Oklahoma’s White wins Heisman

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 14, 2003

NEW YORK - Jason White capped a remarkable comeback with college football's most prestigious award, winning the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night a year after an injury nearly ended his career.

The Oklahoma quarterback, who almost quit football following his second major knee injury in September 2002, beat out Pittsburgh receiver Larry Fitzgerald by 128 points for the award.

White threw 40 touchdown passes and led the third-ranked Sooners to 12 straight wins to open the season and a spot in the Bowl Championship Series title game against No. 2 LSU.

Email newsletter signup

Even a subpar performance in a loss in the Big 12 title game last week against Kansas State couldn't stop White from winning the award. His three months of brilliance before that were more than enough to persuade voters to pick him.

White, The Associated Press Player of the Year, led the nation in passing efficiency, completing 64 percent of his passes for 3,744 yards and only eight interceptions.

White beat Fitzgerald 1,481-1,353. Eli Manning was third with 710 points and Chris Perry was next with 341.

Voters list three choices on their ballots, and players are awarded three points for first place, two for second and one for third.

White, the first Oklahoma player since Billy Sims in 1978 to win the Heisman, had 319 first-place votes, 204 seconds and 116 thirds.

Fitzgerald, who set an NCAA record with touchdown catches in 18 straight games, had 253 firsts, 233 seconds and 128 thirds. He was trying to become the first sophomore to win the award.

Manning became the third member of his family to come close but fall short for the Heisman. His father, Archie, finished fourth in 1969 and third the following year, while older brother, Peyton, came in second in 1997.

Manning, who passed for 3,341 yards with 27 touchdowns this season, had 95 firsts, 132 seconds and 161 thirds.

Perry, who was fifth in the nation with 132.4 yards rushing per game and also scored 19 touchdowns, came in fourth with 27 firsts, 66 seconds and 128 thirds.

Three of the four finalists struggled with their conference titles on the line, with only Perry delivering in a 204-yard, two-TD game in a 35-21 victory against Ohio State.

Just as one bad game didn't stop Oklahoma from making it to the Sugar Bowl, it also didn't stop White, who was helped by the hundreds of voters who cast their ballots before that game. Fitzgerald got the most points from people who voted in the final week, but it wasn't enough to catch White.

White became the fourth Sooner to win the Heisman, joining Sims, Steve Owens (1969) and Billy Vessels (1952).

White is hoping to become the third quarterback to win the Heisman and the national title in the same season, joining Florida State's Charlie Ward (1993) and Florida's Danny Wuerffel (1996).

Recent Heisman-winning quarterbacks haven't fared so well, with Florida State's Chris Weinke (2000) and Nebraska's Eric Crouch (2001) both following up their Heisman wins with subpar title-game performances.

Kansas State running back Darren Sproles was fifth, followed by Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart, North Carolina State quarterback Philip Rivers, USC receiver Mike Williams, Miami of Ohio quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Texas Tech quarterback B.J. Symons.

A regional voting breakdown had White winning the Far West, Southwest and South regions. Fitzgerald won the Midwest, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

The award completes an amazing transformation that began on Sept. 7, 2002, when White crumpled to the turf against Alabama with a torn right knee ligament. He had injured the same ligament on the other knee a year earlier and contemplated quitting the sport he loves.

His father persuaded him not to give up and White soon began the hard road back. Hours of rehab finally paid off when coach Bob Stoops told White he won a four-way competition for the job before the start of fall practice.

In a season where remaining healthy and keeping the starting job would have been a great accomplishment, White did so much more.

''During my rehab, there were people saying that there was no way that I was going to come back or be as good as I was,'' White said. ''That really drove me and ignited me this season.''

The small-town kid from Tuttle, Okla., quickly answered all those questions. Performing in stadiums with nearly 20 times as many fans as live in his home town, displayed the poise and touch necessary to turn Oklahoma into a record-setting offense.

He threw at least two touchdowns in his first 12 games, including 13 in the three games before the Big 12 championship. His pinpoint accuracy helped his receivers break big runs after the catch and helped the team score at least 50 points seven times this season.

''His emergence as a great, great football player is the story of college football,'' Stoops said. ''The biggest difference in our team is that Jason White is the quarterback. It ought to be pretty obvious.''

It turned out it was to the Heisman voters.