Johnny Rodgers still feels the same way about punt and kick returns as he did four decades ago when he was better than anybody at doing them.
Good ones can change a game. Botched ones can do the same.
And that's why the former Heisman Trophy winner from Nebraska is excited about the first national award designed specifically for college return men.
"I think it could be big," Rodgers said. "It's big because the players are big. The play is big."
The Johnny "The Jet" Rodgers National College Football Return Specialist Award was unveiled Tuesday during a press conference at Anthony's Steakhouse. The inaugural winner for the 2011 season will be announced later this week and the first annual banquet is scheduled for April 12 at Anthony's.
It will fall among a host of other awards created in recent years to join some of the traditional trophies like the Heisman, Outland and Lombardi. According to the Football Writers Association of America, it will have to be in existence for five years before it is recognized by the National College Football Awards Association.
But Rodgers and others involved plan for it to have that kind of longevity — and for it to create its own niche along the way.
"I think it really has a place to be a really formidable national award," Rodgers said.
Rodgers has been reviewing statistics and video from last season and will pick a 2011 winner from a finalists list of Joe Adams of Arkansas, Dustin Harris of Texas A&M, Tyrann Mathieu of LSU and T.J. Thorpe of North Carolina. In the future, Rodgers plans to formally tabulate votes from a national panel.
Rodgers had an eye toward starting the award in 2012, but said he became concerned as he put out feelers that somebody else might look into doing it and called it "an idea whose time has come."
The Rodgers Return Specialist Award will be unique in that it likely will also take bowl games into consideration before voting is conducted.
To honor the past, former Omaha Central football coach William Reed said the Rodgers Award also will be naming retroactive winners one decade at a time at each annual banquet. For example, plans are for winners from 1959 through 1969 to be announced with the 2012 winner, winners from 1970 through 1979 to be honored with the 2013 recipient, and so on until caught up.
With other awards, Reed said, "it starts from where it starts, and any individual that was playing before then would just be left out of the award."
"We decided we'd do this one different," Reed said.
Organizers also revealed the Rodgers Award trophy that depicts Rodgers eluding Gregg Pruitt of Oklahoma in the 1971 "Game of the Century." It was designed by Omaha artist Joe Putjenter from a photo supplied by Rodgers.
Between 1970 and '72, Rodgers averaged 13.4, 16.6 and 15.8 yards on punt returns while taking back seven for touchdowns. His best season as a kickoff returner came in 1971, when he averaged 30.4 yards.
Organizers said more than half of the tickets already have been sold for the April 12 banquet, and information can be found at www.TheJetAward.com. Proceeds from banquets will go to the Johnny Rodgers Youth Foundation programs, which include a focus on keeping kids in school until graduation.
Presenting sponsor for the inaugural event is TD Ameritrade, and Rodgers and Reed thanked others involved Tuesday. A Nebraska high school offensive player of the year will be honored annually in conjunction with the Rodgers Award.
"When you decide to dream, if you dream and you can do that dream by yourself, then it's not big enough," Reed said. "We certainly dreamed big here, and that means that several people have had to step in to help us down the road with what it is that we're doing."
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