2012 WINNER – TAVON AUSTIN (West Virginia)
Written by Katie Kane and Brian Kuppelweiser from WVU Sports Communications Office
When one watches Tavon Austin on the football field, the terms gifted, talented and jaw dropping are just some of the words that come to mind. However, if you were to ask Austin about the aptitude that he displays on the football field, you are most likely to receive few words from the extremely soft-spoken Baltimore native. For Austin, his actions speak louder than words – painting a masterpiece that has earned him some of the highest honors in college football.
“I think people tend to want leaders to be the loudest guy on the field, which isn’t the case,” said West Virginia Offensive Coordinator Shannon Dawson. “I say you have to find a way to be a leader within your own personality. He doesn’t really lead by rah-rah, which I like. I like a guy who goes out and does his job.”
During his junior season in 2011, Austin led the nation in all-purpose yardage as he averaged 198 yards per game. He was named an All-America First Team Return Specialist by CBSSports.com and Phil Steele, and named to the third team by the Associated Press. He finished the season with 101 catches, a WVU single-season record and was one of two receivers to have 100 or more catches in Big East history.
With a full year of play in coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense, some wondered what more Austin could do during the 2012 season to improve upon his numbers. Not only did Austin raise the bar during the 2012 season, but he proved himself to be the nation’s most versatile player by contributing at inside receiver, running back, punt returner and kick returner.
Austin piled up 2,760 all-purpose yards in 2012, averaging 223.0 per outing. He finished with 72 carries for 643 yards and three touchdowns, 114 receptions for 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns, 15 punt returns for 165 yards and a touchdown, and 32 kickoff returns for 813 yards and a touchdown. In addition, Austin was the first player in school history to score four different ways. Furthermore, he finished his career with the Mountaineers as the program’s career leader in receptions, receiving yards, kick return yards and kick return touchdowns.
“Tavon’s play on the field defines versatility, and as I said during the season, he was the most dangerous player in the nation with the ball in his hands,” West Virginia Head Coach Dana Holgorsen said. “He is deserving of such an honor as the Paul Hornung Award, and the program, the University and the state are very proud of him and his accomplishment.”
Included in that total is Austin’s game against Oklahoma on Nov. 7, in which he transitioned to running back seamlessly during the week, set a WVU record with 344 rushing yards and accumulated 572 all-purpose yards – the second most in a single game in FBS history. The game left coaches around the country in awe.
“He’s an exceptional athlete,” said Sooners’ coach Bob Stoops.“He hasn’t been back there at all before and he made a lot of plays; made us miss him.”
Kansas coach Charlie Weis and Iowa State coach Paul Rhoades echoed Stoops’ statements. “The kid’s already had a hundred catches on the year and now they put him at running back and he rushes for more than 300 yards against arguably one of the better defenses, especially against the run, that you can go against,” Weis said. “He’s a very, very special player – you don’t see that type of game against the University of Oklahoma,” said Rhoads. “Throw in the fact that he returns punts and returns kickoffs (and) I don’t think No. 1 is going to be my favorite number on the day that we play West Virginia.”
Due to Austin’s overall excellence on the field during the 2012 season, he earned All-America honors from authorities such as Sports Illustrated, Associated Press and the American Football Coaches Association, along with collecting honors from College Football Performance Awards as its 2012 All-Purpose Performer of the Year, the 2012 Jet Award Return Specialist and most recently, the Paul Hornung Award.
“I am honored and humbled to be selected as the winner of the prestigious Paul Hornung Award,” said Austin. “Whether I am on the field as a receiver, in the backfield or as a returner, I have high expectations for myself, and I have always tried to use my versatility to help my team be successful. I want to thank my coaches and teammates for helping me achieve this honor.”
Although Austin’s feats are impressive, one must consider what he was going through personally to truly understand just how impressive they were. Back home in Baltimore, three of Austin’s close friends were murdered – each gone in a matter of four weeks during the season.
Austin knows that he is one of the lucky ones, as he has used his abilities and intelligence to emerge from the streets of Baltimore and into a position where he could find himself as a highly valued NFL prospect in the coming weeks. But with that type of fame, Austin sees an opportunity – an opportunity that will allow him to save those who may not be as lucky.
“Hopefully, if I get blessed and go to the NFL, I definitely will try to help out my community,” he said. “I want to go home and open up a group home and be a father-figure to some boys, because that’s something that I’ve never had in my life.”
Simply put, an action that would allow Austin’s actions to speak louder than his words.
Click here to view the program from the 2013 Paul Hornung Award Banquet honoring Tavon Austin.
Click here to view all photos from the 2013 Paul Hornung Award Banquet.
Four versatile, offensive and special teams-oriented players were named finalists for the 2012 Paul Hornung Award presented by Texas Roadhouse. Antonio Andrews (Western Kentucky University), Dri Archer (Kent State University), Tavon Austin (West Virginia University) and Marqise Lee (University of Southern California) were selected finalists for the award by a vote of 16 elite media members and football personalities as well as an online fan vote.
The four finalists for the 2012 Paul Hornung Award added to their 10,785 all-purpose yards this season with 70 total touchdowns in five different offensive or special teams’ categories. Paul Hornung Award finalists accounted for nine of the top 15 single-game, all-purpose yardage performances this season.
Western Kentucky University running back Antonio Andrews finished his stellar junior campaign with 3,161 all-purpose yards, a total that ranks second in FBS history behind only Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders (1988). Andrews led the nation in all-purpose yards and all-purpose yards per game (243.2) while also setting single-season WKU records for rushing yards (1,728) and 100-yard games (10). He was the only player in the nation to record more than 1,600 rushing yards and 400 yards receiving. The SI.com All-American capped his breakout season with 119 rushing yards in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl and fell 88 yards shy of breaking the single-season all-purpose yardage record. He finished the 2012 season with 15 total touchdowns via 1,728 yards rushing, 432 yards receiving, and 1,001 yards returning punts and kicks.
Kent State running back Dri Archer burst onto the scene as a dynamic playmaker for the Golden Flashes in 2012, compiling 2,577 all-purpose yards and 23 total touchdowns. The do-it-all speedster was the only player in the country with a passing, rushing, receiving and kick return touchdown this season, and only five players found the end zone more than Archer. He racked up 117 all-purpose yards and a touchdown in Kent State’s GoDaddy.com Bowl appearance. Archer’s versatility landed him on the Associated Press, SI.com and ESPN.com All-American teams. Archer ended the year with 1,429 rushing yards, 561 yards receiving and 591 kickoff return yards. He joins West Virginia’s Tavon Austin as the only players with more than 500 yards in three different statistical categories this season.
USC wide receiver Marqise Lee posted Pac-12 single-season records with 118 receptions and 1,721 receiving yards during his sophomore season. Lee totaled 15 touchdowns, with the average length of his scores being more than 40 yards. He finished the season with 2,683 all-purpose yards, a figure that ranked third in the nation. In the Hyundai Sun Bowl, Lee hauled in six catches for 41 yards, extending his national-best reception mark to 118. Lee was named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and landed on various first-team All-American squads including the Associated Press, SI.com and ESPN.com. Lee’s fourth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy voting was the highest of any wide receiver since Pittsburgh’s Larry Fitzgerald finished second in 2003.