Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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Sports column

December 3, 2012

WVU's Austin may be best player not to win Heisman

Heisman Trophy voters have until 5 p.m. today to fill out their online ballots.

West Virginia’s coaches aren’t campaigning — sending out flyers, post cards and even bandages, as others across the country have done in recent weeks — but there’s little question who they think should get the award.

“He’s the best player in the country,” said WVU offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson of his senior slot receiver, Tavon Austin. “I don’t care who gets the award, but there’s nobody out there like him.

“What’s the definition of the award? Is it the best player in the nation? I don’t know. I could care less about the award. I just know one thing. He plays a lot different than everybody else does. You can say what you want to about all those other guys. But if you got people that played us in a room behind closed doors, they would tell you who the best player is.”

Austin definitely has the numbers to back up that case.

The senior from Baltimore is second in the country in all-purpose yardage, averaging 230 yards per game. He’s also second in receptions per game, averaging 9.17, and seventh in receiving yards per game with 104.92.

In the return game, Austin’s third in the Big 12 in punt returns, averaging 11 yards per return, and is second in kick returns, averaging 27.0 yards. Brennan Clay of Oklahoma is first, one-tenth of a yard ahead of Austin.

Then there’s the running game. Austin was the featured back only once this year, in a 50-49 loss to Oklahoma. All he did in that game was break a school record with 344 yards rushing.

“I think it’s vision and speed,” said Dawson about what makes Austin special. “Who knows, genetically, what makes guys really good players? One thing that goes unsung with him is his attitude. He’s a very selfless player. He has never been selfish, at all.”

The chances of Austin winning the award, or even being invited to New York as a finalist, seem slim. He’s being discussed by some on the national level, but WVU’s 7-5 record seems to be keeping him from being a real candidate.

The qualifications for the award mention nothing about the team’s record, but it always seems to play a factor in the final decision.

“The Heisman’s a whole other animal,” said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. “Is Tavon as dynamic of a player as there is in the country? Yes he is. But when you’re 7-5, you’re not going to get that.

“What Tavon did against Oklahoma — I’ve been very vocal about this —was the single greatest performance I’ve ever seen. But we lost. So he didn’t get the notoriety that he deserved. You have to be on a national stage and win to get your name out there.”

Dawson said that even if Austin doesn’t claim a single national award, his legacy will be felt in Morgantown for some time to come.

“Kids know a lot more about him than the media,” he explained, saying that Austin’s name often is mentioned when talking to recruits. “I don’t know if he gets the coverage he deserves, but high school kids pay attention. The impact he makes on this program will be years to come.”

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Before Austin became WVU’s top Heisman contender, quarterback Geno Smith was considered the clear favorite to win the award.

But a couple of non-Geno-like performances against Texas Tech and Kansas State dropped the senior signal caller from the discussion.

Smith, though, is still fourth in the nation in passing yards per game, averaging 333.7 per game, and he’s thrown 40 touchdowns, compared to just six interceptions.

Although Smith isn’t likely to make the trip to New York for the Heisman presentation, there are still those who believe he’ll be one of the first names called when the NFL draft is held in that same city in April.

“As far as the picks go, that’s for the (general managers) to decide,” said Smith. “But the one thing I do know is that any team that picks me is going to be happy with what they get.

“I’m a guy that gives it all for the team, and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got. The game of football is about winning games, no matter who gets the credit for it. I’m going to put that effort forth, and I’ll keep getting better.”

Smith will leave WVU as the school’s all-time passing leader, but he said he won’t truly appreciate any of those records until his career is complete.

“I probably won’t do it until my career in football is over,” he said of reflecting on his career. “Then I’ll sit back and look at all the things I’ve done. As of right now, my main focus is to get better. This game is hard, and I want to be the best at it. I know that’s going to take a lot of hard work, and I’m willing to put that in.”

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