By Larry Fleisher, The Sports Xchange
NEW YORK — Baker Mayfield’s college career began with him being introduced as a walk-on quarterback. Now the Oklahoma quarterback has Heisman Trophy winner attached to his name.
Mayfield claimed college football’s biggest individual honor Saturday night at the Marriott Marquis near Times Square when he totaled 732 first-place votes and 2,398 points.
“It’s unbelievable for me,” Mayfield said. “It’s a dream come true. It’s an honor, that’s for sure.”
Last year, Mayfield placed third with 361 points and lost to the eventual winner — Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson — and finished behind Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. This year, he beat Stanford running back Bryce Love and Jackson.
He claimed the honor with at least one remaining game in his college career, against No. 3 Georgia in the upcoming College Football Playoff. It’s the culmination of a journey that began in 2013 when he walked on to Texas Tech after not getting any scholarship offers from any Big 12 programs. He also became the first Heisman winner whose career began as a walk-on since athletic scholarships were created in the 1950s.
Mayfield left Texas Tech due to communication issues with the coaching staff and then enrolled at Oklahoma in January 2014. He joined the Sooners as a walk-on a month later and was named the starting quarterback for 2015.
“It’s been a tough journey,” Mayfield said during his acceptance speech while he choked back tears.
He placed fourth in the Heisman voting in 2015 by finishing the season with 3,700 passing yards and 36 touchdown passes. This year, under first-year coach Lincoln Riley, he was even better as a fifth-year senior.
This season, Mayfield completed 262 of 369 passes for 4,340 yards, with 41 touchdown passes and five interceptions. He led the nation in passing efficiency at 203.8, which is ahead of the FBS-record 196.4 mark he posted last season.
“For any coach to have a chance for your guy to be standing here with the Heisman trophy and just to do it kind of at the end of such a long journey that we’ve had together, it’s very special,” said Riley, who was Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator in the previous two seasons. “We’re obviously very close. We’ve been through a lot together. That’s a proud moment. That’s certainly a moment that I’ll never forget.”
Those numbers made him the overwhelming favorite heading into Saturday and the results reflected it.
Mayfield’s first-place votes were the fifth-best in Heisman history and he received 86 percent of the total possible points — the third-highest of all-time. Only Ohio State’s Troy Smith (2,540 points, 2006) and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota (2,534 points, 2014) received higher percentages.
Mayfield’s win was solidified with the moments he enjoyed in big performances during victories over Ohio State, Texas, Oklahoma State and twice over TCU. Those showings helped the Sooners get the No. 2 seed in their second appearance in the College Football Playoff.
Of course, those were slightly overshadowed by Mayfield planting the Sooner flag at midfield after winning at Ohio State and him taunting Kansas fans last month. Those actions were preceded by a Feb. 25 arrest in Fayetteville, Ark., on charges of public intoxication, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and fleeing, which resulted in a plea deal.
Ultimately when it came time to decide the Heisman, numbers won out for Mayfield, who can now turn his focus toward getting Oklahoma its first national championship since 2000.
Mayfield became the third Sooners quarterback to win in the last 15 seasons. Jason White won in 2003 and Sam Bradford won it five years later.
“There’s a tradition at OU that’s second to none and I’ve enjoyed playing for them because of tradition and the standard set so high,” Mayfield said. “For me, I’ve loved it, I’ve loved every second of it and just to be in consideration for it and in the discussion with those guys is pretty special.”
He also continued a recent trend of signal-callers to win the award. Mayfield became the 14th quarterback to win in the last 17 years, though he was the first senior to win since Smith in 2006.
Love was bidding to become the second running back to win in three years but could not join former Alabama running back Derrick Henry (2015). Love, who rushed for 1,973 yards despite being hampered by a high ankle sprain late in the season, finished with 75 first-place votes and 1,300 points.
Jackson was trying to join Ohio State running back Archie Griffin (1974 and 1975) as the second repeat winner of the award. The junior finished with better numbers than last season, but Jackson ended up with 47 first-place votes and 793 points.
Jackson lacked a signature victory after beating Florida State and losing a close game to Clemson last season and, along with Mayfield’s numbers, that likely cost him more first-place votes.
Nine players received first-place votes, including Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. Barkley finished fourth with 15 first-place votes and 304 points, while San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny (seven first-place votes, 175 points) rouinded out the top five. Overall, 43 players received votes.