Portland's own, Ndamukong Suh, named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite


On Monday, a local kid named Ndamukong Suh was named one of five finalists for the Heisman Trophy, the most prestigious individual award in college football (and, arguably, in all of sport.)

The selection of Suh, who went to Portland's Grant H.S. and now attends the University of Nebraska, is particular notable since it's almost unheard-of for a defensive player - especially one of those big grunts on the line - to earn a Heisman bid. (Since the days of playing both ways in leather helmets, only one defensive player has ever won - and only a handful have been finalists.) Suh would only be Portland's second-ever Heisman winner. (Oregon State's Terry Baker won in 1962.)

Now, before all you football-haters move on to the next post, I invite you to read a few excerpts of an Oregonian profile from October. The kid's pretty special:

Walking the halls of Grant High School as a 6-2, 280-pound freshman, Suh always looked destined to be a football player. The problem was he hadn't figured that out yet. ...

Because of his size, all of Suh's friends tried to persuade him to go out for football the summer before his freshman year. Finally, he gave in. There was only one problem -- his mother, Bernadette, wouldn't let him.

It wasn't a matter of Bernadette worrying about her son getting hurt or having anything against the sport. She was simply more concerned about him adjusting to high school and, most importantly, achieving the academic success that held priority over all else with all of her children.

In the end, Bernadette made a deal with Suh -- maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher throughout his freshman year, and then he could try out for football the following fall.

"I simply made sure that he had the academics in place before he got sidetracked with doing sports, because kids can so easily get caught up into playing sports and not realizing that academics are important," said Bernadette, who immigrated from Jamaica to teach first and second grade.

"That always took priority with me for him. I wanted to make sure he understood the work that high school entailed before he began to spread his time between sports and academics."

Suh got his 3.0 and joined the football team his sophomore year. As expected, he was a natural. ...

The best thing about Suh's current success and potential NFL stardom is the fact that he doesn't need football.

One of the primary reasons he chose Nebraska was because of its highly regarded engineering program and the focus the athletic department has on academics for its student-athletes.

And a bit from a New York Times profile this last weekend:

But as profound as Suh’s impact has been on the field, it has been even bigger in Cameroon, a country he has never visited. He was born in Portland, Ore., but his father, Michael, a mechanical contractor, is from Cameroon. His mother, Bernadette, a teacher, is from Jamaica.

Suh has become an adopted son to Cameroon, which considers him an ambassador, said Charles Di Mintyene, the cultural attaché for Cameroon’s embassy in the United States.

“Cameroon’s very proud of what he’s doing,” Di Mintyene said in a telephone interview. ...

Suh has ambitions beyond football. He will receive a degree in construction management this month and dreams of building condominiums near Portland’s downtown waterfront.

“I definitely want to be known as an educated person, as well as being a good football player,” Suh said.

And as bright as his future appears, Suh is loyal to his roots. He said that if forced to choose, he would visit Cameroon and not play in the N.F.L.

“I’m proud of it,” Suh said of his heritage.

And a West African country is proud of him.

And for those of you who do actually want to see a few highlights - here's four minutes of Suh going up against fellow Heisman finalist Colt McCoy on Saturday. (In particular, watch for the big plays at 1:30 and 3:10 on the clip.)

And yes, I'm a bit of Heisman nerd. This time of year, I run an exit poll of Heisman voters and attempt to project the winner. The announcement of the winner will be Saturday night.

  • Josh Kardon (unverified)

    This won't win the Heisman for him, but Ndamukong comes from a wonderful and unconventional family (his sister coaches my kid in soccer, and both of his parents are wonderful pillars of the NE Portland community). His finalist status should send a very different type of message for rising collegiate athletes. As great of an athlete as he is, he shows early signs of being a potential superstar at this human being business.

    Kari, I assume you rate his chances of winning as poor. Would he have had a chance if Nebraska had a better record?

  • (Show?)

    Josh, I've been a skeptic of Ndamukong's Heisman chances all year long - even more so as Cornhusker fans started going nuts (happily ballot-stuffing the Heisman fan vote, for example).

    But, I suspect many Heisman voters had the same reaction on Saturday night watching him closely for the first time take on undefeated Texas. He was like a man among boys, throwing aside future NFL prospects on the Texas line like rag dolls (not to mention Colt McCoy.) I've never seen a defensive player who so clearly dominated the game, forcing his opponent to arrange their entire game plan around him - largely unsuccessfully.

    Even so, in a typical year with 1-2 superstar performances from the glamour positions - QB, RB, WR - he'd have been an afterthought for the Heisman. But after disastrous games in the last two weeks from presumed frontrunners (Florida QB Tim Tebow, Texas QB Colt McCoy, and Alabama RB Mark Ingram), anything can happen.

  • Orenthal (unverified)

    Heisman Trophy, the most prestigious individual award in college football (and, arguably, in all of sport.)

    I've got some time on my hands, and have been itching to argue this point. I would submit to you that the value isn't just that it represents personal accomplishment. It's greatly promoted, and is worth as much to the general public, as the winner.

    That's the problem. If you were going through a bankruptcy and had a prized medal for soccer that you won in high school, the courts wouldn't touch it. Same for an Olympic Bronze. But you win the Heisman and the worth to the public trumps its worth to you. It is absurd that the courts consider the trophy apart from winning it.

    It is a unique award. For years a guy is coached that "there's no "i" in team, no one wins unless we all win", etc. This is America. That's nonsense. America is about #1. You join a team because it lets #1 shine. Deep down, we all know this. And that, my good people, is where all that public value attached to the Heisman comes from! Americans aren't team players. That's why we don't have a parliamentary system. Surely, here, you all understand it's about the great person, rising with the help of the team, but transcending it, and, ultimately, eclipsing it. People vote for a Democrat or a Republican, but after leaving office, they have an opinion of Kulongowski or Bush. We want to be led and led by great men. The Heisman celebrates this. It picks out an individual and glorifies him far beyond his team. Who's talking about TCU today? Americans may cheer for a team, but their heart belongs to an individual. Listen to NFL pregame. The start with what are the whoevers doing today, but the serious talk turns to Peyton or other great men. When that is exhausted... The talk turns to Archie! It's about great men! Listen to Fox NFL commentary. It's about pedigree, just like fighting dogs.

    As an aside, the Heisman winner should always be the NFL's #1 draft pick. You know what it's like winning it, then being drafted second or third? To this day I do not ride in an Avis rental car. Another aside, evangelicals exert to much influence in American life. I'll put it to you straight. If Anita Bryant hadn't used her connections to get the Florida Orange Growers' nod, my life would have turned out different.

  • Ashley Stansell (unverified)

    I would submit to you that the value isn't just that it represents personal accomplishment. It's greatly promoted, and is worth as much to the general public, as the winner.

  • (Show?)

    Orenthal, there may be no "i" in "team," but there sure is in "Heisman." But then, if your full name is Orenthal James Simpson, you already know that.

  • j. loewen (unverified)

    A great football player. Deserves to be a finalist. Too bad he picked a college without an offense

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    congratulations to our own young athlete from Portland!

    I've long believed that the Heisman was too focused on a single marque offensive player rather than really being about an annual recognition of the most impactful player in college football that year.

  • Jimbo46 (unverified)

    He's bright, he's competent, his father wasn't born in this country, and he's Black. You can bet the wingnuts, birthers and tea-baggers already have him in their sites. If he wins the Heisman over the white guy they'll make his life hell. ;>)

  • Brian C. (unverified)

    Excellent post with the exception of Jimbo's asinine and equally incoherent commentary.

    Suh has no shot at winning the Heisman but the fact that they had to include him in the running for an award almost exclusively earmarked for QB's & RB's speaks volumes about his standout performance as a defensive player. Were I an NFL GM, drafting a boy named Suh would be at the top of my list.

  • (Show?)

    Suh is the best player in college football; unfortunately, he plays defense. Even Heisman voters--presumably more knowledgeable than the average fan--don't appear able to pull away from the allure of gaudy stats. Quarterbacks and RBs have numbers that please the eye--thousands of yards gained, scores of touchdowns. What has Suh accomplished--a dozen sacks, a few dozen tackles? Statistical reductionism won't capture his value, and he probably won't be rewarded for it either (though Kari's current tallies make it look like he's in the running).

    But that doesn't change the fact that he's the best player in college football. Now, the Green Bay Packers just need to figure out how to draft him!

  • Lord Beaverbrook (unverified)

    I agree he is an outstanding player and deserves to win.

    I'm a bit bothered by the fact that he wasn't seriously in the running until chance put him face to face with a top contender. Taking nothing away from that magnificent performance, one wonders how many other Suhs are out there, that never made it onto the radar screen. It seems a bit capricious. Maybe the current system could be improved by allowing conferences to nominate players, based on coaches' suggestions. Particularly the case with defensive players, coaches could be expected to notice the stand-outs more than the press. Unless, of course, that defensive player single-handedly shuts down one of the country's best offenses!

    [Full disclosure: I went to TCU and Suh nearly got us a major share of Texas' #1 votes! Who voted Cincinnati up? Like Oregon is that much (any) better than LSU.]

  • (Show?)

    Forget the Packers. He'd make the ideal lynch pin of a 21st Century incarnation of the famed Steel Curtain!

    Seriously, that shot (any angle) of Suh tossing McCoy away like a rag doll reminds me of highlights that were always part of the background footage of TV sports shows. Like that shot of the ski jumper wiping out during the beginning montage for Wide World of Sports show.

    <h2>Suh is a one-man highlight reel generator! And while he probably won't win the Heisman, I expect him to be drafted very high.</h2>

connect with blueoregon