College football's highest honor has been awarded to players born in Japan, the Philippines and even Croatia. But not once in 82 years has a North Carolina native won the coveted Heisman Trophy given to the sport's most outstanding performer.
The closest a North Carolinian has come to capturing the Heisman occurred in 1948 and 1949, when Asheville's Charlie “Choo-Choo'' Justice was runner-up for the University of North Carolina. Justice came in second during the voting in '48 to SMU's Doak Walker (778-443) and behind Notre Dame's tight end-defensive end Leon Hart (995-272) in '49.
The 2018 season may present the best chance yet for North Carolina to end its Heisman drought. Two of the preseason favorites to win the award in December hail from the Tar Heel state in Stanford running back Bryce Love and West Virginia quarterback Will Grier.
Born in Raleigh and starring at Wake Forest High School, Love was runner-up in the Heisman balloting to Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield as a junior in 2017 after finishing second nationally in rushing with 2,118 yards. He surprised many by opting to return to Stanford for his senior season, which made him the natural favorite for this year's Heisman. Las Vegas has made Love a 5-to-1 favorite to claim the honor.
Love's Heisman candidacy has received strong endorsements from various sources, including former Stanford teammate and 2016 Heisman runner-up Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey is now a running back with the NFL's Carolina Panthers.
“No question, Bryce deserves to be considered for the Heisman,″ McCaffrey said in June during an appearance at The Fayetteville Observer's Best of 910Preps awards banquet. “Even though he was behind me in school, I learned a lot from Bryce. He's a great player and a great person. If he has the kind of season he's capable of having, then he should get plenty of votes.″
Grier was born and raised just outside Charlotte and attended Davidson Day School, where he played for his father and former East Carolina quarterback, Chad Grier. Will Grier was the Big 12 Conference Newcomer of the Year as a junior in 2017 after passing for 3,490 yards and 34 touchdowns in 11 games before a finger injury ended his year.
The Las Vegas odds for a Grier Heisman win are 20-to-1, but that hasn't stopped West Virginia from mounting a major campaign to push the 6-foot-2-inch 212-pounder for the honor.
A two-page Heisman endorsement of Grier is featured in the opening pages of the Mountaineers' preseason media guide, and the school has established a website Grier7Heisman.com to detail his career and achievements. An eight-part video series called #WilltoWin is on the Mountaineers' athletic site.
“I would never approve a campaign unless I felt like a player could handle it. He's ready for this,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said during the Big 12's preseason media day. “He’s a very older, mature, coach’s kid. He’s prepared himself his whole life for this.”
West Virginia has never had a Heisman Trophy winner, and no Mountaineer has finished higher than third. So Grier would be happy to break that drought as well. But it's not his priority.
“That’s obviously a very prestigious award, and it would be an honor to win that award,” Grier said at the Big 12 media day. “I think it’d be great for the school and for the state as well. This is a really passionate, passionate fan base. It would be great to bring something home for these people of West Virginia. It would be a great honor, but not to let that distract or take away from the true focus, which is winning games.”
Stanford began a Heisman promotion for Love last season. The school launched BryceLove20.com in October and has kept it updated this season.
Staff writer Sammy Batten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-486-3534.