First published in the Dec. 16 print issue of the Pasadena Outlook.
Since it was founded in 1874, the city of Pasadena has produced some of the most prominent scholars, thespians and athletes. Now another figure can be added to that long list after earning one of the most prestigious honors in all of sports.
University of Alabama quarterback Bryce Young was the recipient of the 87th Heisman Trophy on Saturday, becoming the first athlete from Pasadena to win the award that is given to the most outstanding player in college football.
“You dream of moments like that,” Young said at a ceremony in New York City. “It’s surreal for something like that to happen. You know, it was a whirlwind of emotion for sure hearing your name and then composing yourself to speak. … And it was truly an honor and a blessing.”
The humble sophomore standout ran away with the award, garnering 684 first-place votes while Aidan Hutchinson of Michigan finished as runner-up with 78 first-place votes. Young thanked his parents, teammates, coaches and his beloved hometown for helping along the way during the ceremony, which was nationally televised by ESPN.
“You know, whenever you can win an award like this, it goes as an individual award, but it’s a team award because I couldn’t do it with any of those guys,” said Young, who attended the Barnhart School. “I’d like to thank my city, ’Dena, for molding me into the young man I am and for the community always showing support. It means a lot to me.”
Young had a remarkable season, completing 68% of his passes and throwing for 4,322 yards, 43 touchdowns and only four interceptions, and was the favorite to win the Heisman after leading Alabama on a 12-play, 97-yard touchdown drive that tied the game against rival Auburn. The Crimson Tide went on to win that contest in overtime and followed that with a 41-24 victory over Georgia to claim the Southeastern Conference championship and finish the regular season ranked No. 1 in the nation with a 12-1 record.
He is Alabama’s fourth Heisman winner and first quarterback in the program’s history to claim the trophy. Young’s predecessor Mac Jones — now the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots — was in the running for the honor last year. NFL Super Bowl champions Joe Namath and Ken Stabler are also among Alabama’s former quarterbacks.
“There’s such a rich quarterback history here, and there’s been so many greats that have come before me,” Young said. “It’s really crazy to think that no one else has actually won the award at that position. But for myself to now have won the award, it’s a huge honor.
“It was big for me understanding the quarterback tradition and the standard that it was to play quarterback at University of Alabama. It was important for me to live up to that and try to meet that standard.”
Legendary head coach Nick Saban, who took over the Crimson Tide in 2007 and has won six of his seven national championships with Alabama, certainly believes his quarterback met the standard set by him and his coaching staff.
“I think Bryce’s biggest asset is he’s a very talented player,” Saban said. “He’s very accurate with the ball, makes good judgments, but I think he prepares really well.
“[Preparation is] one of the things all of our quarterbacks have done, but he’s really spent a lot of time in preparation this year, and he’s been able to execute and get us in the right plays and throw the ball in the right place to the right guys on lots of occasions that have been very necessary for us to have success. I think that’s probably one of the things that also sets him apart, that he had to make some plays at critical times and that maybe some other guys didn’t have the opportunity to do.”
Young set himself apart from nearly every other athlete as far back as high school. He was one of the nation’s top-ranked quarterbacks in 2019 as a senior at Santa Ana Mater Dei, a football powerhouse that produced former University of Southern California greats Matt Leinart and Matt Barkley, and threw for 4,528 yards, 58 touchdowns and six interceptions with the Monarchs and ran for 357 yards and 10 scores. In his senior season, he guided Mater Dei to a 12-1 record with the lone loss coming against St. John Bosco of Bellflower in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship. MaxPreps ranked the Monarchs as the No. 2 high school football team in the nation behind St. John Bosco.
The five-star recruit was named the Gatorade Football Player of the Year and the top-rated quarterback by 247Sports, a website that focuses on football and basketball recruiting, and had previously committed to play for the USC Trojans but flipped to play for Saban.
Though mostly known for his dual-threat ability as a passer and a runner, Young wanted to prove that he was capable excelling in the pocket, not to recruiters and coaches but himself.
“I’ve always been someone who’s been labeled as not the prototype, being an African American quarterback and being ‘undersized,’” said Young, who is 6 feet tall and 184 pounds.
“I’ve always been ruled out and counted out and people a lot of times have told me that I wasn’t going to be able to make it. For me, it’s always been about not really proving them wrong but proving to myself that I can accomplish. I’ve always pushed myself to work the hardest and I tried my best to do all I can to maximize all I can do and thanks to the people around me and through the grace of God, I’ve been able to make it here, and I’m truly grateful for that.”
Next up for Alabama and Young is the college football playoffs. The No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide (12-1 overall) will take on No. 4 Cincinnati (13-0) in the Cotton Bowl, which is one of the semifinal games, on Friday, Dec. 31, at 12:30 p.m. Should Alabama come away victorious, it would advance to the championship game on Jan. 10 and face either No. 2 Michigan or No. 3 Georgia.