Heinicke, Robertson Collect Coveted National Awards
PHILADELPHIA – It was a spirited evening at The Sports Network’s FCS Awards Banquet on Monday in Philadelphia, where Old Dominion’s Taylor Heinicke took home the Walter Payton National Player of the Award and Villanova’s John Robertson received the Jerry Rice Freshman of the Year Award from Rice himself to keep the honor in the CAA Football family for the second-consecutive year.
Former Villanova great and 1997 Walter Payton Award Winner Brian Finneran was on hand to present this year’s honor to Heinicke, while Wildcats head coach Andy Talley was in attendance to present the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award to North Dakota State’s Craig Bohl.
Payton National Player of the Year Award – Taylor Heinicke, Old Dominion
The second sophomore to win the Walter Payton Award says his team's season was all about the seniors.
Taylor Heinicke says the seniors were there first when Old Dominion's fourth-
year football program was being built to a high level of success.
The Monarchs didn't jump to their highest level, though, until Heinicke became the starting quarterback in the last season and a half, and many other people knew it, including the senior class.
Just as impressed were voters of the 2012 Walter Payton Award, who on Monday night made Heinicke the 26th recipient of the outstanding player honor in the Football Championship Subdivision. He received nearly half of the first-place votes from a national media panel - 72 of 145 - and 531 points to capture the award over Stony Brook senior running back Miguel Maysonet (284 points) and Wofford senior fullback Eric Breitenstein (197).
"People kept working that much harder for the seniors," Heinicke said. "They came here based on a pamphlet and something that could have happened, and it did."
Heinicke didn't have his redshirt lifted as a true freshman until the fifth game of the 2011 season, but he went on to become the runner-up for the Jerry Rice Award, which honors the FCS freshman of the year.
He then soared to greater heights this season. As ODU finished 10-1 in the regular season, the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder from Atlanta led the FCS in passing yards (4,158), total yards (4,535), touchdown passes (35) and points responsible for (24.2 per game). He rushed for 377 yards and eight touchdowns.
Heinicke, a mechanical engineering major, commanded the national spotlight on Sept. 22 when he set Division I single-game records with 730 passing yards and 791 total yards in Old Dominion's 64-61 victory over New Hampshire.
The Monarchs considered themselves the unofficial champion of CAA Football because they posted the best record at 7-1, although they were ineligible for the conference championship because their program will depart for the Bowl Subdivision after this season.
Including ODU's two playoff games, Heinicke finished the season with an FCS- record 5,076 passing yards. He threw for 44 touchdowns, rushed for 11 more and had 5,546 yards of total offense.
"It's huge, very humbling," Heinicke said. "It's the Heisman of the FCS. That's a huge honor, very humbling and I'm very excited about it. I can't thank enough of my family, my coaches, my trainer back home. All this hard work is really paying off."
National Freshman of the Year – John Robertson, Villanova
After a 2-9 campaign in 2011, Villanova needed a spark to return to FCS relevance. At the start of this season, few knew where that spark would come from, and it looked worse after the Wildcats dropped their opening game against Temple.
But in that game, redshirt freshman quarterback John Robertson came off the
bench and played well, which led to him getting the starting nod from coach
Andy Talley moving forward.
The move paid dividends for Villanova and Robertson. On Monday night, he became the second player to win the Jerry Rice Award, which is presented to the outstanding freshman in the Football Championship Subdivision. Robertson received 56 of the 145 first-place votes and 412 points, while Northern Iowa quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen finished second in the voting with 361 points.
"Once I started getting in there and playing again, it reminded me of why I love playing football so much - honestly," Robertson said. "Our whole team had high hopes, we all knew people were coming back, we were just young the year before."
CAA Football has now produced back-to-back Rice winners, as Towson running back Terrance West won the inaugural award last season.
Robertson helped fuel Villanova's turnaround as a dual-threat signal-caller. He started 10 games in the regular season, rushing for 936 yards and 13 touchdowns and passing for 1,830 yards and 14 touchdowns. Add in the FCS playoffs and he finished the season rushing for 1,021 yards and 14 touchdowns and passing for 1,965 yards. The Wildcats had the best turnaround in the FCS regular season - six wins - to go 8-3 and earn a share of the CAA title and the conference's automatic playoff bid.
Robertson joked that it might be too much to ask for him to raise his rushing total every year, and that the key to his running abilities was simple.
"I'm not sure," Robertson said as he laughed. "Kevin's (Monangai) with me back there in the backfield; he needs a lot of carries, too. The coaches always told me if you're going to run, run hard and don't be indecisive."
The Paramus, N.J., native is happy to have an opportunity to play close to home, where his family can see just about every game.
"It's a great honor. Jerry Rice is a great player, so just to have my name put on the award is really special," Robertson said. "I'm really grateful."
The Sports Network’s complete release on this year's honorees can be found at SportsNetwork.com.
CAA Football is on Twitter @CAAFootball and uses the official hashtag #CAAFB. We can also be found on Facebook, Instagram (search “caafootball”) and blogging on our official new Every Day Is Saturday blog at caafootball.wordpress.com. All CAA Football video productions can be found on our YouTube Channel as well.