Leinart adds to USC's Heisman tradition

QB is school's 6th winner

Oklahoma's Peterson 2nd

College Football

December 12, 2004|By Ken Davis | Ken Davis,HARTFORD COURANT

NEW YORK - College football has a new leading man.

Matt Leinart was already the envy of the Southern California campus. With an unassuming personality and boyish good looks, Leinart became a star in Tinsel Town while leading the Trojans to a share of the national championship last season and a No. 1 ranking they held from start to finish this season.

Last year, he replaced a quarterback who had won the Heisman Trophy. Now he has his own.

Leinart, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound junior, was announced as the winner of the 70th annual Heisman Trophy last night in New York. He was named first on 267 of 876 ballots and won the voting in five of the six geographic regions. He received the most points in each of the three weeks of voting and finished with a total of 1,325.

As the sixth USC player to win the Heisman, Leinart prevented Oklahoma quarterback Jason White from becoming the second player to win the award twice. And he halted Adrian Peterson's attempt to become the first freshman winner.

"I still can't speak," Leinart said. "When they called my name, I just kind of dropped. It's a feeling you can't really describe. My legs were weak, my heart was beating 20 times a second. It's probably one of the greatest feelings I've had my entire life. I'm extremely honored and flattered to be part of this group."

Peterson, Oklahoma's powerful running back, became the first freshman to finish second, but the margin of victory wasn't as close as anticipated. Peterson received 154 first-place votes and 997 points, the most ever for a freshman. Georgia's Herschel Walker received 683 points in 1980 and finished third, previously the highest for a freshman.

White, who won the Heisman last season and came back for his sixth season, had more first-place votes (171) than Peterson, his teammate, but finished third overall with 957 points. Utah quarterback Alex Smith was fourth and USC running back Reggie Bush finished fifth.

"I told [Leinart] his life is fixing to change," White said. "He'll realize what I'm talking about in a couple of weeks."

Leinart, White, Peterson and Bush will be reunited Jan. 4 in the Orange Bowl when No. 1 USC and No. 2 Oklahoma meet in the Bowl Championship Series title game.

"I know they're going to be coming after me," Leinart said.

White was trying to join Ohio State running back Archie Griffin as the only two-time winners. Griffin, who won in 1974 and 1975, was in the audience and told White he was sorry he didn't join the club.

"I think [Griffin] might have a guy coming up who might join him," White said.

Asked if he meant Leinart or Peterson, White smiled.

"That's a good question," he said. "But my suggestion was Adrian."

As a former winner, White had a vote this year. He said he left himself off the ballot and had someone else fill in his third choice.

"I don't think I'm the greatest player out there," White said. "I knew who the top two were and that's how it finished - but not exactly in that order."

Peterson said he wasn't disappointed about not winning.

"It was a lot of fun and I never imagined being here as a freshman," Peterson said. "Hopefully I'll be back next year and the year after - and then I will be more relaxed."

Leinart has directed the top-ranked Trojans to a 25-1 record since succeeding Carson Palmer as the starting quarterback. Palmer won the Heisman in 2002, USC's first winner since running back Marcus Allen in 1981. The Trojans' six Heismans tie Ohio State for second-most among all schools. Notre Dame holds the record with seven.

"I remember watching Carson from my couch and I was so proud of the way he finished his career and won the Heisman Trophy," Leinart said. "Filling in his shoes, I could never have imagined this. I just wanted to play and help my team win."

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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