2019 WINNER – LYNN BOWDEN JR. (Kentucky)
By University of Kentucky Athletics Department
He could be the No. 1 option at wide receiver. He could be a game-breaking kickoff and punt returner. He could lead an offense as the most dangerous running quarterback in America. His coach even toyed with playing him at defensive back, and probably would have if he hadn’t been so valuable on offense and special teams.
Lynn Bowden Jr. was the most versatile player in college football.
Bowden spent two-and-a-half seasons at Kentucky transforming himself into one of the most dynamic wide receivers and return men in the country. He had a team-best 745 receiving yards and five touchdowns to go with another two crucial punt return scores as a sophomore to help lead UK to its best season in four decades in 2018.
He was well on his way to an even better receiving season as a junior, catching 27 passes for 330 yards through five games, but his team’s season was at a crossroads. UK’s top two quarterbacks, Terry Wilson and Sawyer Smith, were injured. Entering their first bye week, the Wildcats had lost three straight and were searching for answers.
Those answers started with Bowden moving back to his Youngstown, Ohio, roots and the position he played at Liberty High School and Warren G. Harding High School: quarterback.
The move started as a temporary fix, but Bowden opened eyes in his first start. Helping UK overcome a 13-0 second-quarter deficit, Bowden rushed for an eye-popping 196 yards and two touchdowns and threw for another TD in a 24-20 victory over Arkansas.
With each passing week, as UK forged an identity of toughness and tenacity to match their new quarterback’s, it became clearer this was no temporary fix. Bowden’s move to quarterback was a season-making solution.
Bowden rushed for 1,369 yards and 13 touchdowns in his eight starts at quarterback, throwing for 360 yards and three touchdowns along the way. Most importantly, Kentucky went 6-2 in those eight starts, reached a bowl for the fourth consecutive season and won a bowl game for the second year in a row.
It didn’t take long for the media to notice what Bowden was doing.
“Efficient, electric, entertaining, exciting – whatever ‘E’ adjective you want to use to describe the Kentucky playmaker works for me,” wrote Connor O’Gara of the Saturday Down South website, soon after the move to quarterback.
“What Bowden is doing takes a combination of brains, guts and skill that few people have,” O’Gara continued, noting the degree-of-difficulty of a midseason move to QB. He also penned words that proved to be quite prophetic:
“That’s got ‘Paul Hornung Award’ written all over it.”
Bowden lived up to that lofty label, growing only stronger as he settled into his new role, culminating in signature performances in UK’s regular-season finale and bowl win.
Bowden led UK to a dominant win over rival Louisville by running for 284 yards — the most by a QB in Southeastern Conference history — and four touchdowns. The Cats threw the ball just twice with rain pouring at Kroger Field once again, but rolled up a school record 517 yards on the ground in a 45-13 victory.
In his final collegiate game, against Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl, Bowden rushed 34 times for 233 yards and two touchdowns. He also completed 6 of 12 passes for 73 yards, including the game-winning 13-yard TD with 15 seconds left, earning the game’s Most Valuable Player honors. He handled the ball on 15 of the 18 plays in UK’s game-winning drive, including converting a pair of fourth downs to keep the march alive.
Following the game, he earned All-Bowl Team honors from the Associated Press, ESPN.com, Sports Illustrated and USA Today.
All the while, Bowden never batted an eye. Not in taking hit after hit on tough run after tough run. Not in moving away from the wide receiver position he worked so hard to master – and the one he’s likely to play at the next level. No, Bowden’s only concern was doing what was best for his team.
Wildcats coach Mark Stoops said if Bowden had been the starting quarterback since the beginning of the season he would have been a Heisman Trophy candidate.
“Bowden is one of the best players in the country,” Stoops said of Bowden, the Paul Hornung Award winner. ”He showed that. What he’s done for this team this season is nothing short of amazing. He deserves a lot of credit because he’s sacrificed his reps at wide receiver, a position he will more than likely play in the NFL. It’s not easy doing what he’s doing. It just proves how tough-minded, how versatile a player he has become.”
It’s a testament to the maturation of a player who came to UK a mercurial talent. He finished his career as the consummate teammate, an unquestioned leader of his team and a devoted father coming off a spring semester in which he earned a 3.8 GPA as a community and leadership development major.
As it turns out, Bowden’s versatility isn’t limited to the football field.
Click here to view all photos from the 2020 Paul Hornung Award Banquet
Chosen as finalists were Clyde Edwards-Helaire, (LSU); Joe Reed (Virginia) and Wan’Dale Robinson (Nebraska).
Running Back / Kickoff Returns
Junior, 5-8, 209 lbs.
LSU Tigers (9-0, 5-0 conference)
With 1,209 all-purpose yards and 12 touchdowns rushing, receiving and returning kicks, Clyde Edwards-Helaire has a knack for making big plays in big games. He earned the Paul Hornung Award Honor Roll by racking up 199 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns, including the game-winner, as the Tigers beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa. He rushed for 133 yards against Auburn, including four consecutive carries for 45 yards and the game-winning score. Edwards-Helaire has returned nine kickoffs for 199 yards. He made the Paul Hornung Award Honor Roll following a win over Alabama.
All-purpose yards: 1,209
Rushing: 786 yards, 11 TDs
Receiving: 202 yards, 1 TD
Kick Return: 199 yards
Wide Receiver / Kick Returner
Senior, 6-1, 215 lbs.
Virginia Cavaliers (7-3, 5-2 conference)
Joe Reed has 1,269 all-purpose yards receiving, returning kicks and rushing. He is second in the nation with 35.4 yards per kickoff return and is the only player in the nation with 500+ kick return yards and 500+ receiving yards. Reed has caught five touchdown passes on the season and returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score against William & Mary and 95 yards for a score against Duke. He scored the game-tying touchdown against FSU. He made the Paul Hornung Award Honor Roll following wins over FSU and Duke.
All Purpose Yards: 1,301
Rushing: 28 yards
Receiving: 530 yards, 5 TDs
Kick Return: 743 yards, 2 TDs
Receiver / Running Back / Kick Returner
Freshman, 5-10, 190 lbs.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-5, 2-4 conference)
True freshman Wan’Dale Robinson has been an impact player for the Cornhuskers with 1,015 all-purpose yards rushing, receiving and returning kicks, second nationally among freshmen. He scored five times on the season, including three scores in Nebraska’s road win over Illinois and the game-winner against Northwestern. He averaged 11 yards per reception and 22 yards per return. He made the Paul Hornung Award Honor Roll following wins over Illinois and Northwestern.
All Purpose Yards: 1,015
Rushing: 326 yards, 3 TDs
Receiving: 453 yards, 2 TDs
Kick Return: 236 yards