The Paul Hornung Award

Houston’s Marcus Jones Named 2021 Paul Hornung Award Winner

Award for Most Versatile Player in Major College Football Presented by Texas Roadhouse

Louisville, Ky. – Dec. 8, 2021 – University of Houston senior Marcus Jones, an All-American return specialist and lock down cornerback who also saw duty on offense, has been named winner of the 2021 Paul Hornung Award presented by Texas Roadhouse, given annually to the most versatile player in major college football.

The announcement was made today by Karl Schmitt Jr., president and CEO of the Louisville Sports Commission, owners and operators of the Award. The Paul Hornung Award Selection Committee, comprised of 17 sports journalists and football experts from across the country, picked Jones from among the five finalists who were announced Nov. 17. An online vote powered by Texas Roadhouse accounted for the 18th vote.

Jones and his family will be honored at the annual Paul Hornung Award ceremony on Mar. 8, 2022, at the Galt House Hotel in downtown Louisville. For tickets, contact Julie Howell at 502-587-6742 or

“This award means a lot to me,” Jones said. “ I’ve been undersized and overlooked a lot in my life. I just kept my head down and focused on controlling the controllable. Any way I can help the team, I was down for it whether it was extra time spent in meetings or putting in the physical work on the practice field.”

“This honor is well-deserved for Marcus,” said Houston Head Coach Dana Holgorsen. “His ability to impact games in all three phases undoubtedly makes him the most versatile player in the country. We’re proud to have him in our program these last few years. His combination of intelligence and athleticism makes him elite wherever he lines up.”

Jones, the 12th winner of the Paul Hornung Award and the first from a Group of Five conference (AAC), also is an accomplished musician. The Enterprise, Ala., native wrote, sang and produced all tracks for his Complications album under the artist name Elliott J. However, his most well-known strains to-date have been in the college football arena, where he earned consensus All-American Punt Return Specialist in 2020 and AAC Specialist of the Year and second team defense in 2021.

A phenomenal athlete with breakaway speed, Jones is known for his acrobatic plays on pass defense and outstanding open-field tackles. He finished the season with 48 tackles, five interceptions, 13 pass breakups, one forced fumble and one tackle for a loss. He ranks second nationally in interceptions and sixth nationally in passes defended per game with 1.4.

An elusive return specialist, Jones is the only player in the country with two touchdowns returning punts and two touchdowns returning kickoffs. He is fourth in the nation in average yards per punt return at 14.4 and averages a staggering 34 yards per kickoff return. On offense, Jones lined up at wide receiver in wins over Navy and cross-town rival Rice, catching 10 passes for 109 yards and a score and carrying the ball twice.

Jones had a career night in the Cougars’ 44-37 shootout win over no. 16-ranked SMU: he returned a kickoff 100 yards for the winning score with 17 seconds remaining; made six tackles, including one tackle-for-loss; intercepted a pass; and amassed 186 return yards on three kick returns and two punt returns. In the Cougars 31-13 win over Memphis, he was the only FBS player in 2021 with two interceptions and three pass break-ups in a game. Against Navy, he returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown and caught a 47-yard touchdown pass for what proved to be the winning score. In a 31-24 home win over East Carolina, Jones returned a kickoff 98-yards for a touchdown, the longest play in TDECU Stadium history. And in the AAC conference championship against Cincinnati, Jones compiled 106 return yards, recorded one tackle, forced a fumble and broke up one pass.

Season Stats:
• All-Purpose: 999 yards (avg. 76.8 per game)
• Tackles: 48 total, 37 solo, 11 assisted (avg. 4.0 per game)
• Tackles for Loss: One TFL
• Interceptions: Five for two yards
• One forced fumble
• Pass Breakups: 13 (avg. 1.08 per game)
• Rushing: Two rushes, four yards
• Receiving: 10 receptions, 109 yards, one touchdown (avg. 10.9 per reception)
• Kick Return: 15 kick returns, 510 yards, two touchdowns (avg. 34 per attempt)
• Punt Return: 26 punt returns, 374 yards, two touchdowns (avg. 14.4 per attempt)

All votes for the Paul Hornung Award are independently tabulated by regional accounting firm Dean Dorton, one of the largest accounting and financial advisory firms in Kentucky, with offices in Louisville and Lexington, Ky., and Raleigh, N.C.

The Louisville Sports Commission successfully launched the Paul Hornung Award in 2010 to honor its namesake and native son, and to promote outstanding performances by versatile college football players who often go unnoticed.

  • 2020: DeVonta Smith of Alabama topped the nation in receiving yards and yards after catch, and averaged 24 yards per punt return leading the Crimson Tide to the national championship. He scored touchdowns rushing, receiving and returning punts and was a gunner on punt coverage.
    • 2019: Lynn Bowden Jr. of Kentucky made the move from all-purpose receiver/wildcat quarterback/return specialist to quarterback in mid-season and led the Wildcats to a 5-2 record and Belk Bowl win over Virginia Tech.
    • 2018: Rondale Moore of Purdue was a dynamic All-American freshman sensation who broke the school record for all-purpose yards in a season and a game with 2,215 and 313, respectively.
    • 2017: Saquon Barkley of Penn State was an electrifying All-American running back who lined up at slot and wildcat quarterback, and returned kicks and punts;
    • 2016: Jabrill Peppers of Michigan played 15 different positions on defense, offense and special teams, and earned first team All-America at linebacker;
    • 2015: Christian McCaffrey of Stanford was a workhorse on offense and special teams who broke the NCAA record for all-purpose yards, finishing with 3,864;
    • 2014: Shaq Thompson of Washington was a two-way player, earning first team All-American honors at linebacker and finished as the Husky’s second-leading rusher at tailback;
    • 2013: Odell Beckham Jr. of LSU finished the season ranked second in the nation and first in the Southeastern Conference with 2,222 all-purpose yards and 185.2 average yards per game;
    • 2012: Tavon Austin of West Virginia earned All-American by scoring 17 touchdowns receiving, rushing, returning kicks and punts; and amassing 2,272 all-purpose yards, including 572 yards versus Oklahoma.
    • 2011: Brandon Boykin of Georgia was a lockdown cornerback on defense; scored three touchdowns playing quarterback, running back and slot on offense; and led the SEC in punt and kick returns.
    • 2010: Owen Marecic of Stanford was a two-way starter who averaged 110 snaps per game and earned first team All Pac-10 at fullback and honorable mention at linebacker.

Below are past winners and finalists who have made their mark in the NFL:

  • Ameer Abdullah* RB; Nebraska / Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings
    • Joe Adams WR; Arkansas / Carolina Panthers
    • Antonio Andrews WR; Western Kentucky / Tennessee Titans
    • Dri Archer RB; Kent State / Pittsburgh Steelers
    • Tavon Austin RB; West Virginia / St. Louis, Los Angeles Rams, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaguars
    • Saquon Barkley* RB; Penn State / New York Giants
    • Odell Beckham Jr* WR; LSU / New York Giants, Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Rams
    • Lynn Bowden, Jr.* WR; Kentucky / Miami Dolphins
    • Brandon Boykin CB; Georgia / Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens
    • Randall Cobb* WR; Kentucky / Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans
    • D’Wayne Eskridge* WR; North Carolina / Seattle Seahawks
    • Travis Etienne* RB; Clemson / Jacksonville Jaguars
    • Clyde Edwards-Helaire* RB; LSU / Kansas City Chiefs
    • Marcus Green WR; Louisiana-Monroe / Philadelphia Eagles
    • Marion Grice RB; Arizona State / Arizona Cardinals
    • KJ Hamler WR; Penn State / Denver Broncos
    • N’Keal Harry* WR; Arizona State / New England Patriots
    • Nyheim Hines* RB; NC State / Indianapolis Colts
    • Myles Jack* LB; UCLA / Jacksonville Jaguars
    • Adoree’ Jackson* CB; USC / Tennessee Titans
    • LaMichael James RB; Oregon / Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers
    • Jeremy Kerley WR; TCU / San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills
    • Joel Lanning LB; Iowa State / Dallas Cowboys
    • Marqise Lee* WR; USC / Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots
    • Johnny Manziel QB; Texas A&M / Cleveland Browns
    • Owen Marecic DB; Stanford / Cleveland Browns
    • Christian McCaffrey* RB; Stanford / Carolina Panthers
    • Ty Montgomery* RB; Stanford / Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets, New Orleans Saints
    • Rondale Moore* WR; Purdue / Arizona Cardinals
    • Marcus Murphy RB; Missouri / New Orleans Saints, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers
    • Robert Nkemdiche* DL; Ole Miss / Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks
    • Jabrill Peppers* DB; Michigan / Cleveland Browns, New York Giants
    • Dante Pettis* WR; Washington / San Francisco 49ers
    • Joe Reed* WR; Virginia / Los Angeles Chargers
    • DeVonta Smith* WR; Alabama / Philadelphia Eagles
    • Shaq Thompson* LB; Washington / Carolina Panthers
    • Kadarius Toney* WR; Florida / New York Giants
    • Dede Westbrook* WR; Oklahoma / Jacksonville Jaguars

*Currently active in NFL