Award To Honor Exemplary Leadership By A College Player
DALLAS (Dec. 17, 2020) – The three finalists for the fourth annual Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year were announced today. In line for the award, which recognizes exemplary leadership both on and off the field, are Najee Harris of Alabama, Daelin Hayes of Notre Dame and Sam Ehilnger of Texas.
Selected from a group of 20 semifinalists by a subset of the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Board of Directors, the three finalists have all demonstrated an outstanding record of leadership by exhibiting exceptional courage, integrity and sportsmanship. The winner will be announced at the award ceremony on February 18, 2021. This year’s ceremony will be held virtually due to the ongoing COVID pandemic.
“I am proud to announce these three outstanding young men as the finalists for the fourth annual Collegiate Man of the Year,” said Witten. “Najee Harris, Daelin Hayes and Sam Ehlinger have all proven themselves to be great leaders on the field, in the classroom and in the community, and they are perfect examples of what being a student-athlete is all about. It’s always an impossible task to choose just three from all of the great players nominated. There are so many great representatives for college football, and I commend all of the nominees for the tremendous example of leadership they set on and off the field. Particularly this year, with all of the hardships they have all had to face in making the season happen at all.”
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.
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.
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.
The Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year, 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. The inaugural award was presented to UCF’s Shaquem Griffin. Wisconsin’s D’Cota Dixon earned the honor in 2018, and Tennessee’s Trey Smith won the award last year.
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 and the Cowboys’ all-time leading receiver, served as one of football’s most prominent role models during his 17-year pro career. In addition to winning the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award in 2012, Witten has 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.
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 three states. SCORE has also operated a weekend food backpack program for disadvantaged children in North Texas, opened Jason Witten Learning Centers in five different Boys & Girls Clubs and opened the Jason and Michelle Witten Emergency Waiting Room at the Niswonger Children’s Hospital in Johnson City, Tenn.