Back in 1985, Gatorade established an award honoring the nation's top high school student-athletes. Since then, the Gatorade Player of the Year award has recognized more than 13,000 state and national winners in 12 sports.
Gatorade Player of the Year alumni include household names like Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, Peyton Manning, Derek Jeter, Candace Parker, Kerri Walsh and Abby Wambach—a distinguished group, indeed.
This week, we're catching up with former Gatorade Football Players of the Year who have exceled in the Bowl Championship Series.
The BCS ended with a flourish Monday night as Florida State beat Auburn, 34-31, with a last-minute touchdown at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Thus closes out a chapter of college football filled with much controversy as well as plenty of Gatorade Players of the Year.
That final 2-yard TD pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds left came out of the right hand of Jameis Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner and the 2012 Gatorade Alabama Football Player of the Year. Winston, one of two Gatorade POYs on the Seminoles (you are a serious POY devotee if you knew the other was defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel—Florida, 2009), capped his tremendous redshirt freshman season by winning the game’s Offensive MVP award after passing for 237 yards and two scores.
Winston is one of six former Gatorade winners to take home a BCS Championship Game MVP award. The first was Justin Vincent (Louisiana, 2002), a running back for LSU who rushed for 117 yards and a TD in the Tigers’ 21-14 win over Oklahoma in the 2003 title game. That was followed a year later by Matt Leinart (California, 2001) taking home MVP honors with his huge day in a 55-19 rout of Oklahoma. Leinart completed 18-of-35 passes for 332 yards and five TDs in the Trojans’ victory. He had a little help that day from LenDale White (Colorado, 2003), who rushed for 118 yards and two scores.
Leinart and White were at it again the next season with Leinart passing for 365 yards and White rushing for 124 and three TDs, but Vince Young and Texas prevented a USC title repeat with a 41-38 win.
Florida started the SEC’s seven-year run of dominance with a 41-14 win over Ohio State in the 2006 title game. Chris Leak (North Carolina, 2002, 2003) passed for 213 yards and a TD to take home Offensive MVP honors while Derrick Harvey (Maryland, 2004) set a BCS Championship Game record with three sacks to win Defensive MVP. And in the what-could-have-been department for the Buckeyes, Ted Ginn Jr. (Ohio, 2004) opened the game with a 93-yard kickoff return for a score, but Ginn injured himself on the play and did not return.
The sixth BCS Championship Game MVP was Michael Dyer (Arkansas, 2009, 2010), who rushed for 143 yards on 22 carries in Auburn’s 22-19 win over Oregon in the 2010 title game.
The BCS may be history, but chances are strong that the new playoff system will bring about its own sets of controversy. And with it, of course, plenty of starring roles for Gatorade Players of the Year.