CRAWFORD | Louisville's Holliman wins Jim Thorpe Award as nation - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Louisville's Holliman wins Jim Thorpe Award as nation's top DB

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The interception is one of football's more cerebral accomplishments. There's a knack in knowing where to be.

I asked University of Louisville safety Gerod Holliman, after he intercepted the last pass he saw in the regular season to tie a 46-year-old NCAA single-season record of 14, how many of his interceptions were due to instinct and reaction, and how many due to preparation and being able to understand the play that was unfolding in front of him.

“I'd say about half of them were off game film,” Holliman said. “A lot of them were over-throws or miscommunications between the quarterback and receivers. A lot were there because our line did a great job of pressuring the quarterback into a bad throw. . . . Every interception I've had, a lot of my teammates and coaches have been a part of.”

But Thursday night, it was Holliman on center stage, winning the Jim Thorpe Trophy, given annually to the defensive back of the year in college football.

Holliman was presented with the award Thursday night during the College Football Awards Show at Walt Disney World.

He's the first Atlantic Coast Conference player to win the award, and the first not from the Southeastern or Big Ten Conference to win it since 2007.

He also was named a first-team Walter Camp All-American.

Holliman intercepted 14 passes this past season, tying a record set in 1968 by Al Worley of Washington. In the long history of college football, only 11 other players have only intercepted as many as 12 in a season.

But Holliman has had that knack. Heading into this season, the big question facing the team was how would it fill its holes at safety. Calvin Pryor was a first-round draft pick and a bona fide big-hitter. Hakeem Smith had been a defensive mainstay for four years.

Into their shoes stepped a next-level newcomer, James Sample, and Holliman, a big-hitter in his own right, with a twist.

He shops for interceptions in bulk. He picked of reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston twice.

“The key is is preparation,” U of L coach Bobby Petrino said at a news conference for the Belk Bowl in Charlotte on Wednesday. “He really understands the game of football. He studies extremely hard. And then what he does when he gets out on the field is he trusts what he has studied. He doesn't hesitate. He breaks on the ball. He has great hands, and he's been able to come away with an amazing number of interceptions.”

Holliman's record — and winning the Jim Thorpe Award — adds a significant piece to Louisville's comparatively short history in big-time college football.

“I'm just glad I was able to do it,” Holliman said. “I'm just glad I was able to come in and help the team.”

Said Petrino: “He's been amazing. He's had a great year for us. There's always other people that play into it. That record is his, but every one of those defensive linemen, linebackers and other guys with the tight coverage have a little piece of it too. . . . We're just very proud of him.”

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