CRAWFORD | Lamar Jackson Heisman Snapshot: The Speech - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Lamar Jackson Heisman Snapshot: The Speech

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Photo courtesy ESPN Photo courtesy ESPN
Lamar Jackson with Louisville football sports information director Rocco Gasparro before a post-Heisman event. (Photo via Louisville football Facebook) Lamar Jackson with Louisville football sports information director Rocco Gasparro before a post-Heisman event. (Photo via Louisville football Facebook)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Lamar Jackson, the public speaker, is a lot like Lamar Jackson, the quarterback in the backfield. He’s elusive, moving quickly, juking and taking off different directions.

And that’s just fine.

Everybody wanted to know about The Speech. Jackson had worked on his Heisman Trophy comments with Louisville sports information director Rocco Gasparro for some time. To his credit, Gasparro didn’t try to put a bunch of words into Jackson’s mouth. What he did want to do is make sure Jackson thanked the people he wanted to thank, and said the things he wanted to say.

“It’s a big moment,” Gasparro said. “I think he was surprised at the emotion of it.”

Jackson heard his name called and took off toward the stage in the PlayStation Theater in New York last Saturday. His hands were shaking as he reached into a pocket and took out his folded speech, printed out, with a pause or two included in parentheses.

“My chest was pounding,” he said later. “I didn’t know what name they would call.”

To the crowd, after hugging about half of the assembled Heisman winners behind him, Jackson said, “I”m sorry, y’all. This is crazy right now for me, man. This is crazy. I’m shaking right now.”

That wasn't part of the script. Nor was his very first sentence, though the speech simply began with the two word reminder: "Thank God." That's where Jackson began.

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“First and foremost, before I go further with my speech, I want to thank my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ,” Jackson said. “Without him, none of us would be here right now."

Then Jackson looked down at the papers in front of him, and began.

"To the Heisman voters, I'm truly honored and humbled to be the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner. To be able to stand up here with all the Heisman Trophy winners, I'm extremely proud to represent this class and the University of Louisville with their first Heisman Trophy.

"I'd like to extend my appreciation to the Heisman Trust and all the people. This tremendous award has made this an experience of a lifetime, and I'll remember it for the rest of my life. To my teammates, this award is for all of you. I can't wait to cherish this moment with all of you, and I love you guys.”

It was about that point that the emotions kicked in.

“I read about half the speech,” Jackson said at a news conference after the Heisman ceremony. “Then it just started coming from the heart. It came from the heart. I meant everything I said.”

Jackson still stuck to the outline of his speech, but his words became more emotional. For instance, his next sentence was not in his prepared remarks, which included a mention of his fellow Heisman finalists, but was earlier in the speech.

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“To be included — I love Dede (Westbrook), man,” he said. “I love Baker (Mayfield). I just met these guys, and I love them. Deshaun (Watson) and Jabrill (Peppers). It's been a fun experience up here in New York with you guys, and in my first time meeting them, they treated me just like family. I love them guys."

Jackson then got back on schedule with his script.

"Growing up in Florida, there were so many influential people in my life that made me the player and the man I am today to share this award forever. This is so crazy. It means a lot, man. Two years ago, I had many choices. Throughout the process, there was one school that stood by my side, and that place, I fell in love with immediately, and that was the University of Louisville.

"They helped me make the greatest decision of my life. This is crazy, man. To our athletic director, Tom Jurich, Mrs. Jurich, they believed in me right away when I came to the University of Louisville, and I thank you guys.”

In these crazy and, in some ways, troubling days at U of L since Jackson won that award, when he has faded into the background as several controversies took center stage, a U of L administrator sent me a note that I can’t keep from passing along.

“Who would have thought,” the administrator wrote, “that Lamar Jackson might've coined the next slogan for U of L — ‘This is crazy, man.’”

Those moments, when Jackson had to exclaim, or when he got emotional and wasn’t sure what to say, put off some people. To many, however, they were endearing. In these exercises, the important thing is to be authentic. The important thing Gasparro told Jackson was not to be afraid to show his emotion, to be himself.

Jackson is not an orator. He won the night by being himself.

As his remarks turned toward home, he was at his strongest. After the ceremony, he found a moment to duck aside and place a phone call home, to some coaches who helped him as a young man. The South Florida Sun Sentinel tells about that call here. That’s a mature move. Jackson is a young kid, full of fun, but he has a strong sense of gratitude, and that is the mark of someone who has a healthy view of life. Those things shined through as he made his final remarks to the crowd, and to some of the people in it who mean the most to him.

He looked not at his paper, but down into the crowd, and this next "thank you" was unscripted.

"To Coach Peanut (Van Warren) sitting right here, you about got me in tears now, I'm going to cry,” Jackson said. “He put so much into me growing up in a home with a single parent. He always believed in me from the times I didn't want to do it, he'd encouraged me. He stuck with me, and I appreciate that."

Likewise, his thank you to Louisville coach Bobby Petrino. What was on the paper was this, "During the recruiting process, I heard so many different things. Some schools wanted me to be a wide receiver, a safety, or whatever, but there was one staff who believed I could be the quarterback I am today -- thank you coach Bobby Petrino and my position coach Nick Petrino for believing in me and mentoring me."

Instead, Jackson looked down at the Louisville head coach, and said this: "My coach sitting right there beside (Warren), Bobby Petrino, he came to my house on a home visit, and he told my mother that he would give me an opportunity if I come in ready to play. And I love you, Coach."

Then Jackson arrived at his biggest thank you, as he went down the row of people he saw sitting there.

"To my mother — Oh my God,” Jackson said. Then exclaimed with a long, “dang.”

It cut through the emotion as the crowd chuckled with him. He went on.

“I wasn't nervous at first because I didn't know who was going to win this award, but to be up here is crazy because these guys are great and I'm just happy right now,” Jackson said, ad libbing. “But back to my mother. She put so much into me. Losing my father and my grandma on the same day, it hurt and I wanted to cry real bad. She told me, 'Lamar, do not cry.' I'll remember that for the rest of my life, so every time certain things don't go my way or this and that don't happen, I just own up to it and be a man about the situation.

"And Mama, I love you so much. Dang, this is crazy. Thank the Lord. I told my teammates I wouldn't cry, but this is crazy right now. Brandon Radcliff was talking about it, but he jinxed me.”

Lamar Jackson, at 19 years old, was the youngest player ever to win the Heisman Trophy. On that podium, he was an energetic 19-year-old, and people ate it up. The Bar III red tuxedo jacket with black lapels. I don’t know how a speech professor would’ve graded it. But Jackson had made a connection with a national audience. He also looked down at his text, and realized he'd left someone out. Petrino's son, Nick, is the quarterbacks coach at Louisville, and really has worked with Jackson a great deal. The two have a connection. His contribution to Jackson's success is significant. Jackson had the poise to scramble back, and pick him up.

"I also want to thank my coach Nick Petrino, my quarterbacks coach,” Jackson said. “He put so much into me. He's a young coach, but he always believed in me, always tells, 'You're going to be great one day,' so shout out to Coach Nick Petrino."

Then he was ready to wrap it up, and he did so with a couple more unscripted lines.

“And to our fans back at home, this is for you guys. You guys always believe in us no matter who we face. No matter what happens, no matter what our record was, even last year, my freshman year, you always believed in me, and I love you guys. I can't wait to cherish this with you.

"I'm so grateful right now, and it's an honor to be here. It's a great award that I accomplished, and I thank you guys and the whole committee, the Heisman committee, and go Cards!"

Jackson walked up with a speech, he left having had a conversation with the public. His remarks were heartfelt. The crowd fed off his emotion as much as his words. By the time he was finished, they were up there with him.  And they were cheering.

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