For these Heisman finalists, a championship is all that matters

The Alabama Crimson Tide did what no team has done in the modern college football era: have three players finish in the top five for the Heisman vote. 

But the team could care less about the trophy. The real prize, for them, is winning a championship.

Junior quarterback Mac Jones, senior wide receiver DeVonta Smith and senior running back Najee Harris were all Heisman trophy finalists. After the Heisman finalist show last week on ESPN, Smith and Jones moved on to the top four, landing them a spot at the Heisman award ceremony on Jan. 5. 

Before the Rose Bowl, Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said their championship drive is what made the three players Heisman contenders.

“I think it speaks volumes to our team in general,” Sarkisian said. “I think any time awards like this come up, and like for us to have three of the top five in the Heisman means our team is playing good football.”

The Rose Bowl was like any other game this season for the Crimson Tide on offense. Smith and Harris both finished with over 100 scrimmage yards each and Jones threw four touchdown passes. Throughout this season, the three players made it extremely difficult for analysts to pick who was the best. 

Although Harris did not finish as a Heisman finalist, his focus didn’t waver. 

“I’m not tripping at all, man,” Harris said. “The two guys we’ve got in there right now is good enough. I play my part when my name is called. It really doesn’t matter if I’m in the race or not.”

Coach Nick Saban praised the trio for the majority of the season. But after the Rose Bowl, Saban pointed out how deserving Smith, who was also named College Football Player of the Year, was of winning the Heisman. 

“We love it when our players get recognized, and [Smith] has done as much for our team as anyone could do for any team,” Saban said.

After the game, Jones and Smith both deflected questions about their thoughts on the Heisman race. 

“That’s a rat poison question,” Jones jokingly said to a reporter. “I don’t know what to tell you. We were really focused on this game, which I’m really proud of everybody just locking into this. We’ve won a lot of games, a lot of people are going to get awards. It’s just part of the team effort.”

At the podium, reporters have a hard time getting quotable responses from Jones, Harris and Smith. But that’s exactly what the Crimson Tide looks for in its players. Straight answers, accountability and mental toughness is what Nick Saban preaches about during his many speeches to the media. Avoiding the drama and the excess of college football is what these players do best.

In the pre-game press conference, Sarkisian noted that Jones and Smith both fit the Heisman mold – but in vastly different ways. 

“DeVonta is notorious for the second 26 catch against Georgia in the National Championship game,” Sarkisian said. “Mac came in as kind of the three-star grind-it-out, sitting behind Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa. But at the end of it all, it’s the perseverance and leadership they provide and ultimately the performance.” 

Jones and Smith connected seven times for 130 yards and three touchdowns against Notre Dame. Smith is only nine away from surpassing Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews for career yards. Matthews had 3759 receiving yards during his four year career from 2010 to 2013 but not near the success that Smith has attained. 

“These guys prepare better than anybody right now on offense for us… and it shows in the way they play the game,” Sarkisian said. “Their preparation is at the highest level. They remind me of NFL players when it comes to that.”