Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith won college football's most prestigious award, the Heisman Trophy, last night and further cemented his place as one of the greats in the history of the Buckeyes' illustrious football program.
Smith, who led Ohio State to a 12-0 record and a season-long No. 1 ranking this year, was humbled by the honor and the vote that made him the overwhelming choice for the award. Smith received a record 87 percent of the first-place votes.
"Normally I'm pretty cool in pressure situations, but my heart is pounding right now," Smith said on the ESPN2 telecast after receiving the award at the Nokia Theatre in New York City. "I'm at a loss for words right now. I just can't believe this is happening."
Through the course of his five years at Ohio State, Smith had walked through the foyer of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, a sprawling complex
that is home to the Buckeyes' prolific football machine, too many times to recall.
Each time Smith walked through the doors, he passed the long displays of honors and awards and cases in the center of the room that hold replicas of the Heisman Trophy awards won by some of Ohio State's greatest players - Archie Griffin, the only two-time winner, Eddie George, Les Horvath, Vic Janowicz, and Howard Cassady.
They will rearrange that prestigious foyer soon, making room for the Heisman Trophy Smith won last night.
"This means everything," Smith said as he picked up the 25-pound bronze statue with its familiar pose of a ball carrier in full stride extending his arm to ward off would-be tacklers.
"Being in this situation, to be here, and be prayerful and thankful and blessed to be in this situation means everything. I love everybody back home in Columbus - my whole team - and I wouldn't be in this situation without these guys."
Besides leading Ohio State to a 25-2 record as a starter and 19 consecutive wins, Smith displayed his precision passing skills and improvisational running talents by crediting his coach at Ohio State, Jim Tressel.
"My head coach, Jim Tressel, he put the ball in my hands, and let me know that he had trust in me to be his quarterback, to lead the Ohio State University," Smith said.
Smith had the fourth-best passing rating in the nation this season, throwing for 2,507 yards with 30 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
The quarterback thanked his teammates and credited the Ohio State offensive line that played in front of him for their role in his success.
"Those are the guys who made this possible today," Smith said.
As the first Buckeye to win the Heisman since running back George in 1995, Smith gives Ohio State a record seven Heisman trophies, tying Notre Dame and USC for the most by any school.
At last night's award show, Smith said his coach at Cleveland's Glenville High School and the father of one of his Ohio State teammates, Ted Ginn, Sr., had the greatest influence over his football life.
"Without him in the situation, I wouldn't be here. A man has to teach a man how to be a man," Smith said. "And he did just that for me."
Ginn, Sr., and Tressel were part of a large Ohio State contingent attending the event. Tressel said Smith has had an effect on everyone he's come in contact with at Ohio State.
"We've learned so much from him, and it's just been a joy to be a part of his life," Tressel said.
"[From Troy] I've relearned that humility comes before honor. Troy Smith is an extraordinary competitor. He loves it when it's the toughest. He loves it when the hitting is the hardest. He has such great respect for the people he plays against."
The 6-1, 215-pound Smith, who easily outdistanced runner-up Arkansas running back Darren McFadden and third place Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn in the Heisman balloting, leads the Buckeyes into the BCS Tostitos National Championship Game on Jan. 8 in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale, Ariz.
Smith was at his best this season when the most was on the line, performing brilliantly in a pair of showdowns with No.-2 ranked teams. He had almost 600 passing yards with six touchdowns in Ohio State's wins over then-No. 2 Texas and the season-ending 42-39 thriller over rival and No. 2-ranked Michigan.
Smith is the second quarterback in Ohio State history to lead the Buckeyes to three straight wins over the Wolverines.
Smith brought a rare honor to the Big Ten Conference, which has not seen one of its quarterbacks take the award in more than 60 years - not since Horvath won it in 1944. Horvath, a jack-of-all-trades who also played halfback on offense, kicked, and played safety on defense for the Buckeyes, is the only other Big Ten quarterback to win the award.
The most recent Big Ten Heisman Trophy recipient was running back Ron Dayne from Wisconsin in 1999.
Contact Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6510.