By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
This spring, getting ready for the NFL draft, West Virginia University’s versatile Tavon Austin will be almost too busy to eat, but there is one night he will set aside to make sure he has time for dinner.
That will be a February evening when he goes to Louisville to formally be honored as the winner of the 2012 Paul Hornung Award presented by Texas Roadhouse, to the most versatile player in major college football.
Austin was among the most prolific and versatile offensive and special-teams players this past season. He was one of only two players in the nation with more than 500 yards in three different statistical categories (rushing, receiving and kick returns) and one of three in the nation with 110 or more receptions.
This fulfills all the requirements to win the award. It was named after Hornung, a Notre Dame star who was winner of the 1956 Heisman Trophy. A quarterback in college, he went on to become a star running back and NFL MVP on Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers.
He set a single-season NFL scoring record that stood for 46 years as he ran the ball, received it and often passed it on a dangerous halfback pass off the Green Bay sweep, and was a placekicker.
Lombardi once called Hornung “the most versatile man ever to play the game.”
“I like the way Tavon Austin plays the game,” Hornung said in the release. “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.”
“I am honored and humbled to be selected as the winner of the prestigious Paul Hornung Award,” Austin was quoted as saying in the release. “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.”
Austin’s greatest moment came on Nov. 17 against Oklahoma when coach Dana Holgorsen stunned the Sooners by playing him not at his normal slot receiver spot, but out of the running back position he played at Dunbar High in Baltimore as he became the most prolific prep runner in Maryland history.
Austin 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.
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 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 in the release. “He is deserving of such a prestigious honor, and the program, the university and the state are very proud of him and his accomplishment.”
A national selection committee comprised of 16 sports journalists and former NFL stars votes for the Hornung Award, with fan voting comprising the 17th vote. All votes are tabulated independently, and the winner is honored at a banquet presented by Jewish Hospital Sports Medicine in early February in downtown Louisville.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.