Lamar Jackson began the 2016 college football season by making scoreboards clack like a vintage pinball machine. In Louisville’s first four games, the quarterback accounted for 25 touchdowns.
The sophomore from Pompano Beach, Fla., ended 2016 doing something no football player from a Kentucky college had ever done — winning the Heisman Trophy.
So it seems fitting that Jackson amassed eye-popping numbers while winning the 2016 Lexington Herald-Leader Kentucky Sports Figure of the Year award.
“Some years picking this award is tough because there are so many accomplished athletes with ties to our state,” wrote Howie Lindsey of Louisville’s WKRD-AM and CardinalsSports.com. “Not this year. Lamar is incredible.”
Out of 157 votes cast by sports media members from across the commonwealth, Jackson garnered 114 first-place votes and was named on 150 ballots. His 1,041-point margin of victory over runner-up Tyler Ulis is the largest in the 36-year history of the award, bettering American Pharoah’s 897-point victory over John Calipari in 2015.
“(Jackson) took the college football world by storm and was easily the most electrifying player in the game,” wrote Chris Fisher of The Cats’ Pause.
Added Louisville Cardinals radio play-by-play announcer Paul Rogers: “Lamar Jackson was a model of how to handle success and public scrutiny in becoming the first player from a Kentucky school to win the Heisman Trophy.”
Second-place Ulis, the University of Kentucky’s fiery 5-foot-9 point guard, finished just ahead of high-scoring Jenkins High School girls’ basketball star Whitney Creech. In a stellar sophomore year, Ulis became only the second player ever named SEC Player of the Year and SEC Defensive Player of the Year in the same season.
“Ulis was not only the best point guard in America,” wrote Mary Jo Perino of Lexington’s WLXG-AM, “he was the de facto coach of the team. ... Teams usually take on the personality of their coach, but that team was all about Tyler.”
Creech’s third-place is the highest finish for a high school girls’ basketball player in award history. The most prolific scorer, male or female, ever in Kentucky high school basketball, Creech ended her career with 5,527 points after averaging 50.3 ppg as a senior.
“The way she captivated basketball fans, not only in Letcher County and the 14th Region but across the state, is something not seen in the mountains since the days of “King Kelly” Coleman,” wrote Josh McKinney of WYMT-TV in Hazard.
Yet, for most voters, no one was close to Jackson in 2016. It seemed on every snap the U of L QB was a highlight waiting to happen.
There was “The Lamar Leap” over a Syracuse defensive back for a touchdown. His electric spin through two Florida State defenders at the goal line for a score. And don’t forget the cutback run in which Jackson eluded at least seven Duke defenders while scooting 14 yards for a first down.
The 6-3, 205-pound Jackson ran for 1,571 yards with 21 touchdowns. He passed for 3,543 yards and 30 TDs.
The only downside to Jackson’s 2016 was its on-field ending. After leading Louisville to a 9-1 start and the cusp of the College Football Playoff, U of L finished its season by losing its final three games — at Houston, to Kentucky and to LSU in the Citrus Bowl.
“Sure, he didn’t finish like he wanted, but he’s the first Heisman winner EVER from (a Kentucky university) and that’s good enough,” wrote Jody Demling of CardinalAuthority.com in Louisville.
Added Matt Jones of KentuckySportsRadio.com and WLEX-TV: “I’m a UK guy, but first Heisman winner from a school in this state takes the nod.”
Lamar Jackson is the 2016 Kentucky Sports Figure of the Year.