NEW YORK (Dec. 4, 2018) – The New York Hilton Midtown’s Grand Ballroom played host to an all-star cast of history’s greatest football legends and the sport’s most promising student-athletes during the 61st National Football Foundation (NFF) Annual Awards Dinner tonight.
A celebrity-laden College Football Hall of Fame class took center stage at the event during their formal induction, and 13 of the game’s current-leading student-athletes collected $241,000 in postgraduate scholarships as NFF National Scholar-Athletes. The festivities began with Clemson’s Christian Wilkins being declared the recipient of the 29th William V. Campbell Trophy® as the top football scholar-athlete in the nation, and the evening culminated with a poignant speech from Hall of Fame inductee Mack Brown responding on behalf of the 2018 class.
A packed house of 1,600, including more than 80 current collegiate head coaches and 40 returning Hall of Famers attended the event, which took place for the second year at the New York Hilton Midtown. ESPN’s Joe Tessitore, the voice of “Monday Night Football,” entertained the crowd as the emcee for the annual celebration, which lived up to its historic role of bringing the college football community together at the end of the regular season to pay tribute to the game and its greatest legends.
The 2018 College Football Hall of Fame Class was introduced by NFF Board Member Archie Griffin, a Hall of Fame running back from Ohio State. The class included Trevor Cobb (Rice), Kerry Collins (Penn State), Dave Dickenson (Montana), Dana Howard (Illinois), Calvin Johnson (Georgia Tech), Paul Palmer (Temple), Ed Reed (Miami [Fla.]), Matt Stinchcomb (Georgia), Aaron Taylor (Nebraska), Charles Woodson (Michigan) and coaches Frank Beamer (Murray State, Virginia Tech), Mack Brown (Appalachian State, Tulane, North Carolina, Texas) and Mel Tjeerdsma (Austin College [Texas], Northwest Missouri State). NFF Chairman and Hall of Fame inductee Archie Manning (Mississippi) conducted the Official Hall of Fame Ring Ceremony.
The 10 players and three coaches bring the total number of players in the Hall of Fame to 997 and the number of coaches to 217. Brown, the former coach and current ESPN broadcaster who won a national championship at Texas and led his teams to 22 bowl games during a remarkable 30-year career at four schools, responded on behalf of the 2018 Class.
“I’m honored to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame,” said Coach Brown. “I’m also very appreciative that I get to speak tonight. First we’d all like to thank our families, because coaches’ and players’ families are really on a rollercoaster. It’s up and down, coaches are gone a lot and you spend a lot more time with other people’s kids sometimes than your own. And our families have been wonderful examples for us, and all of us have great families here with us tonight, so thank you very much…
“Football is the ultimate team sport. It’s not about any of us. It’s about a village. It’s about family. It’s about years of people that have pulled together to make something really, really special…When you ask yourself, ‘Why football?’ When you ask yourself, ‘Does coaching matter?’ And you ask yourself, ‘Does football matter?’ Just look around. Yes it does.”
The 2018 College Football Hall of Fame Class boasted 10 First Team All-Americans, three coaches, one Campbell Trophy® winner, six unanimous First Team All-Americans, seven winners of college football major awards, two coaches with the most wins in a school’s history, one coach with the highest winning percentage in a school’s history and coaches that combined for four national championships.
The 2018 NFF National Scholar-Athlete Class joined the Hall of Famers on stage. Comprised of 13 of the most talented and brightest football players in the nation, each member of the class received an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship and was a finalist for The William V. Campbell Trophy®. Kathy Murphy, NFF vice chairwoman and president of Personal Investing at Fidelity Investments, led the presentation of the awards, while NFF Chairman Emeritus Jon F. Hanson had the honor of presenting the Campbell Trophy® to Clemson defensive lineman Christian Wilkins.
“My name’s going to be on the accomplishment, but awards like this you don’t win on your own,” Wilkins said in accepting the Campbell Trophy®. “It takes a lot of people just pushing you in the right direction and guiding you…I definitely want to thank my family because the odds were against me my whole life. I’m from a broken home with a single mother. This wasn’t supposed to be me up here. It was my mom and other siblings who drove home the value of an education and doing what’s right.”
“Football is such a great game,” Wilkins continued. “It really brings a lot of people together, no matter your upbringing, no matter your circumstance. No matter what you’ve been through in life, it brings everyone together. We’re all guys from all different walks of life and different backgrounds, but through the game of football we were able to be seen as equals. Where we come from, that doesn’t matter. We’re all here tonight to be honored and be up for the same award.”
Wilkins personifies the scholar-athlete ideal, having already earned his degree while twice claiming First Team All-America honors and guiding Clemson to a national championship. This season, he claimed First Team All-ACC honors for the second consecutive year while boasting 45 tackles as the leader of one of the best defenses in the nation. A finalist for the 2018 Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Wilkins is also among the finalists for the Outland Trophy and the Bednarik Award, which will both be announced on Thursday. Wilkins has helped Clemson to the No. 2 ranking, a perfect 13-0 record, the 2018 ACC title and a trip to a College Football Playoff Semifinal.
A three-time Academic All-ACC selection and a two-time First Team Academic All District honoree, Wilkins graduated in December 2017 with a 3.33 GPA in communication studies as the first scholarship player in Clemson football history to finish school in two and a half years. He will graduate this December with a master’s in athletic leadership. Making a difference off the field, Wilkins became a certified substitute teacher during the 2018 offseason, indicating that he wanted to provide inspiration and guidance to K-12 students. Winning the Campbell Trophy®increases his postgraduate scholarship to a total of $25,000.
The rest of the 2018 NFF National Scholar-Athlete Class included Kenneth Brinson (Army West Point), Taryn Christion (South Dakota State), De’Arius Christmas (Grambling State), D’Cota Dixon (Wisconsin), Ryan Finley (North Carolina State), Piercen Harnish (Saint Francis [Ind.]), Trace McSorley (Penn State), Dalton Risner (Kansas State), Max Scharping (Northern Illinois), Eric Stevenson (Wheaton [Ill.]), Easton Stick (North Dakota State) and Drue Tranquill (Notre Dame).
NFF Vice Chairman and TV personality Jack Ford was joined by NFF Board Member and College Football Hall of Fame inductee Roger Staubach (Navy) to provide a special tribute to the 2018 NFF Gold Medal recipients Aaron Feis (posthumously) and Jason Seaman, who both intervened in school shootings this year. Feis, a football coach and security guard at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, selflessly died shielding students during the shooting in February. Seaman, a science teacher and middle school football coach at Noblesville West Middle School in Noblesville, Ind., tackled a shooter who entered his classroom in May, preventing any casualties.
Feis and Seaman, who both played football, have been described by those that know them as selfless, and they continue to serve as inspirations. Seaman and Melissa Feis, representing her late husband, received a standing ovation from the ballroom.
“Aaron and Jason more than deserve to be recognized for their selfless acts this year as football players and coaches who took the lessons of the gridiron and turned them into reality in the most trying of situations,” said Ford.
NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell introduced the other major award recipients, which included Atlanta Hall Management Chairman and College Football Hall of Fame inductee from Dartmouth Murry Bowden (NFF Outstanding Contribution to Amateur Football Award), retired Yale athletics director Thomas Beckett and current Harvard athletics director Bob Scalise (NFF John L. Toner Award co-recipients for excellence in athletics administration) and longtime Voice of the Texas A&M Aggies Dave South (NFF Chris Schenkel Award for excellence in broadcasting).
Referencing the organization’s current nationwide platform for promoting the good in the game, NFF Board Member, Dallas Cowboys Owner, President & General Manager and former Arkansas football player Jerry Jones gave an passionate speech about why Football Matters®.
The NFF Legacy Award was presented to four men for their contributions to the organization and its mission: Sun Belt Conference Commissioner Karl Benson; Allstate Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan; Spielman, Koenigsberg & Parker Partner Jonathan Taylor; and Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP Partner Richard Young.
Dr. Jack Graham, the pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Texas, provided the Invocation. Keith Miller, an opera singer who played fullback at Colorado sang the “National Anthem” while America’s beloved tenor and Annual Awards Dinner staple, Daniel Rodriguez, returned to sing “God Bless America.” ESPN broadcaster Holly Rowe introduced the returning members of the College Football Hall of Fame in attendance.
The NFF also recognized the 2018 MEAC Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year during the Annual Awards Dinner. Howard quarterback Caylin Newton and North Carolina A&T State defensive lineman Darryl Johnson, the MEAC Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, respectively, were announced this morning by commissioner Dennis Thomas.
The five 2018 NFF Chapter Leadership Award recipients, one from each region of the country, were also recognized during the Dinner for their leadership at the local level: Roger Crosley (Jack Grinold/Eastern Massachusetts Chapter), Dick DeWire (Colorado Chapter), Herb Goins (Corrigan/Faircloth Chapter [N.C.]), Matt Sellitto (Collier County Chapter [Fla.] and Greater Morris County Chapter [N.J.]) and Tony Versaci (State of Michigan Chapter).
Earlier today, College Football Hall of Famer and noted speaker Don McPherson (Syracuse) and Jack Ford helped host the inaugural Amos Alonzo Stagg Social, a private event honoring the 2018 College Football Hall of Fame Class.
George Sechrist, of the Business Media Group (BMG) based in Indianapolis, produced the NFF Annual Awards Dinner for the fifth time, and ESPN3 carried the event live.
Sponsors for the day’s events included the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Delta Air Lines, diDNA and Sports Publishers Group, Fidelity Investments, Herff Jones, iSix, the New York Athletic Club, The Pasadena Tournament of Roses, Spielman Koenigsberg & Parker LLP, Sports Business Journal, Under Armour, UPS, VICIS and XOS Digital.
“The NFF Annual Awards Dinner continues to grow in both size and prestige each December,” NFF President Steve Hatchell said. “Those in the room tonight care deeply about the game, and the event captured why Football Matters®. This sport transforms lives, opens doors and instills the characteristics in our young people that make our country great. When you listen to the accomplishments of the night’s honorees, you know that the future of our sport remains bright.”