As the Heisman Trophy Ceremony began, it was clear something didn’t belong. No, it wasn’t the virtual ceremony, with four finalists in different locations. That was to be expected in a global pandemic.
No, it wasn’t the length of the ceremony, very drawn out, only to announce the winner right at the end. Par for the course in college football, with programs such as College Game Day and Selection Sunday.
Yes, Alabama Crimson Tide’s DeVonta Smith became a Heisman winner. As a wide receiver. Beating out three quarterbacks.
Yes, Smith didn’t belong.
“Just to be one of the very few that played receiver to win the Heisman, it means a lot to me,” Smith said.
Growing up in Amite City, Louisiana, Smith came from humble beginnings. In a town of a little over 4,000 people, football was the popular sport of choice.
For Smith, he wasn’t supposed to be a football player. A little over six feet, Smith is considered ‘small’ for a wide receiver. Despite the critics, Smith channeled the doubt and used it as motivation to prove people wrong.
And the Heisman goes to …
🏆 DeVonta Smith 🏆
— ESPN (@espn) January 6, 2021
“Just you’ve got to believe in the things that you do,” Smith said to reporters over Zoom. “If you don’t believe in it, then why are you doing it? You just can’t be out here doing something that you don’t believe in. You put your mind to some things and eventually it’s going to happen.”
After attending Amite High School, Smith committed to the University of Alabama. He was a part of an outstanding 2017 recruiting class, featuring Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and NFL wide receivers Jerry Jeudy (Denver Broncos) and Henry Ruggs III (Las Vegas Raiders). Despite only eight receptions in his freshman year, Smith learned how to run routes from Jeudy and Ruggs, and the preparation required to be a top receiver.
No bigger catch than in the 2018 National Championship Game, a game-winning touchdown pass from Tagovailoa, clinching the Tide its second title in three years.
Once Jeudy and Ruggs left for the NFL, a void existed at the receiver spot. Doubt persisted about Smith’s ability to be a top receiver.
As college football became more pass-heavy, so too did the importance of skilled positions like a wide receiver. Smith worked hard in the offseason, getting faster and stronger, to become an explosive receiver.
Electing to come back his senior year, Smith saved his best season for last. When fellow wideout Jaylen Waddle went down to injury, Smith raised his game. He led the nation with 98 catches and 1,511 receiving yards before the Rose Bowl and his 17 touchdown receptions rank second. Playing for a high-powered offense ranked second in the country in points scored, Smith posted seven 100-yard games, along with six multi-touchdown performances.
The bigger the game, the more Smith feels comfortable. No better example than the Rose Bowl, one of College Football’s National Semifinals, where Smith had seven catches for 130 yards and three touchdowns. He ran slant routes in the middle of the field, caught passes along the sideline, jumped in the air to make grabs, while also assisting on blocking.
THAT'S THREE FOR DEVONTA SMITH 😤 pic.twitter.com/Ugnf9D6xe5
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 1, 2021
“Smitty has done as much for our team as any player could do for any team,” said Alabama head coach Nick Saban after the Rose Bowl. “So we were so happy he was recognized as the College Football Player of the Year.”
Despite his quiet nature, Smith brings his best on the grand stage. And his teammates feed off his play.
“Going against those guys every day in practice is like a game-day type of situation,” said Crimson Tide linebacker Patrick Surtain II on facing Smith in scrimmages. “It helps me prepare for the game because you’re going to see talent like that in the game.”
As the Heisman ceremony commenced, an inevitable change of the guard took place. A trophy that quarterbacks often claim, now going into the hands of a wide receiver. Not since 1991 did a wideout win the Heisman. Until DeVonta Smith.
His family back Amite held a small, socially distanced gathering, to celebrate Smith’s accomplishment. A sleepy Louisiana town congregated to honour a blossoming star.
When asked what winning a Heisman means, Smith referenced the importance of the next game, the National Championship in South Florida against Ohio State. That’s the ultimate focus for Smith, bringing another championship back to Alabama.
"To all the young kids out there that's not the biggest, not the strongest: just keep pushing."
DeVonta Smith delivers a heartfelt acceptance speech after winning the Heisman Trophy ❤ pic.twitter.com/tljrFemRbe
— ESPN (@espn) January 6, 2021
But as he stood beside the Heisman Trophy, emulating the arm out, decked out in a crimson suit, Smith embraced the moment. He used his platform to let younger kids know, that they too could be like him one day.
“To all the young kids out there that’s not the biggest, not the strongest, just keep pushing. Because I’m not the biggest. I’ve been doubted a lot because of my size and, really, it just comes down to you just put your mind to it, no job’s too big,” said the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Smith.
Yes, one of those things at the Heisman ceremony didn’t belong.
Most likely, it will soar past you, in route to more accolades and success.