Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith wins Heisman Trophy

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Wednesday, January 6, 2021
(AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

NEW YORK -- The nearly three-decade drought of wide receivers failing to win the Heisman Trophy ended when Alabama senior DeVonta Smith was presented the award during a virtual ceremony on Tuesday night.

Smith is the third player from Alabama to claim college football's most prestigious award and the first receiver to win it since Michigan's Desmond Howard in 1991. Smith beat out three other finalists, all of whom were quarterbacks: Alabama's Mac Jones, Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and Florida's Kyle Trask.

Smith leads the FBS in receptions (105), receiving yards (1,641) and receiving touchdowns (20). He's dropped only two passes all season.

Like Howard, Smith is more than a receiver, though. He rushed for one touchdown and returned a punt for another score this season. Along the way, he set an SEC record for career touchdowns and an Alabama record for career receiving yards.

Last week, Smith was named The Associated Press Player of the Year, becoming the first receiver to win the award.

Not bad for a skinny kid from Amite, Louisiana, who in high school would drop to the floor and do push-ups whenever he saw his reflection because he thought he was too small to play college football.

"Tay-Tay," as he's known back home, got stronger but remained a relative featherweight at 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds. Because of his slight build, strong hands and skill as a route-runner, he'd draw comparisons to former Indianapolis Colts great Marvin Harrison.

At Alabama, coaches and players would call him simply, "Smitty." But he also picked up the nickname of the "Slim Reaper" along the way.

As a freshman, Smith achieved national recognition when he caught the game-winning pass in overtime of the 2018 CFP title game against Georgia. The iconic play -- known forever as "2nd-and-26" -- could have defined his career, but the reserved Smith shied away from it whenever it was brought up. As he'd say later, "I don't too much care about the catch no more. It's a new year. We're moving on."

However, as a sophomore, injuries would hamper his development and he was largely overshadowed by the emergence of teammates and fellow star receivers Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and Jaylen Waddle. Even after scoring 14 touchdowns as a junior, Smith managed to fly under the radar.

But this season changed all that. Jeudy and Ruggs departed for the NFL, and Waddle, who was one of the most dynamic playmakers in college football, was lost to an ankle injury four games into the season.

Smith wasn't even on the Heisman odds board at Caesars Sportsbook until after Waddle was injured in late October, where he was posted at 60-1. But with Waddle sidelined, Smith became the focal point of the passing game and he excelled in the spotlight.

A week after Waddle's injury, Smith scored four touchdowns in a win over Mississippi State. He'd score a pair of touchdowns in each of the next two games against Kentucky and Auburn before returning home to Louisiana and scoring three times against LSU.

Smith has excelled in postseason play, finding the end zone twice against Florida in the SEC championship and three more times against Notre Dame during the CFP semifinal at The Rose Bowl Game Presented by Capital One.

After beating the Irish to advance to the CFP title game, Saban called Smith a "talented guy" and a "hard worker."

"He does everything exactly right," Saban said. "He has a great understanding of what he needs to do to make plays, and he makes them every chance he gets. So we're very fortunate to have him."

Saban, who is not prone to make comparisons, said that Smith has done "as much this year for our team as any player that we've ever had."

Jones, who threw for 4,036 yards and 36 touchdowns this season, called Smith "the most electric player in college football."

"He means the most to us here at Alabama," Jones said. "You can watch the games and see that, what type of person he is with how he plays. I've been real excited just to be able to get him the ball this year. He came back to try and win a national championship and improve his draft (stock), and I feel like he's done exactly that because he's just gotten open and made explosive plays."

ESPN NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. lists Smith as the fourth-best player on his Big Board, and the No. 1-rated receiver.

Heisman Trophy in hand, the only thing left to do now is for Smith to end his career the way it began: Competing for a national championship game.

Smith is 1-1 in championship games in his career. On Monday, he'll break that tie against Ohio State.