Alabama running back Derrick Henry holds the Heisman Trophy after being named the winner of the award on Dec. 12, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo)
Former Alabama running back Derrick Henry was among the seven finalists announced for the 2015 AAU James E. Sullivan Award last week. The award has been presented annually to the outstanding amateur athlete in the United States since golfer Bobby Jones won the first one for 1930, the year of his Grand Slam.
It would be another piece of hardware for Henry, who won the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award and Doak Walker Award for his record-breaking 2015 season for Alabama‘s CFP national-championship team.
Henry’s haul of honors has continued the run on sports awards for the state of Alabama. In addition to the Heisman Trophy, players with Alabama roots – that is, they played at a state high school or college – are the current holders of the NFL’s Most Valuable Player Award and the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton won the NFL MVP Award for the 2015 season, and Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson won the AL MVP Award for the 2015 season. Newton won the 2010 Heisman Trophy while leading Auburn to the BCS national championship. Donaldson was a two-sport All-State selection at Faith Academy in Mobile before catching for the Auburn baseball team.
Picking the best three athletes means defining what an athlete means to you.
At the NFL Scouting Combine last month, Henry measured 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds and managed a 4.54-second 40-yard dash, 37-inch vertical jump and, in an overlooked event, an 11.5-second 60-yard shuttle run, the fourth-best among the running backs this year.
If those kinds of numbers make the difference over accomplishments, former Auburn cornerback Jonathan Jones clocked in at 4.33 seconds in the 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine. Last year at the Combine, wide receiver J.J. Nelson ran a 4.28. The former Midfield High School and UAB standout is now with the Arizona Cardinals.
If speed defines an athlete, then how about Kirani James as one of the state’s best? The former Alabama track star won the gold medal in the men’s 400 meters in the 2012 Summer Olympics and finished third in the event at the 2015 World Championships in 43.78 seconds.
Although this is not the Golden Age of basketball for the state, Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins has been an NBA All-Star during each of the past two seasons. The former LeFlore High School standout enters Monday’s game ranked fourth in the NBA with a 27.2 points per game average and fifth in the league with an 11.5 rebounds per game average.
In contrast to basketball, four golfers from Alabama are in the top 11 on the PGA Tour money list for this season, including Alabama’s Justin Thomas, Auburn’s Jason Dufner and Smylie Kaufman, a former Vestavia Hills prep star. The other is Bubba Watson. The two-time Masters champ and current No. 4 golfer in the world was a JUCO All-American at Faulkner State Community College in Bay Minette.
But are golfers even athletes? Can they compare to someone who has forged a decade-long career in the NFL, such as Karlos Dansby (Woodlawn, Auburn), Robert Mathis (Alabama A&M) and DeMarcus Ware (Auburn High, Troy)?
Or how about an athlete that does one thing exceedingly well, such as Boston Red Sox reliever Craig Kimbrel? Kimbrel played at Lee High in Huntsville and Wallace State in Hanceville before blowing away big-league batters with a 100-mph fastball.
So the question is: Who are the state’s three best athletes right now? First person to include Bo Jackson gets the “Maybe, but he’s 53 years old” reply. He’d be on the state’s all-time trio, though. Or would he?
Let me know what you think in the comments from 10 to 11 a.m. CDT.
(On the Sullivan Award, there’s a fan-vote element to the process. If you’d like to vote for Henry or one of the other candidates, you can online.)