The Heisman Trophy is without a doubt the most prestigious award in college sports. To nobody’s surprise, Oregon QB Marcus Mariota took that hardware home, winning by the second widest margin in the history of the honor. It’s good for him, great for the University of Oregon, and even an indirect boon for every team in the Pac-12.
Second to the Heisman, in my opinion, is a trophy that will be on the mantle of another great Pac-12 talent. In addition to a slew of All-American honors and statistical accolades, Utah Senior Defensive End Nate Orchard can now claim the Morris Trophy among his accomplishments. Not just another nod to his phenomenal year, winning this trophy is bigger and better than any all-conference or All-American team, being named a semifinalist or finalist for things like the Nagurski or Lombardi awards. The Morris Trophy, awarded to the best players on the line in the Pac-12 conference, is voted on by PLAYERS. No journalist or pollster or distracted TV personality weighs in on the process. Instead, ballots are distributed to the players that actually suit up and battle against one another. That means in order to win it, you have to impress the guys you are playing against. You have to impress the men who try to block you, or the men who try and get past your blocks. To win the Morris, you have to get the guys who are conditioned not to like you or respect you too much to do just that.
Orchard certainly made a case with the fans and the media, but it is far more important and impressive to know that he earned the respect of those he played against, the guys suiting up for USC and UCLA and Stanford who WANTED him to fail. It is almost poetic that Andrus Peat of Stanford was almost named a Morris winner. The man who received honors as the best offensive lineman in the Pac-12 is the same one who Orchard beat in head-to-head match-ups TWICE when the Utes traveled to Palo Alto. One of the most impressive days of a very impressive season for Nate was earned against a projected first-rounder who has very seldom been beat in his entire career. I don’t know who voted for who, but I’ll bet that Andrus Peat cast his vote for Orchard after giving up two sacks to him. Earning respect from opponents is truly one of the most difficult things to do in any sport. Far more common at the professional level than in college, where egos and insecurities bounce around locker rooms and EVERYBODY is fighting for minutes, recognitions, pre-season hype and postseason honors. Orchard had a great year, but this Morris trophy is undeniably the cherry on top of a rather delightful sundae. Good for him.
And of course, good for the Utes. Who can now boast to D-line recruits that they have two Morris Trophy winners in just 4 seasons. The D-line group has their own in-house nickname, their own logo to put on gear, but most importantly a very decorated legacy that lives on.