It was a frustrating end to the season, but Tavon Austin has finally given us something to smile about, winning the 2012 Paul Hornung Award, given annually to the nation's most versatile player. It's the most significant award won by a football Mountaineer since Dan Mozes' win of the Rimington Award (given to the nation's top center) in 2006.
It's hard to argue with the selection of Austin for his versatility, as along with Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson he was the first FBS player to score touchdowns four different ways (rushing, receiving, kick return, punt return) since 2008. Additionally he finished second nationally in all-purpose yardage (Western Kentucky's Antonio Andrews was first), averaging 230 total yards a game and doing it against a slate of Big 12 opponents.
The Paul Hornung Award Committee summarized Tavon's season and the award nicely in this press release:
Louisville, Ky. - Thursday, January 10, 2013 - West Virginia senior Tavon Austin has been named the winner of the 2012 Paul Hornung Award, presented by Texas Roadhouse, as the most versatile player in major college football. The announcement was made today by the Louisville Sports Commission and Paul Hornung.
Austin excelled throughout the 2012 season as one of the nation's most prolific all-purpose offensive and special teams players during the Mountaineers' inaugural season in the Big 12 Conference. He was one of two players in the nation with more than 500 yards in three different statistical categories (rushing, receiving and kick returns) and one of three players in the nation with 110 or more catches.
"I am honored and humbled to be selected as the winner of the prestigious Paul Hornung Award," said Austin. "Whether I am on the field as a receiver, in the backfield or as a returner, I have high expectations for myself, and I have always tried to use my versatility to help my team be successful. I want to thank my coaches and teammates for helping me achieve this honor."
On Nov. 17 against the University of Oklahoma, Austin recorded his most prolific performance of the season when he registered an astounding 572 all-purpose yards, the second-highest total all-purpose yards in a single game in FBS history and a Big 12 Conference record. In the 50-49 shootout loss to the Sooners, Austin set West Virginia's single-game rushing record with 344 yards, and his two rushing touchdowns made him the first Mountaineer in school history to score a touchdown four different ways (receiving, rushing, kick and punt return) in one season.
"I like the way Tavon Austin plays the game," said Paul Hornung. "He is tough, he generates yardage almost every way possible and has a nose for the end zone. Tavon Austin is a deserving winner of the Paul Hornung Award. We look forward to having him with us at our banquet in Louisville in February."
For the season, Austin compiled 2,910 all-purpose yards, an average of 223.8 yards per game. His average yards per game was 80 more than any other player in the Big 12 Conference and the second-best mark in the nation. Austin ran for 643 yards on 72 carries with three touchdowns, caught 114 passes for 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns, had 32 kick returns for 813 yards with a touchdown, and returned 15 punts for 165 yards and a touchdown. Austin closed out his collegiate career with 150 all-purpose yards in West Virginia's Pinstripe Bowl appearance on Dec. 29.
Under the direction of head coach Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia finished the year with a 7-6 record, including wins over No. 25 Baylor and on the road at No. 11 Texas. The Mountaineers were one-point shy of beating No. 13 Oklahoma in late-November and suffered an overtime defeat against TCU. Austin helped the Mountaineers score at least 42 points on six occasions in 2012.
"Tavon's play on the field defines versatility, and as I said during the season, he was the most dangerous player in the nation with the ball in his hands," Holgorsen said. "He is deserving of such a prestigious honor, and the program, the University and the state are very proud of him and his accomplishment."
Austin was chosen as the Paul Hornung Award winner from among four finalists by a 16-member national Selection Committee comprised of sports journalists and retired NFL players, and secured an additional first place vote from online fan voting. On Dec. 7, Austin, Antonio Andrews (Western Kentucky), Dri Archer (Kent State) and Marqise Lee (USC) were named as Paul Hornung Award finalists. All voting was confirmed by Dean Dorton Allen Ford, PLLC, one of the leading accounting and advisory firms in Kentucky, with offices in Louisville and Lexington.
For the second consecutive year, fans made their voice known in the selection of the finalists and winner of the Paul Hornung Award. In 2012, 71,440 votes were cast to select the finalists throughout college football's regular season. In less than one month, 19,240 votes were cast to choose the winner of this year's award. The online fan vote accounts for the equivalent of one selection committee member.
Austin finished eighth in Heisman voting, the same award earned by Paul Hornung in 1956. Following the regular season, Austin was also named an All-America selection by various outlets, including the Associated Press, American Football Coaches Association, Sports Illustrated and Pro Football Weekly. He was also selected as the Big 12 Co-Special Teams Player of the Year and the Player of the Year by the Austin-American Statesman.
The Baltimore native was a Paul Hornung Award Weekly Honor Roll Selection on four occasions during the 2012 season and was recognized with the honor once during the 2011 season. The Dunbar High graduate set Maryland High School records for career points (790), touchdowns (123), total offensive yards (9,258) and rushing yards (7,962) during his prolific prep career.
Austin will be honored on Feb. 15, 2013, at the Galt House in downtown Louisville during the annual Paul Hornung Award banquet, sponsored by KentuckyOne Health.
Past Paul Hornung Award finalists are enjoying successful NFL careers, including Kentucky's Randall Cobb (Green Bay Packers), Brandon Boykin (Philadelphia Eagles) and Owen Marecic (Cleveland Browns). Stanford linebacker and fullback Marecic won the inaugural award following the 2010 season and Georgia defensive back, running back and return specialist Boykin captured the award last year.