When Bryce Love was named a Heisman Trophy finalist Monday night, the speedy Stanford back made Triangle history.
It was pretty clear already that the Wake Forest product was going to finish higher in the Heisman voting than any player from Wake County or the greater Triangle ever had, but his announcement as one of three finalists – along with Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, the favorite and last year’s winner, respectively – made that official.
Love, who first made a splash as an age-group national champion and record-holder in track, running with a local club that also included N.C. State running back Nyheim Hines, leads the nation in rushing yards per game (186.9), is second in rushing yards (1,973) and tied for seventh in touchdowns (17) despite playing the last five weeks with a badly injured ankle that kept him out of one game, costing him the national yardage lead.
Love isn’t alone in award history this year; N.C. State defensive end Bradley Chubb was named winner of the Nagurski Award on Monday as the nation’s top defensive player. He’s the first local player (and the third ACC player) to win the award since it was first given out in 1993. (North Carolina’s Julius Peppers won the similar Bednarik Award in 2001; this year’s winner has yet to be announced.)
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According to available Heisman records, which only include the top 10 from each year’s voting, no local player has ever finished in the top 10. Love is guaranteed to finish in the top three, which will put him in direct competition with the best finish by a player from a local school: North Carolina’s Charlie “Choo-Choo” Justice finished second in the voting in 1948 and 1949.
Since the Heisman people started inviting finalists to New York in 1982, Love is only the third player from North Carolina to make the trip. Tennessee’s Heath Shuler (Bryson City) was invited in 1993 and Michigan’s Chris Perry (Advance) in 2003. Shuler finished second, Perry fourth.
In recent years, a few players have been able to crack the top 10: California’s J.J. Arrington (Northern Nash) finished 8th in 2004, N.C. State’s Philip Rivers finished 7th in 2003, Peppers (Southern Nash) finished 10th in 2001, N.C. State’s Torry Holt (Eastern Guilford) finished 8th in 1998, East Carolina’s Jeff Blake finished 7th in 1991, and so on.
The farther back one goes, the more old names pop up from N.C. State (Ted Brown, Roman Gabriel) and North Carolina (Mike Voight, Don McCauley), Duke (Jay Wilkinson, Steve Lach) and Wake Forest (Brian Piccolo). But none from Wake, Durham, Johnston or Orange counties, unless there’s a leather-helmeted warrior from the 1940s who played elsewhere and slipped through the cracks.
So no matter what happens on Saturday in New York, Love has made history here, locally speaking. If he finishes second, he’ll stand beside Shuler among North Carolina natives and Justice among those with ties to the state.
And if he can somehow upset the odds and win the thing – and how voters consider Love’s injury and Mayfield’s, shall we say, exuberance, could engender an upset (full disclosure: I am a Heisman Trophy voter but I’m not allowed to reveal my ballot until after the announcement) – he’ll have done something no one with any connection to this state has done before.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock