Hitting the campaign trail
Oklahoma sports information director Kenny Mossman has a fresh, new story about quarterback Jason White that he's dying to tell. It will give awards voters a side of White other than 28 touchdown passes against only four interceptions. But it won't be told before its time.
Timing is everything right now as voters for college football's major awards are looking for a reason to separate one candidate from another.
As Heisman Trophy voters were making their decision about whether to vote for White, Pittsburgh receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Mississippi quarterback Eli Manning or Michigan running back Chris Perry, the image of White sweating in the summers while pouring concrete in a blue-collar family with great work ethic was fresh in their minds.
Mossman made sure what he called "a very genuine apple pie story" hit papers and broadcasts when it would have the most benefit for White and not sooner. (No pun intended.)
"There are definitely times when you sit on a story," Mossman said. "And then you release it when the votes are coming due."
Mossman knows a little something about the subject. He made sure information got out to voters as OU players won an unprecedented seven major college football awards last year, including the Heisman Trophy and Davey O'Brien Award (White), the Thorpe and Nagurski awards (Derrick Strait), the Butkus and Bednarik awards (Teddy Lehman) and the Lombardi Award (Tommie Harris)
The highest number of major awards won by a single school before last season was five.
This season, OU players are right back in the hunt as award semifinalists or finalists: White (Heisman, Davey O'Brien, Maxwell and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm awards), defensive end Dan Cody (Ted Hendricks, Nagurski awards), receiver Mark Clayton (Biletnikoff, Maxwell awards), offensive lineman Jammal Brown (Outland Trophy), center Vince Carter (Outland, Rimington), linebacker Lance Mitchell (Nagurski) and safety Brodney Poole (Nagurski).
Oklahoma learned on Tuesday that freshman running back Adrian Peterson, already a Heisman candidate, also became a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award after the SMU Athletic Forum, which presents the award to college football's top running back, amended the bylaws to allow freshmen to be considered.
Rather than produce some gimmick for voters, such as salt and pepper shakers featuring White and Peterson, Mossman will simply put together e-mails and postcards. The information is brief and to the point, with superlatives from a player's most recent performances. He has the mailing list for some of the awards' voters but not all, so he targets the Football Writers Association of America.
"It would be great if all the awards would give us a list of their voters," Mossman said. "But I'm sure people like me have sent out so much information, we have probably made that impossible. They don't want those people inundated. But it makes promoting some of your athletes a blindfolded dart throw."
Some of the e-mails sent out have links to video clips produced by the same in-house production team that puts film of practices together for OU coaches.
"Just three or four years ago, we were still in the process of turning out hundreds of VHS tapes," Mossman said. "Now, we have links to our Web site that allows us to put up highlights of players. That's a lot easier than a voter having to unwrap a tape and slip it into their VHS player."
Mossman said he doesn't believe in starting awards promotions before the season. Instead, he waits for a player's performance to dictate if he is award-worthy. The e-mails and postcards will start going out after what Mossman calls a "springboard" game -- big games that draw plenty of national attention, such as OU's annual showdown with Texas.
"If a player excels in the Texas game, it's usually a launch for good things," Mossman said. "Jason White was 17-of-21 passing in that game last year and solidified himself as a Heisman candidate. Adrian Peterson ran for 225 yards against Texas this year. Those are games you make sure the information gets to everyone."
Exposure for the Oklahoma program is an added benefit for Sooners awards candidates. For the first time in school history, all of OU's games are being broadcast live on cable or network television.
"We've had seasons where all the games were on TV, but some were on pay-per-view or tape-delayed," Mossman said. "Our players are being seen as much, if not more than any program in the country. That's a tremendous benefit."
Mossman also said because Oklahoma doesn't have a professional football team within 200 miles of Norman, Sooners athletes have become inundated with interview requests -- sometimes to the point where athletes become resistant.
Mossman, however, reminds the players that awards are often determined by media members.
"We use that to help get them to become more agreeable to interview requests," Mossman said. "I think they recognize it helps them and the school."
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops signs off on everything Mossman does.
"We go to him on everything," Mossman said. "Team chemistry is really a dynamic you don't want to sacrifice in something like this. You don't want to create any in-house jealousy over whether one person is promoted while another is not."
Stoops said he would never pick one player over another to promote.
"I can't be the one to choose, nor would I," Stoops said. "We say, 'Here's their body of work,' and allow you the voter to make the decision."
Stoops, however, isn't afraid to promote one of his players when asked by a reporter. On Monday, Stoops was asked if a second Heisman Trophy for White could be possible.
"I don't know why it wouldn't be," Stoops said. "Look at what he's done. His numbers are incredible. His efficiency is probably better than last year. On the road, he's had big numbers. But his eyes are on the biggest prize and that's winning championships."
Stoops was asked what he would tell voters to look for in evaluating a player.
"Talent and ability on the field and execution," Stoops said. "I believe your whole season, your body of work matters. But a lot of people look at what you have done for me lately. We were one of the greatest teams ever to play college football last year, and then people dropped us like a hot potato after the Big 12 title game."
Stoops knows his next two games -- against Baylor and in the Big 12 title game -- will determine the outcome for several of his awards candidates, most of whom will be announced the second week of December. Mossman will, of course, be there to accentuate the positive. And he's got a story about Jason White that he's dying to tell ...
Chip Brown covers the Big 12 for the Dallas Morning News.
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