OMAHA, Neb. — Johnny Rodgers believes it’s time return specialists in college football get their due.
Best known for his electrifying kick returns as the 1972 Heisman Trophy winner at Nebraska, Rodgers on Tuesday announced a new postseason award for the top kick or punt return man in college football.
Rodgers said the Johnny “The Jet” Rodgers Award should gain the prestige of awards such as the Butkus for linebackers, the Jim Thorpe for defensive backs or the Outland for linemen.
“If you’re walking by a store or anywhere they have televisions and they have highlights on for special teams, everybody stops and watches,” he said. “This has the ability to create a lot of awareness for guys who haven’t gained recognition throughout college football.”
The trophy was designed and cast by Omaha artist Joe Putjenter and depicts Rodgers slipping out of the grasp of Oklahoma’s Greg Pruitt on the 72-yard punt return that was the signature play of Nebraska’s victory in the 1971 “Game of the Century.”
The Rodgers Award winner for the 2011 season will be selected by Rodgers and announced Thursday. Finalists are Arkansas’ Joe Adams, Texas A&M’s Dustin Harris, LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu and North Carolina’s T.J. Thorpe.
The winner and his family will receive the award at an April 12 banquet in Omaha.
Rodgers said national media members will be enlisted to select future winners, who will be announced in December or January each year.
The online brokerage TD Ameritrade is the award’s major sponsor.
Asked why he’s giving the award to the top return man for 2011 rather than waiting to make the first presentation after the 2012 season, Rodgers said he wanted to start now before another entity had the same idea.
“To be quite honest, in sharing information with different colleges across the country, different people in the media, different corporations, the tones in their voice when they figured out this had been overlooked... you could tell they realized it hadn’t been done and it’s time had come.”
Proceeds from the banquet will go to the Johnny Rodgers Youth Foundation, which concentrates on keeping at-risk youth in school and progressing toward high school graduation.