White, Manning, Fitzgerald each win awards

Updated: December 12, 2003, 12:17 PM ET
By Wayne Drehs | ESPN.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- There was a time, not long ago, when the Home Depot College Football Awards would provide a pretty good indication of who would be favored to win the Heisman Trophy, presented three days later in New York.

But it didn't happen in 2001, didn't happen in 2002. And it certainly didn't happen here Thursday night.

While Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning won the Maxwell Player of the Year Award, joining his older brother Peyton as the first siblings to win the award, Pittsburgh wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald won the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award.

It gets better.

Earlier in the week, it was neither Manning nor Fitzgerald, but Oklahoma quarterback Jason White getting the accolades, winning the AP and Sporting News Player of the Year Awards. And for even more drama, White beat out Manning on Thursday night to become the first Sooner to win the Davey O'Brien Award, given to the nation's best quarterback.

So, for review: White beat Manning, who beat White and Fitzgerald, who beat Manning and White.

"Thank goodness it's not up to me to make sense of all this," Fitzgerald said. "I'll just be there on Saturday going along for the ride."

What it all means is up for debate. Before 2000, 10 of the previous 15 Heisman winners had left here with the Maxwell. But that hasn't been the case in each of the last three seasons.

In 2001, Drew Brees captured the Maxwell while Chris Weinke won the Heisman. The year after, Ken Dorsey won the Maxwell and Eric Crouch took the Heisman. And last year, Larry Johnson won the Maxwell three days before Carson Palmer won the Heisman.

So now that Manning won, what does that mean for Saturday?

"Who knows?" he said. "To be honest, I'd be shocked if I won, considering the company that I'm going up against. All three guys were outstanding with great season. I didn't even expect tonight."

Most Heisman prognosticators considered White the favorite until Saturday's 35-7 loss to Kansas State in the Big XII Championship. It remains to be seen if voters held their ballots long enough to factor that game into the Heisman equation.

"Of course they should consider it," White said. "They should consider every game that each one of us played. The award is based on an entire season, not a couple games."

In a season that many have tabbed the "Year of the Receiver," Fitzgerald beat fellow sophomore Mike Williams of USC and junior Mark Clayton of Oklahoma for the Fred Biletnikoff Award as the outstanding collegiate receiver.

Fitzgerald led the nation in receiving yards per game (142.6), touchdowns (21) and total receiving yards (1,569).

"You look at Mike Williams and Mark Clayton, plus all the tremendous players who are at home and this is great," Fitzgerald said. "Any one of us who have been honored to win."

On Wednesday night, fresh off the Big XII title game loss, Clayton used Kansas State to beat ESPN television personality Kirk Herbstreit in the EA Sports Football Challenge.

"There are no hard feelings. They're a great team," Clayton said. "I had to show Kirk how good they were."

Michigan running back Chris Perry, who will join White, Manning and Fitzgerald Saturday in New York, beat out Virginia Tech's Kevin Jones and Kansas State's Darren Sproles for the Doak Walker Award, given to the top running back.

Iowa senior Robert Gallery became the first Hawkeye to win the Outland Trophy since Alex Karras in 1957. Of added bonus was that Gallery accepted the award from Chad Hennings, the ex-Air Force and Dallas Cowboys lineman who grew up just 40 minutes from Gallery's Masonville, Iowa home.

"He was a guy we all looked up to growing up," Gallery said. "My parents knew his parents and he was somebody we wanted to be. So this means that much more."

And in the closest voting ever, USC head coach Pete Carroll, who resurrected the school's struggling program and has it positioned to win at least a share of the national championship should the Trojans beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl, won the Home Depot Coach of the Year Award.

"I never did set a time limit, but I thought it was a place we could do some things," Carroll said of the task he faced when taking the USC job in 2001. "Now, we've got a rhythm, a real good thing going. Hopefully we can continue that."

The 2003 Disney Wide World of Sports Spirit Award went to San Jose State special teams player Neil Parry for courageously overcoming the amputation of his right leg and returning to the field after a compound fracture in a game against Texas El-Paso in October of 2000.

Parry injured his leg on a kickoff return and a week later, had to have it amputated six inches below the knee due to infections and damage to a nerve and artery. Three years, 20 surgeries and some 15 prosthetic legs later, Parry returned to the field this past Sept. 18.

"I thought life was done," Parry said. "I just didn't think anything would be the same. But then I started to walk. And as soon as they said I might be able to run, I made my mind up -- I had to get on that field again."

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