In July my telephone rang, it was Mike Finn of the ACC wanting to clarify my ballot: “You want Lamar Jackson as your Player of the Year & Clemson as the Champion?” – “That’s correct.”
My vote for Lamar Jackson was definitely odd to the folks within the ACC who watched Deshaun Watson & Dalvin Cook scorch the league a year prior. It made sense as those two players had the accolades, stats and historical pedigree to support a vote for the league’s highest honor. But to me voting for the league’s pre-season most valuable player meant casting a vote to PROJECT what a player would do in 2016……not what we’d already voted on a year earlier at the conclusion of 2015.
The backlash as a result of someone, ANYONE, voting for Lamar Jackson was unreal. There was a witch hunt within media circles to find the TWO voters who had the audacity to vote for Lamar Jackson as the ACC POY. So I stood up and said, “One was me……the other was my dad.”
My father routinely helps me out as credentialed media at events and this year in Charlotte was our third consecutive visit to the ACC Kickoff. Every credentialed media member gets a vote and I believe it was the first time either one of us had selected a Louisville player to win the league’s top award. I voted for Clemson to win the Atlantic & the ACC and Dad (also named Mark Blankenbaker) voted for the Cards (for the first time) to win the division and the league championship.
Once I made it known that TheCrunchZone.com was responsible for casting the ballots for Lamar Jackson to win the ACC League POY….. Lamar Jackson who had started just ONE CONSECUTIVE game…. I did some radio interviews and defended my position to a few media members that will remain nameless (because they were wrong anyway) that were seeking to publicly ridicule my choice.
And well…… Lamar Jackson did win the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year. Lamar Jackson is going to win the Heisman Trophy. And Lamar Jackson is the most exciting player in College Football.
But the rest of the media didn’t see Lamar Jackson in the Trager Center last Spring. They didn’t see how hard he’d worked, how much better his deep passing had become, or how much of a leap in execution he’d made. I went to nearly every session I could.
If I’m honest, the backlash made me take a step back……. I didn’t publish a piece this summer projecting Lamar Jackson’s stats against previous legendary quarterbacks (Mike Vick, Cam Newton, RGIII, Johnny Manziel, Tim Tebow, Marcus Mariota, etc.) from their freshman year to their sophomore year. THAT WON’T HAPPEN AGAIN.
(A similar backlash after I wrote 12,000 words on how Louisville would win the 2013 Sugar Bowl over Florida.)
The Courier-Journal’s Steve Jones and I watched a lot of Fall Camp together (with others) and I specifically remember Steve asking, “Maybe it’s just me, but is Lamar just on another level than everyone else I’ve ever seen on a practice field?” We discussed the leap from freshman to sophomore year for Teddy Bridgewater and how similar the buzz was during that time. Lamar and Teddy are much different than one another, but the leap in development, confidence and buzz around the program was the same.
So allow me & dad to take a lap as the only people this July who voted for Lamar Jackson to win the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, we took a lot of heat in July but we were right on the last day of November.