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ODU will campaign to help Heinicke win Heisman
ODU will campaign to help Heinicke win Heisman

After Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke broke seven NCAA records against New Hampshire in 2012, a local business began printing "Heinicke for Heisman Trophy" T-shirts.

ODU officials quickly shut the effort down, noting in part that a brand of beer was being promoted.

"I thought it was all fun and games," Heinicke said.

But the fun and games are over.

Head coach Bobby Wilder said Thursday that the school will mount a serious campaign this season to help Heinicke win the Heisman Trophy as a senior.

Asked why ODU would be so audacious in just its sixth year of football, Wilder answered, "Why not?"

"Twelve of the last 13 Heisman Trophy winners have been quarterbacks," he said. "You need to have eye-catching statistics, something that separates you from other contenders."

And one thing Heinicke has is eye-catching stats.

In just 34 games, Heinicke has thrown for 11,483 yards and 102 touchdowns. With a full season yet to play, he's already the only quarterback in Virginia ever to pass for more than 10,000 yards.

As a sophomore, Heinicke won the Walter Payton Award, considered the Heisman Trophy of the Football Championship Subdivision, and the Dudley Award, given to Virginia's best Division I player.

Yet, a Heisman campaign from ODU could be interpreted as pretentious. After all, the school is playing its first full season in the Football Bowl Subdivision this upcoming season.

Last season, ODU was a transition team, going 1-4 against FBS opponents and beating only Idaho.

Heinicke averaged 296 yards and two touchdowns in those five games against FBS teams, including four that went to bowl games. His stats were skewed by a 130-yard passing performance in an 80-20 loss at North Carolina.

"There was discussion about doing this in 2012," Wilder said. "But we feel like we're in a position to do this now. We're a full member of Conference USA. We're playing teams from the SEC (Vanderbilt) and ACC (N.C. State). That's the kind of schedule that Heisman Trophy candidate needs."

Quarterbacks coach Ron Whitcomb acknowledges that things have to break right for Heinicke to become a serious candidate.

"He has to perform at a high level and we have to win a lot of games for him to be in the conversation," Whitcomb said.

ODU hasn't decided how extensive the campaign will be. Some schools have been creative, and others have spent a lot of money, in trying to get the attention of the 895 Heisman voters.

Last year, Northern Illinois mailed "Lunch with Lynch" lunch bags to voters to promote quarterback Jordan Lynch, who finished third. In 2001, Oregon State spent $250,000 on a billboard in New York's Times Square with a likeness of quarterback Joe Harrington, who also finished third.

Conversely, Texas A&M did little to promote Johnny Manziel in 2012, yet he won the trophy in a runaway. Generally, the smaller the school, the bigger the campaign.

Lately, schools have relied more on social media, including Facebook and Twitter. In 2012, Southern California offered a free mobile phone app to track quarterback Matt Barkley.

ODU coaches acknowledge the odds are astronomically long that Heinicke would win the Heisman.

"But he's too good of a player not to do something like this," Whitcomb said. "For any team lucky enough to have a player like Taylor Heinicke, this is a no-brainer."

Wilder said when he told Heinicke this week about the campaign, he had a one-word answer: "Sweet."

"The first thing Taylor told me is that this benefits all of us; this puts the team on a higher profile, a bigger stage," Whitcomb said.

Heinicke said he's ready for the increased scrutiny and demands on his time that might come with a campaign.

"When coach Wilder told me, the first thought I had is that this is really cool," Heinicke said. "I'll do whatever they ask."

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