An award that is sure to become one of the most coveted in Texas, the inaugural Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award watch list was unveiled with great fanfare on Wednesday during the Eighth Annual Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce East Texas Kickoff Luncheon.
Campbell, the Tyler native and 1977 Heisman Trophy winner, was on hand at Harvey Convention Center along with his family members for what has become the symbolic kickoff for the football season.
The luncheon attracted high school, junior college and college coaches and players from more than 40 high schools. Along with the watch list news, a senior from each high school received a $250 scholarship from the event’s sponsors — Azalea Orthopedics and Texas Spine and Joint Hospital.
The Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award, announced in 2012 by the Tyler Chamber and SPORTyler, will recognize the top offensive player in Division I football who also exhibits the enduring characteristics that define Earl Campbell: integrity, performance, teamwork, sportsmanship, drive, community and tenacity; specifically tenacity to persist and determination to overcome adversity and injury in pursuit of reaching goals, said Henry Bell, Chief Operating Officer of the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce.
Additionally, the nominee must meet one or more of the following criteria: born in Texas and/or graduated from a Texas High School and/or played at a Texas-based junior college or four-year college.
The 35-man watch list will be narrowed to up to 16 semifinalists Nov. 18 and then up to four finalists Dec. 2. The winner does not have to appear on the initial watch list and they will be selected by broadcasters, commentators, journalists, fans and (in the future) former winners. The finalists will be brought to Tyler for The Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Awards Banquet scheduled for Jan. 10, 2014.
Campbell was honored that the city is sponsoring an award with his name.
“We are so excited to pay tribute to the talented college players with Texas ties and to be able to celebrate the award in my hometown of Tyler, nestled in talent-rich East Texas,” Campbell said. “As a proud native Texan, I am certainly aware of just how many talented players hail from my home state. My family and I are pleased to be able to recognize the best of those players for this season and seasons to come.”
Some of the players on the list include John Tyler High School graduate Jeremy Johnson, a senior wide receiver at SMU; 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who was born in Tyler; Mabank native and Louisiana-Monroe QB Kolton Browning; and University of Texas quarterback David Ash of Belton, among others.
There were colleges from 20 states on the list with the Stanford the only school with two nominees — senior offensive tackle Cameron Fleming (Houston) and junior wide receiver Ty Montgomery (Dallas).
Campbell’s son, Christian, made the announcement of the watch list. Christian also said the award not only represents his father, but also his grandmother (the late Mrs. Ann Campbell) and aunts and uncles.
Tyler officials were elated to showcase Campbell’s legacy to a new generation of fans.
“We are fortunate to have a celebrity who exhibits the impeccable virtues that define this award,” said Cindy Smoak, SPORTyler vice president. “In addition to being a well-known sports figure, Earl also earned a college degree, married his high school sweetheart, raised two successful sons and still supports the community where he grew up.”
Bryan Houston, local TV and radio personality, served as emcee, while Brad Sham, radio voice of the Dallas Cowboys for 34 years, was guest speaker.
Campbell is a 1974 graduate of John Tyler High School. In 1973, he was an All-American running back who helped lead the Lions to a 15-0 record and the Class 4A state football championship.
He then joined the Texas Longhorns under legendary coach Darrell K Royal. In his senior year, he led the nation with 1,744 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns, going on to win the Longhorns’ first Heisman Trophy.
Campbell was subsequently drafted No. 1 overall by the Houston Oilers where he won Rookie of the Year honors in 1978 and went on to lead the National Football League in rushing three times. Campbell was a three-time NFL Most Valuable Player and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991. He also played for the New Orleans Saints. He now resides in Austin.
Campbell said it wouldn’t bother him if an Aggie won the award named for the Longhorn.
“I wouldn’t mind at all,” Campbell said. “I owe Texas A&M because the Aggies helped me win the Heisman.”
In 1977, Texas A&M was ranked No. 12 going into the contest with No. 1 Texas at Kyle Field in College Station. Campbell had a Heisman-type performance by rushing for 222 yards and scoring three rushing TDs, along with a 60-yard TD reception.
The next week Campbell graced the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline: MMM MMM GREAT!
Smoak said the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award is presented by SPORTyler, Inc., in conjunction with the city of Tyler, the Tyler Convention & Visitors Bureau and Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce. Located in downtown Tyler, the non-profit SPORTyler helps to encourage student-athletes to succeed on and off the field.
The preseason award watch list was selected from nominations submitted by the sports information directors of each Division I school. Each week during the regular season, an Earl Campbell Tyler Rose National Player of the Week will be selected leading up to the finalists announcement in December.
Bell said Campbell has always represented Tyler, along with Austin and Houston, with class and dignity. He also said fans’ votes will count toward 5 percent of the total. An announcement of the procedure will take place later, he said.
“All my life, all I wanted to do was be an athlete,” Campbell said. “I kept God in my life and surrounded myself with good people. I am humbled by this award named in my honor.”
Check with EarlCampbellAward.com for information on the honor and at ETFinalScore.com for updates on the players on the watch list in the coming days and weeks.