Lamar Jackson’s road to Heisman Trophy frontrunner


This past summer, right before the 2016 college football season got underway, the entire world watched in awe as Jamaica’s Usain Bolt once again tore through the competition at the Rio Olympics. It was proven yet another time that when Bolt participates in a race, the rest of the field is rendered helpless as they watch him come away with the most coveted prize in Track and Field, a gold medal.

Little did the college football world know that a typical Bolt race at the 2016 Olympic Games would be the perfect precursor to the dash for the Heisman Trophy. And the person playing the part of Bolt in this instance may have stunned many as well.

Coming into the regular season, few people had Louisville Cardinals sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson pegged as someone who could even make a trip to New York City for the illustrious ceremony. Yet here we are, hours away from the Heisman ceremony. Not only is Jackson enjoying the fruits of the Big Apple, but he’s about to hoist the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore. All due respect to the four other candidates that are in attendance, but it’s been an inevitability for quite some time.

Maybe we should have seen this dominance coming. To end the 2015 campaign, then-freshman Jackson and Louisville took on the SEC’s Texas A&M Aggies in the Music City Bowl, a game in which the Cardinals came away victorious. The somewhat little-known Jackson finished with 227 passing yards on 12-of-26 passing. But his most jaw-dropping statistic on that December night was his 244 rushing yards with two scores, including this 61-yard scamper.

That night we should have known that this electrifying young man from Boynton Beach, FL – whom many schools didn’t believe could play quarterback at the FBS level – would scorch the college football earth in 2016 en route to the Heisman.

Sans the preseason hype, Jackson seemed to assume he needed to do one thing and one thing only in 2016 — pillage and destroy everything in his path this year.

The Heisman voters weren’t immediately slapped in the face with the notion of Jackson being a runaway frontrunner for the most prestigious prize in all of college football. He and his Louisville squad opened up the year with a non-conference win over Charlotte, and then followed that up with a Friday night drubbing of Syracuse on ESPN in which the sophomore threw for 411 yards and ran for 199 inside the Carrier Dome. Following the latter win, Jackson was firmly cemented in the Heisman discussion as someone who could contend, having scored 13 touchdowns total.

Then, September 17 happened.

In the third week of the season, Jackson and his Cardinals would take on the No. 2-ranked Florida State Seminoles at home, a team that many believed boasted one of the best defenses in the nation. On the national stage of ABC, Jackson skyrocketed to the top of the Heisman list for 2016 as Louisville stunned the Seminoles, 63-20. Jackson went off, amassing four rushing touchdowns while throwing for another. It was a dominant performance from a surging athlete.

Following that win over Florida State, Jackson was indeed the leader of the race, but there was a key point that pundits and fans alike kept pointing to – it was still September.

With all eyes on him now, Jackson destroyed the notion of him becoming the latest case of too much September hype. He put on another mesmerizing performance against one of the best teams in the nation. Jackson and Louisville went on the road to Death Valley to take on the Clemson Tigers, and while the first half wasn’t his best showing, he nearly willed his team to the win in the second half. In a 42-36 loss, the Cardinals quarterback finished the game with 295 passing yards, 162 rushing yards and accounted for three touchdowns.

Jackson was sitting comfortably on the iron throne inside the King’s Landing that was the 2016 Heisman Trophy race. Preseason frontrunner names such as LSU running back Leonard Fournette, Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett and a few others could do nothing but read the “Jackson” on the back of his No. 8 jersey as he sprinted away with the bronze statue – much like Olympic sprinters could do nothing but gaze at the back of Bolt’s tank top.

Over his last seven games, Jackson threw for more than 300 yards twice and ran for better than 150 yards three times.  To further showcase his dominance, Jackson finished the year with 30 passing touchdowns and 21 scores on the ground.

Lamar Jackson gave us one of the more memorable Heisman years in quite some time. On his road to clear-cut, dominant Heisman frontrunner, Jackson was fun. Normally a Heisman race with little drama would be a snooze, but not in 2016. It was pure joy to see what Jackson would do next. His one-man show is one of the greatest individual performances for a season that we have ever been privileged enough to take in.

On Saturday night, his title will rightfully make the shift from Heisman frontrunner to Heisman winner, forever etched in history as one of the greats.