Alabama football: Heisman Trophy was never more perfect than for Tide's DeVonta Smith
There have been deserving winners of the most famous 25-pound hunk of bronze — think Florida’s Tim Tebow in 2007 and Barry Sanders from Oklahoma State in 1988. Georgia’s Herschel Walker deserved it well before 1982, same with Auburn’s Bo Jackson in 1985.
And there have been curious claimants of the Downtown Athletic Club’s annual award — players like Miami’s Gino Torretta in 1992, Nebraska’s Eric Crouch in 2001 and Notre Dame’s Paul Hornung in 1956 come to mind.
DeVonta Smith? Ever since he first burst on the national stage by being on the receiving end of the most famous 2nd-and-26 in college football history, Smith simultaneously felt destined for the Heisman Memorial Trophy and to play second banana throughout his storied Alabama career.
Smith was always the “other” receiver with the Crimson Tide, from that unforgettable night against Georgia in Atlanta even to Tuesday night. Four years ago, Smith was just another in a long line of talented receivers looking up at Calvin Ridley. Later on, it was Hall in the back seat behind Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy. Even Tuesday night, the Heisman ceremony itself was nearly outshined in Alabama by news that Jaylen Waddle was back at practice after missing 4 months due to a broken ankle.
Through it all, Smith quietly developed an unforgettable spot in Alabama lore. And Tuesday night, he became both the 3rd Heisman Trophy winner in school history and the 1st wide receiver to hoist Mr. Stiff Arm since Michigan’s Desmond Howard did it in 1991.
Tuesday night, finally, Smith both became the unquestioned WR1 in Alabama history and writ his name — indelibly — in Crimson flame.
Nicknamed the “Slim Reaper,” Smith ascended to the pinnacle of college football simply by doing the work. Although Tide quarterback and fellow finalist Mac Jones garnered a lot of Heisman hype in 2020, the 6-1, 175-pound Smith just went about the business of torching defenses week after week. Having decided to forego a shot at going to the NFL after his junior season, Smith set the SEC and Alabama career record for receiving touchdowns with 40, passing the previous mark of 31 held by Alabama’s Amari Cooper (2012-14) and Florida’s Chris Doering (1992-95). And Smith’s 3,750 career receiving yards are the most in school history.
Smith’s 2020 season was undeniably unforgettable all by itself — as he caught 105 passes for 1,641 yards and 20 touchdowns — tied for the most in SEC history. Smith also returned punts whenever teams were foolish enough to kick it at him, tallying 9 returns for 219 yards and an 84-yard touchdown against Arkansas that proved to be his Heisman Moment.
Smith has already collected plenty of awards for his 2020 efforts, ranging from consensus All-American to the Biletnikoff Award to the AP College Football Player of the Year — the only wide receiver to win the honor.
But the Heisman is a completely different piece of hardware.
The Downtown Athletic Club has historically spurned Alabama through the years until running back Mark Ingram broke through in 2009 and Derrick Henry won it in 2015. Ten Alabama players have been finalists, the most players from one program since the award presentation began inviting finalists in 1982. Oklahoma with 11 has more appearances as Heisman finalists than Alabama, but the Sooners have had players who were invited more than once. Alabama’s Heisman finalists have been David Palmer in 1993, Jay Barker in 1994, Ingram in 2009, Trent Richardson in 2011, AJ McCarron in 2013, Amari Cooper in 2014, Henry in 2015, QB Tua Tagovailoa in 2018, and Jones and Smith in 2020.
Notably, too, 100% of Alabama Heisman winners have also helped lead the Tide to a national championship. Ingram and Alabama downed Texas in the 2009 BCS title game in the Rose Bowl, and Henry helped the Tide to the 2015 CFP title in Arizona. It is now on Smith to carry that torch Monday against Ohio State.
From a tiny town like Amite City, La., (population 4,141) to the top of the college football world (population 80), Smith never forgot where he came from even as he stands as tall as he likely ever will.
“To come from a small place like Amite, you have to work every day, day in and day out,” Smith said after hoisting the Heisman for the first time. “Nobody else might believe in you, but you have to believe in yourself.”
“With team success comes individual success, and without my teammates, I wouldn’t be where I am today. And to all the kids who aren’t the biggest or the strongest, you can do it. Just keep pushing. I’m not the biggest or the strongest, and never have been. If you put your mind to it and believe in God, you can get to wherever you want to be.”
It is said that winning the Heisman Trophy becomes the first line of your eventual obituary. That’s a strange tag to hang on a 22-year-old, but that’s what the Heisman means.
Surrounded by teammates and with a tiny town’s worth of family and friends socially distanced behind him Tuesday night, DeVonta Smith finally was recognized the Most Outstanding Player in College Football.
A Heisman moment? Absolutely. A Heisman-worthy winner? Without question.