Eddie George on Wendy's High School Heisman, Ohio State and value of education

Eddie George poses for photos at an urban improvement project designed and constructed by his landscape and design company, The Edge, in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo: Mark Humphrey, Associated Press)

Eddie George poses for photos at an urban improvement project designed and constructed by his landscape and design company, The Edge, in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo: Mark Humphrey, Associated Press)

Eddie George took plenty of handoffs at Ohio State. Now he takes another.

George, the 1995 Heisman Trophy winner, is taking over for Ohio State’s two-time Heisman winner, Archie Griffin, as the ambassador for the Wendy’s High School Heisman.

The High School Heisman was first presented in 1994 and the program continues to grow. The award is presented to high school seniors for “working harder, showing more passion and leading by example — in the classroom, on the field and within the community.”

The deadline for students to submit their application is Oct. 3. Two national winners (one boy and one girl) will receive a $10,000 scholarship and the Wendy’s High School Heisman Trophy, which will be presented Dec. 9 in New York. They also will get to attend the college football Heisman Trophy ceremony.

The national finalists will be named Nov. 7. Applications and information are available at

George recently spoke with USA TODAY High School Sports about the program, his son playing at Vanderbilt, Ohio State, the Heisman race and more.

Q: What made you want to become involved with the Wendy’s High School Heisman program?

It’s an honor and privilege to do so. Since its inception in 1994, Archie Griffin has been the face for this great cause. It’s amazing to see the amount of lives its impacted since 1994. We’re talking about more than 600,000 of the most esteemed students. In 1995, when I won the Heisman, I had a chance to be at the ceremony and meet the two winners of the High School Heisman. About two years ago, I got to talk to them again. They have exceptional jobs and families and they come back time and again so you know how much it means to them.

This represents not cutting corners and putting in the hard work and being passionate about the things you want to be in life, not just on the field but in the community. Those core values are really in concert with me and makes me want to help get the word out. It’s so important that these kids have a platform to show how multi-faceted and talented they are, not just in sports but in terms of their education and impacting their community. How they impact their community is even more important in the days we live in today. These kids are being an example and that is important.

Q: You got to experience the recruiting process firsthand with your oldest son, Jaire, now playing football at Vanderbilt. What was that like and what did you learn?

“It continued to tell me that education is paramount. The more that you can invest in your education, the better person you can become in life and the more options you have to continue to achieve your goals. He played his senior year as outside linebacker at DeMatha in Maryland and was recruited by some schools, but he went to Vanderbilt based really off his academic achievements. He was an honor roll student at DeMatha and is now an honor roll student at Vanderbilt. He’s working as an athlete and keeps getting better.

Education really gave him an opportunity to get a scholarship. That’s what I noticed. You have to be well-balanced now. That will help prepare you better for when lights go out on the football field.

I look back and got my MBA and bachelors at Ohio State. That opens up doors that probably wouldn’t have been open for me if I just had won the Heisman Trophy. You never stop learning. Life continues to build.

One thing I tell people and tell myself is that I’m not going to stop learning until I stop breathing. Once you stop learning, you stop living. That is something I continue to preach to my own children.

Q: As a former winner, you have a Heisman Trophy vote. Not asking you who is your favorite at the moment, but who are the guys on your radar?

A: I would definitely say the guys on my radar are JT Barrett from Ohio State who really showed the nation who he is against Oklahoma. You look at Lamar Jackson from Louisville who just has tremendous numbers and, of course, Christian McCaffrey from Stanford.

There are some other guys who will do great things through the season. Heismans are won in November. This is really the appetizer of what we can expect through October and see who will become the front-runner. There’s a lot of football left to be played. I am pretty sure someone who is not on the radar now will emerge as the season progresses.

Q: Ohio State is ranked No. 1 in recruiting for the Class of 2017 and continues to bring in top players. What’s the attraction beyond winning games?

A:  It’s a winning program, of course, with a strong pedigree. But most importantly, you’re walking into the present culture that breeds excellence — not just on the football field but in life. There are Fortune 500 companies in Columbus and business people that speak to these kids about life and preparing for life after the game.

Urban Meyer has done an outstanding job of getting his message out throughout the country. You see the brand of football, but you when walk through the doors, it’s truly a family. Once you’re a Buckeye, you’re a Buckeye for life. Go anywhere in the world and you will find someone affiliated with Ohio State. Kids are more conscious early on of that and buying into a family and the network for their entire life in any field.

That being said, Ohio State and Urban have been able to do amazing things on the field, producing 14 drafted players last year, which is an NFL record and just unheard of.

Q: Given your family background with the military and attending military school, school, I wanted to ask your thoughts on the NFL players who are kneeling for the national anthem or putting up fists during the anthem.  

A: I applaud them for standing up for their truth. They are doing something that people are going to talk about to get attention for injustice for minorities and things that have been happening in our communities and we should not forget it.  But I come from a military family — my father served, my uncle served. I went to military school and served in the color guard where had I to raise the flag each day.

So I also believe there are other ways to demonstrate their cause and stand for what they believe in through other platforms. I wouldn’t do it because the flag represents so much to me personally, but there is a way to not disrespect the flag and also stand for social injustice.

But these are very, very serious issues in our community. Being a father of two young black boys, there’s a level of concern on how they are going to be treated. These players have put a light on it and the next step is to be proactive to create change for equality, to bring the powers that be to the table to have open and honest conversations toward coming up with a real solution.

The first part is done, they’ve garnered the attention. Now let’s put programs together, use the money that’s been donated toward constructive programs and not something to just say money has been given to it.

I can see both sides. I still live in the community, I pay taxes, I raise black boys and I’m a black man living in the United States. At least we’re now in a position to talk about this, collectively and being inclusive and coming to the table to have real conversations.