texas in 2020.
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 always an honor to announce the semifinalists for the Collegiate Man of the Year,” said Witten. “But this year’s group is especially impressive. These twenty young men are fantastic 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 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 15 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.
2022 JASON WITTEN COLLEGIATE MAN OF THE YEAR SEMIFINALISTS
Holton Ahlers, East Carolina (Sr., QB) – Only four-time full-season captain in the history of East Carolina football, Ahlers has started 47 of 52 career games running the Pirates offense. He owns five East Carolina career records and also owns five American Athletic Conference career records including completions, pass attempts, passing yards, total yards and total plays. This season he has engineered a Pirate offense that has racked up 400 yards or more total offense eight times and topping 500-plus on three occasions. He is a four-time AAC All-Academic Team and seven-time ECU Director of Athletics Honor Roll selection. Ahlers graduated last December of 2021 with a bachelor’s in communication and is currently working towards a second degree in business entrepreneurship.
Deslin Alexandre, Pittsburgh (Sr., DE) – Alexandre has highly distinguished himself on and off the field at the University of Pittsburgh. He is a two-time captain and three-year starter for the Panthers’ nationally ranked defense. In the classroom, Alexandre is a perennial Honor Roll student pursuing an MBA in Pitt’s Katz Graduate School of Business. In the community, Alexandre sets the pace for Pitt’s entire athletic department, passionately dedicating time to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, literacy promotion and Divine Mercy Parish’s historic “Red Door” program that provides meals and clothing for the homeless. Using his NIL opportunities for the greater good, he recently launched the “5th Down Campaign” to build awareness and mobilize resources for the impoverished children of Haiti, where he was born.
Kamryn Babb, Ohio State (Sr., WR) – Kam Babb is a universally recognized team leader for the second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. A two-time captain, his impact has been felt off the field as this Fall he was awarded the Block “O” jersey, which goes annually to the player who best personifies the qualities of the Ohio State great Buckeye, and Pro Football and College Football Hall of Famer, Bill Willis: toughness, accountability and character. While Babb’s time on the field has been limited due to four knee surgeries, his impact off of it has been felt every day. His impact was felt most this past Saturday when he caught his first collegiate pass in Ohio State’s win over Indiana: an 8-yard touchdown pass. In addition to being a captain, a two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree and three-time OSU Scholar-Athlete, Babb had the honor last Fall of speaking at the investiture of Ohio State University President Kristina M. Johnson. He graduated last December with his degree in communications.
DeWayne Carter, Duke (Jr., DT) – This two-time team captain 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. Carter has 77 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 10.0 sacks, eight quarterback pressures, three fumble recoveries and seven caused fumbles in 35 career games. But he doesn’t just lead on the football field, he was recently named a 2022 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team Member and serves on the 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 national semifinalist for the prestigious Campbell Trophy, also known as the “Academic Heisman,” Cindric has been a starter on the Bears’ offensive line for the last three seasons. He earned Cal’s Frank Schlessinger Coaches Award in 2019 and 2021 for his outstanding athletic ability and academic success, and he earned his bachelor’s in business administration in May and is currently pursuing a master’s in Education. He is a three-time member of the Pac-12 Academic Honor Roll and he is the president 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 rigorous process of application to the prestigious business school.
Sean Clifford, Penn State (Sr., QB) – One of two Penn State players to reach 9,000 yards of total offense and one of three quarterbacks to eclipse 8,000 career passing yards, Clifford is the current all-time leader at Penn State in completion percentage and ranks second at PSU in career passing touchdowns and passing yardage. He is one of only two four-time team captains in the history of Penn State football. He is an active supporter of Big Brothers Big Sisters program, where he serves a mentor. He has also served as Penn State football’s leadership liaison for volunteer activities. In that role, he is responsible for leading the team and encouraging the team’s student-athletes to participate in volunteer activities around the Penn State community and throughout the state of Pennsylvania.
Blake Corum, Michigan (Jr., RB) – Corum is one of the most electric backs in college football, and the top contributor to Michigan’s high-powered rushing attack. Though he’s a force on the field, his generous spirit has made him even more impactful in the surrounding community. Corum loves to work with kids, especially in his hometown of Marshall, Virginia, and in Ypsilanti, Michigan, a neighboring town to the University of Michigan. Corum has made annual traditions out of a Back 2 School backpack giveaway, Thanksgiving turkey (Giving Back 2 Give Thanks) and Christmas/Holiday gift donations, and his BC2 Youth Football camp available to boys and girls near his hometown. The midseason All-American is on pace to break the single-season rushing touchdown record at Michigan (20), and averages more than 150 yards per game in Big Ten play. Blake has donated five figures’ worth of his NIL money each of the last two seasons while earning Academic All-Big Ten and CoSIDA Academic All-District honors in the classroom.
Brendon Evers, Oklahoma State (Sr., DT) – One of nine OSU super seniors on the 2022 roster, Evers is a two-time Academic All-Big 12 honoree. His 53 career games played are the second-most on the roster, and he is OSU’s “Big 12 Champions for Life” representative in 2022 and a Wuerffel Trophy nominee. Evers is using his personal story of success after being adopted as inspiration to help other kids in similar situations. He is actively involved with the Dave Thomas Foundation.
Sam Hartman, Wake Forest (Jr., QB) – Sam Hartman, who was one of eight returning semifinalists for the Maxwell Award from a year ago and one of five returning finalists for the Manning Award, entered the 2022 season with the opportunity to rewrite the Wake Forest and Atlantic Coast Conference record books. He has helped lead the Demon Deacons to their program-record seventh-straight bowl berth and he has overcome many challenges in his life to achieve the great things he has done on the field, in the classroom and in the community. He is a three-time team captain for the Wake Forest football team.
Alex Forsyth, Oregon (Sr., OL) – A fifth-year senior and third-year starter at center for the Ducks, Forsyth endured the tragic loss of his father as a young boy and has used his football career as a way to honor his dad’s legacy. Forsyth has started 26 games for the Ducks, including each of the last 14, and has played more than 1,800 snaps in his career at Oregon. A two-time selection to the watch list for the Rimington Trophy and a two-time all-Pac-12 second team honoree, Forsyth ranks fifth nationally among centers this season with a 87.5 pass-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus. Off the field, Forsyth is working on a Master’s degree after earning his undergraduate degree in advertising. The West Linn, Ore., native has also been very active in the Eugene community, regularly volunteering for projects like the Eugene Mission homeless shelter, Food for Lane County and KidSports.
Dillan Gibbons, Florida State (Sr., OL) – A leader on Florida State’s offensive front, which is one of the nation’s best, Gibbons is a 2021 All-ACC Academic Team and ACC Honor Roll selection. He has been at the forefront of utilizing recent Name, Image and Likeness laws to benefit others with the establishment of his Big Man, Big Heart non-profit foundation. His charitable efforts have extended to other programs in Florida, recruiting ambassadors and using his platform to promote their charitable efforts. He has been recognized by the state legislature and national, regional and local media for being the first to use NIL for the benefit of others.
Derick Hall, Auburn (Sr., Edge) – A three-year starter along the Auburn defensive line and the leader of the Tiger defense, Hall is truly the big man on the Auburn campus. With 143 career tackles, 19.5 sacks and 28.5 TFL, he has made a definite impact on the field, earning SEC defensive lineman of the week four times during his career. His work off the field is even more lasting. Active in campus charity and service efforts, he jumps in wherever he can use his influence to help, whether it’s enlisting students to attend basketball games, providing water to those in need in his home state of Mississippi or donating turkeys, toys and Halloween candy to the families in his hometown of Gulfport, Miss.
Hendon Hooker, Tennessee (Sr., QB) – The unquestioned leader of a Tennessee program that has guided the Big Orange to a complete 180 over the past two seasons since he took over as the starting quarterback. Hooker is a team captain that has the Vols in contention for their first-ever College Football Playoff appearance and is among the national leaders in numerous offensive categories, including passing efficiency, completion percentage and total offense. On top of his superb play on the field, Hooker has been a role model to many young athletes and has used his platform to spread his faith, co-authoring a children’s book with his brother Alston titled, “The ABCs of Scripture for Athletes”. Hooker is on track to earn his master’s degree in agricultural leadership after securing his bachelor’s degree in public relations from Virginia Tech prior to transferring to Tennessee.
Tailon Leitzsey, Illinois (Sr., DB) – Starting his college career at NAIA Missouri Baptist, Leitszey worked tirelessly for the opportunity to play major college football with the Illini. Unable to afford tuition with no athletic scholarship, Leitzsey saved money by living out of his car and working multiple jobs. He earned his spot on the roster as a walk-on and worked his way into a role as a top performer and stalwart for the Illini special teams units over the last two seasons. Along the way, Leitzsey’s hard work and determination were rewarded by head coach Bret Bielema, who awarded him with a scholarship in April of 2021. Since earning his scholarship, Leitzsey has played in 17 of his 18 career games for the Orange and Blue. He has completed his bachelor’s degree and is working toward a master’s in Management. During his time at Illinois, he has given countless hours to community service causes, many of which he helped build from the ground up after identifying a need.
Kaevon Merriweather, Iowa (Sr. DB) – Merriweather will be a four-year letterman during his career, in which he was forced to medical redshirt in his second season due to injury. Recognized by Iowa media in 2021 with the Duke Slater Golden Gavel Award for his cooperation with local media throughout the season, he has been involved in nearly 80 hours of leadership, community engagement and diversity, equity and inclusion programing within Student-Athlete Academic Services (SAAS) Hawkeye Life Program. Merriweather is a leader in Student Services Multicultural Focus Group and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programming, and he was a participant in the B1G Life Series: Selma to Montgomery trip this past July, an immersive and educational experience at the center of the civil rights movement. He has played in 42 career games and has started every game at strong safety in 2022. He has been a member of the team Leadership Council as a junior and senior and is currently tied for team lead with three interceptions. Merriweather will graduate in December with a BS degree in Sport and Recreation Management (Business Studies).
Xavier McDonald, United States Naval Academy (Jr., 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 19 of Navy’s last 21 games and is an assistant tutor for a Thermodynamics class while also completing over 50 hours of community service over the last year.
Isaiah Moore, North Carolina State (Sr., DB) – One of just two three-year captains in school history, Isaiah Moore has led the Wolfpack on and off the field for the past three years. As a fifth-year starter on the Wolfpack’s ACC-leading defense, he’s ranked among the team and conference leaders in tackles throughout his career, but his contributions off the field may be even more impressive. He co-founded PackUnited – a student-athlete led initiative at NC State which denounces racism and social injustice and promotes unity through three pillars of Education, Awareness, and Action. This organization was started following the murder of George Floyd and has continued to grow. He led many positive dialogues between athletes, coaches, admin and other staff, organized an on-campus protest over that summer and created a social justice patch which can be seen on all of NC State’s athletic teams’ uniforms. He also led a drive through this organization to get 100% of NC State’s student-athletes and staff registered to vote. Pack United has raised more than $10,000 to donate to local nonprofits as well.
Tanner Morgan, Minnesota (Sr., QB) – The winningest quarterback in Minnesota history, Morgan has led a revival of Gopher football while experiencing both joy and heartbreak during his collegiate career. Morgan, who is 33-14 as a starting quarterback, lost his father, Ted, to Glioblastoma, which is a form of brain cancer, in July 2021. Morgan, who has earned two degrees at Minnesota, has led Bible studies in college and is always present at community services events like the team’s annual Turkey Drive, Hope Kids events, kid’s camps or hospital visits. Morgan is a member of the team’s Leadership Council and is a three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection. He will be remembered as one of the best quarterbacks in school history, but his legacy will be how he conducted himself and treated people off the field.
Edefuan Ulofoshio, Washington (Sr., LB) – A former walk-on who is now among the Huskies’ best players, Ulofoshio was an All-American in 2021 and a previous member of the Pac-12 Academic Honor Roll. The son of immigrants from war-torn Nigeria, Ulofoshio overcame a speech impediment as a child and limited options as a recruit out of high school to become the unquestioned leader of Washington’s football program.
Austin Williams, Mississippi State (Sr., WR) – A two-time first-team Academic All-American, Williams sports a 4.0 GPA while being the unquestioned leader of the Bulldogs. Currently working on his third degree, Williams served on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic and has volunteered at Batson Children’s Hospital. Nicknamed “Mr. Reliable” by his coaches and teammates. He was chosen as the 2021-22 SEC H. Boyd McWhorter Scholar-Athlete of the Year, the highest honor an SEC athlete can earn in any sport, and he was a semifinalist for the prestigious National Football Foundation William Campbell Trophy in 2021.