By Doug Huff
West Virginia Sports Writers Association
WHEELING - College football's most prolific ground gainer will receive the Hardman Award as West Virginia's Amateur Athlete of the Year.
West Virginia All-American Tavon Austin, who led the NCAA in all-purpose yards, will be honored by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association at the 66th annual Victory Awards Dinner April 29 at the Dils Center in Parkersburg.
The 5-foot-9, 175-pound junior wide receiver/kick returner/running back from Baltimore is the first Mountaineer football honoree since Pat White won three straight Hardman Awards from 2006-08. The award originated in 1934 and is the oldest statewide honor from the 80-year-old WVSWA.
Tied for second in voting were two other college football players - Marshall All-America defensive end Vinny Curry and WVU quarterback Geno Smith. Other top vote-getters included Ohio State All-America swimmer and Parkersburg native Tim Phillips; Cabell Midland's world-ranked distance runner Jacob Burcham; West Liberty All-America basketball player Corey Pelle; George Washington's three-sport athlete and Kennedy Award winner Ryan Switzer; Wesleyan's All-America quarterback Adam Neugebauer; and West Virginia All-America track athlete Chelsea Carrier, a Buckhannon native.
Austin earned first- and third-team All-America honors as a return specialist as well as All-Big East first team at both receiver and return specialist. The Big East special teams player of the year was selected the Mountaineer offensive player of the year for the Mountaineers, who finished 10-3 after their 70-33 win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl. As WVU set an all-bowl record for points, Austin tied an all-bowl record with four touchdown receptions. Austin landed 11 passes for 117 yards and rushed four times for 46.
On the season, Austin set a school record with 100 pass receptions.
He led the nation with 2,574 all-purpose yards for an average of 198 yards per game and 15 yards per play. The breakdown included 1,186 receiving yards; 938 kickoff return yards, including a school-record-tying 100-yarder vs. Marshall; 268 punt return yards; and 182 rushing yards. Austin scored 11 touchdowns - eight receiving, two on kickoff returns and one rushing.
After the Orange Bowl romp, WVU was ranked No. 17 and No. 18 in the two major final national polls.
Curry earned second team All-America honors at defensive end. A Senior Bowl invitee, he was on nomination lists for three major national honors - Nagurski Award, Bednarik Award and Lombardi Award. Curry was second nationally with 21.5 sacks and finished his MU career with 48, best among active players.
Smith, an All-Big East honoree, was the Orange Bowl MVP after passing for an Orange Bowl-record 401 yards to best the 396 mark posted by Michigan's Tom Brady in 2000. Smith's six TD passes and seven total scores - six passing, one rushing - set all-bowl records. Smith ranked fourth nationally with a school-record 4,385 passing yards.
The junior passed for 31 touchdowns.