NEW YORK — Forever still and stolid, the Heisman Trophy might need some updated engineering. It probably needs moving parts, and possibly a suitcase.
With 21st-century quarterbacks so adept at moving both from yard marker to yard marker and from university to university, it's almost as if they needed to give a Heisman to somebody who has done both, Baker Mayfield, just to be fitting.
Of course, Mayfield's touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio, 41-5, hasn't hurt.
As the Oklahoma quarterback bound for the Rose Bowl and the College Football Playoff stopped off in New York to collect the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night as the year's top college football player, it's worth remembering that he found his way by moving around, the way players do these days, free of stigma. He became the second Heisman Trophy winner this century to have transferred, following upon the 2010 winner Cam Newton, who began at Florida and crested at Auburn. He almost certainly will become the first to have transferred on his own volition.
Others did the same in the 20th century. Doc Blanchard, the dominant winner from Army in 1945, began at North Carolina, which he left for a reason so otherworldly today: to join the military. O.J. Simpson, the 1968 winner, and Mike Rozier, the 1983 winner, started out at junior colleges. Troy Aikman, who finished third in the voting in 1988, transferred from Oklahoma to UCLA, and his life seemed to work out swimmingly.
In the case of Mayfield, it's quite something to study what happened in August 2013, as they prepared for the Texas Tech season in Lubbock. Tommy Tuberville, the coach who had the displeasure of succeeding the popular Mike Leach, had departed for Cincinnati. Kliff Kingsbury, the former Texas Tech quarterback who had coordinated the Johnny Manziel offense at Texas A&M, had stepped in. A quarterback once seen as a potential 2013 starter, Jacob Karam, had transferred to Memphis in December 2011.
A quarterback from Mayfield's own high school, Lake Travis around Austin, Michael Brewer, had seemed bound to get the start.
Then, on Aug. 16, in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Don Williams and Krista Pirtle wrote this: "Texas Tech Coach Kliff Kingsbury acknowledged on Friday that Michael Brewer has a back injury, and the likelihood grew that the Red Raiders will open the season with a true freshman starting at quarterback. And even that true freshman might not be the one who's been campaigning for the job since spring."
The true freshman and the other true freshman, it was said, were sharing reps pretty evenly.
The main true freshman was Davis Webb, nowadays a New York Giants rookie. The one who hadn't was Mayfield, who had just arrived as a walk-on, and whose recruitment breakup with TCU would become the subject of some public disagreement years on. All around, there were signs that Mayfield's 6-foot-1, 200-pound, non-statuesque frame misled people in an appearance-oriented sport, in an appearance-oriented country.
"He's bigger, stronger than you think," Kingsbury told reporters in Dallas later that month, a passage both bizarre and insightful.
"People don't expect much of him," defensive lineman Kerry Hyder told the Avalanche-Journal, "but he came in and made some big throws and big plays."
Of the resultant chip-on-shoulder that would come to seem to have its own life and respiratory capacities, Mayfield would say, "It's a pretty big-sized boulder."
Thus did a quarterback with whom Red Raiders fans were unusually unfamiliar come to start the opener, an extreme rarity of a true-freshman walk-on starting a season opener. Romping down the field to the end zone at SMU, he completed seven of his first nine passes for 46 yards, finishing 43 for 60 for 413 yards with four touchdown passes. He also ran 11 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter and, in an early hint at his now-familiar brashness, heaved back his chest and gave the Texas Tech "Guns Up" signal, hands like pistols.
"He earned [a scholarship] a while back," Kingsbury said after that game. "I just had to keep it under wraps. He had practiced like a senior for the last week and I expected him to play really well. I couldn't be more impressed with the way he's handled the operation, handled his teammates and I'm just happy he got to play as well as I thought he could."
And: "I haven't been around many kids with as big a chip on their shoulder and rightfully so. I think that's going to keep him grounded and keep him pushing forward."
That night alone told the transfer tale of the 2010s. The SMU quarterbacking duties went to Garrett Gilbert, who had featured heavily as a backup in the 2009-10 Bowl Championship Series title game for Texas before transferring. Webb, who would become Texas Tech's main quarterback in 2014, would transfer to California in December 2015. Another quarterback on premises, Clayton Nicholas, would transfer later that winter to Bowling Green before reaching Faulkner University in Alabama.
Brewer, who had the back injury, would transfer and become Virginia Tech's mainstay for two seasons (2014-15).
Mayfield, who would play in eight games for Texas Tech, throw for 2,315 yards (12 touchdowns, nine interceptions) and miss a midseason chunk of games with injury, would transfer by mid-December, citing miscommunication with coaches. He would turn up on Oklahoma's campus, where he would beat out Trevor Knight, who would transfer to Texas A&M.
By the time Mayfield and Oklahoma reached the playoff and the Orange Bowl in 2015, Mayfield would field a question about what made him so hard to catch and tackle, and would say: "I honestly couldn't tell you. I'm not physically impressive." He also would say of the shoulder boulder: "Along the way it's just kind of built up. I use it as fuel, and it's not like it's a negative thing. I use it as positive energy for me, so it works, so whatever I can add to it, I will."
That very thing, in turn, has sprouted into controversial directions and antics this year, particularly on Nov. 18 when he took affront to a slight at Kansas — Kansas! — and wound up giving college football observers an indelible memory of his crotch-grabbing.
The chip, the talent and the will that turned up in Lubbock in August 2013 have carried him all the way here, where he was voted a runaway winner over fellow finalists Bryce Love of Stanford and Lamar Jackson of Louisville, the 2016 Heisman winner. It's a long way for a guy who got offers from Rice, Florida International and Washington State, then walked on in Lubbock and found his way to Norman in an era when moving around had become socially acceptable.
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