Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The time that ... Grambling lobbied for the Heisman

On the campaign trail
Grambling hopes Eugene earns Heisman consideration

Nick's note: A sad conclusion came to this effort when Eugene went down in the third quarter of the 2004 opener with a season-ending knee injury. He would return for a record-smashing final campaign in 2005, however, leading Grambling to its 21st SWAC title.

By Nick Deriso
July 7, 2004
GRAMBLING — Supporters from Grambling State are mounting a Heisman Trophy campaign for record-breaking senior quarterback Bruce Eugene.

It won't be easy.

"He's got an outstanding story," said interim GSU coach Melvin Spears, who recruited Eugene to Grambling. "You're talking about a guy who came out of the St. Thomas housing project (in New Orleans). It's a major feat if he's even considered in that company right now."

Eugene says making the list would be a great moment not only for himself, but for Grambling State.

"Being mentioned for an award like that lets me know that I'm doing what's being asked - and we're getting recognized," said Eugene, who has set GSU's single-season marks for yards, completions and TDs. "In the process, that helps other Grambling players get recognized and helps my school gets its name out there."

But, like all Division I-AA performers, Eugene will face an uphill battle for recognition by Heisman voters.

"I certainly feel that his accomplishments, his numbers, are worthy of the accolade," said former GSU quarterback James "Shack" Harris, vice president of player personnel for the Jacksonville Jaguars. "But realistically, the Heisman is not something he can win. It's not Bruce. It's the system."

Alcorn State standout Steve McNair remains the highest recent vote-getter from I-AA. He finished third in 1994 - only to go on to league MVP honors while the top two choices, Rashaan Salaam and Ki-Jana Carter, have struggled in the NFL. Doug Williams finished fourth in the 1977 Heisman voting behind eventual winner Earl Campbell.

"But the Heisman Trophy, when you think about it, honors the best player in college football - whatever the division," Spears said. "Does that mean the best guy in his conference, the best guy on his team or just the best guy? The question I pose is this: What if the best college football player does not play in Division I-A?"

Grambling State supporters will use technology to present that message.

Kenn Rashad - a 1990 GSU graduate best known for launching the site - has offered to help design a separate Heisman Web site for GSU. It's something that could quickly raise Eugene's profile among potential voters who don't closely follow Division I-AA football.

"Instead of trying to get the media to see Bruce Eugene, I thought we could bring Bruce Eugene to the media," Rashad said. "I'd like to see some flash components that illustrated what he did week by week on the field, with perhaps some video highlights that could be downloaded."

The Web site is still in the earliest planning stages, Rashad added.

E-mails were sent out a couple of weeks ago by Peter Forest, GSU's director of athletic media relations, that asked selected people to participate in a Heisman steering committee.

"We are in the process of putting together a group of supporters," Spears said. "When all the students get back, in August, we will also have a introductory party."

The hope isn't that Eugene wins so much as gets some measure of recognition for what he's already accomplished at Grambling State.

"He may not win the award," Rashad said, "but he most certainly should be on the list."

Eugene, who wowed observers even as a redshirt freshman out of New Orleans' Cohen High School, was a part-time starter during GSU's 2001 SWAC title season - then led the Tigers to another championship in 2002.

He is the school's record-holder in passing completions, attempts, yards and total offense, and is ranked second in passing touchdowns.

That dominance led to two consecutive top-three finishes in voting in the Walter Payton Award, which recognizes Division I-AA's offensive player of the year. He was third in 2002, then second last season.

Harris, who won or shared the conference title in every season he played at GSU in the 1960s, thinks Eugene will return to the Payton Watch List as a senior. "He should be a top candidate for the best player in Division I-AA," Harris said.

Eugene was also named a first-team All-America quarterback by The Sports Network in 2003, then a second-team quarterback on The Associated Press' All-America football team.

"I guess the only thing I can say about Eugene and the Heisman list is: How can you not have him on that list?" Rashad said. "He has been a finalist for the Walter Payton Award the last two years and I am certain he will be a finalist again this year. Being a finalist among the best football players on the I-AA level automatically makes Eugene better than many of the players on the I-A level."

Too, as more people hear about Eugene, they also reacquaint themselves with a Grambling State football program that was reborn under former coach Doug Williams.

"My outlook, my vision, is more institutional - rather than winning the award," said former offensive coordinator Spears, who took over as interim when Williams resigned in February. "It's about having the opportunity to have a guy that's talked about all over the country. That's good for Grambling. If you can have one kid say Bruce Eugene is a Heisman Trophy candidate, and look twice at Grambling, then we've done what we need to do from a marketing standpoint.”

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