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A window into the post-Heisman Trophy life of Lamar Jackson

Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson of the University of Louisville accepted the Lexington Herald-Leader 2016 Sports Figure of the Year award on Wednesday night in Lexington. At left are Herald-Leader Editor Peter Baniak and Publisher Rufus Friday.
Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson of the University of Louisville accepted the Lexington Herald-Leader 2016 Sports Figure of the Year award on Wednesday night in Lexington. At left are Herald-Leader Editor Peter Baniak and Publisher Rufus Friday.

If you ask college football fans their favorite Lamar Jackson “moment” from 2016, many would say “The Lamar Leap” when the Louisville quarterback literally hurdled an onrushing Syracuse defensive back en route to the end zone.

The Heisman Trophy winner himself has a different choice — a bullet pass he threw into a tight window for a 16-yard touchdown against North Carolina State.

“I don’t really have a favorite moment but one of them (was with) my teammate Jamari Staples in the N.C. State game,” Jackson said Wednesday night at the Bluegrass Sports Awards Banquet. “It was a post pattern and I always dreamed about having this fantastic pass and I certainly think I had it on that pass.”

Jackson was at the Lexington Center to accept the 2016 Lexington Herald-Leader Kentucky Sports Figure of the Year Award, having been chosen in a vote of sports media members from across the state as the one who represented the best in sports in the commonwealth last year.

His margin of victory, 1,041 points, over runner-up Tyler Ulis was the largest in the 36-year history of the award.

In a brief interview, Jackson said he did not begin the 2016 football season expecting to blow up into one of the most well-known college athletes in the country.

“I wasn’t really worrying about all the fame and stuff like that,” he said. “I really just wanted to win games. (The season) didn’t end the way we wanted it to, so we’ve got to come back this year stronger.”

After winning the Herald-Leader's Sports Figure of the Year award at the Bluegrass Sports Award Banquet on Wednesday night, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson talked about his relationship with UK assistant coach Lamar Thomas, who recruited him

After winning nine of their first 10 games and moving to the cusp of making the College Football Playoff, Coach Bobby Petrino’s Cardinals ended their season with three straight losses — at Houston, to Kentucky and to LSU in the Citrus Bowl.

What happened to derail the U of L season?

“I don’t know,” Jackson said. “We hit a bump in the road. Everyone hits that little bump, but we’ll come back strong.”

To watch the throng of people who surrounded Jackson on Wednesday night after the banquet seeking a photograph or just a chance to shake the hand of a Heisman Trophy winner was to get a small glimpse into what life is like when one becomes as famous as Jackson now is.

Imagine having to deal with all that as a college sophomore.

Jackson was impressively patient and friendly.

Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, quarterback for the University of Louisville, accepted the Lexington Herald-Leader's 2016 Kentucky Sports Figure of the Year award at Wednesday night’s 2017 Bluegrass Sports Awards banquet in Lexington.

Rocco Gasparro, the U of L football program publicist, says the sophomore quarterback has handled his explosion of celebrity about as well as it can be done.

“He’s a super-nice kid, always accommodating,” Gasparro said Thursday. “We kind of try to protect him because he tries to do anything people ask and there’s just no way he can do everything and do the things he has to do for school and football.”

For Jackson, routine stuff like getting through the airport to board a plane can be challenging.

“I’ve been with him in the Louisville airport, and airport employees, passengers catching flights and arriving from flights that are Louisville fans, they all want to stop him for pictures,” Gasparro said.

After one U of L home game in 2016, Gasparro said Jackson got in his car to leave the stadium — and a fan followed him to a traffic light.

“They were chasing his car,” Gasparro said.

At the stop light, the fan asked Jackson to autograph a helmet.

“I’d say that’s been the weirdest thing we’ve had,” Gasparro said.

While navigating the hoopla, Jackson has to continue about his business. The Heisman Trophy winner says he has a clear idea of what he wants to improve on for 2017.

“Everything,” Jackson said. “I’m trying to perfect my craft — throwing, get into the playbook even more. I’m trying to be like Coach Petrino on the field without him being there.”

Here are all 10 finalists for the Lexington Herald-Leader's Kentucky Sports Figure of the Year for 2016, as voted on by media members throughout the state.

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