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Johnny Rodgers happy Omaha is home to Jet Award

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Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett

Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett will be honored at Thursday’s Jet Award banquet as the nation’s top kick returner. Lockett returned two punts for touchdowns last season for the Wildcats.

Johnny Rodgers is as excited as ever about the Jet Award that he helped create — and its place in Omaha.

The fourth Johnny Rodgers National College Football Return Specialist Award banquet is Thursday night at the Swanson Conference Center on the Metropolitan Community College’s north campus.

It has moved after two years at the Ralston Arena, and Rodgers said all 300-plus tickets have been sold. Metro CC is one of the partners for the award.

“I think it’s good for Omaha,” Rodgers said. “This year there’s been more support than we’ve had before. I’m very pleased with where we’re going.”

Rodgers said he’s had some recent feelers from officials in Atlanta and Las Vegas about the event. He also jokes that “somebody like Deion Sanders might take it” if Omaha doesn’t keep it strong.

“I’m trying my best to keep it in Omaha, where it has its origins,” Rodgers said. “I just think it’s best in Omaha.”

Tyler Lockett of Kansas State will come to Rodgers’ hometown as winner of the Jet Award for the 2014 season. Also honored will be De’Mornay Pierson-El of Nebraska (most valuable punt returner) and J.J. Nelson of Alabama-Birmingham (most valuable kick returner).

Rodgers, the 1972 Heisman Trophy winner from Nebraska, established the award after realizing there was an honor for just about every other position in college football.

“These guys here are just extraordinary people,” he said. “To be a punt returner or kick returner to win our award, you have to be able to bring your best when it matters the most. You have to deal with the pressure. Have no fear. Be really tenacious.

“It takes a pretty incredible person to have the game on the line, and know people are counting on you, and be ready to maybe make the difference between winning and losing.”

As time goes on, Rodgers believes that the Jet Award could become part of the ESPN “Home Depot College Football Awards Show” that is held every December. But he plans to keep his banquet in April. The Outland Trophy banquet in Omaha and Rimington Trophy banquet in Lincoln are held in January.

Two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin is the featured speaker for the Jet Award banquet. TD Ameritrade is the presenting sponsor, and the award benefits the Johnny Rodgers Career and Technical Education Scholarship at Metropolitan Community College.

Rodgers has struck up a kinship over the years with Griffin after sitting nearby at numerous Heisman dinners. Griffin, the 1974 and ’75 winner, is currently president and CEO of the Ohio State Alumni Association.

“Archie is very difficult to get,” Rodgers said. “He’s always in demand, and now especially at a time when Ohio State is national champion. So we’re very fortunate to get him.”

Rodgers said his goal is to increase corporate support for the award and banquet. But it’s becoming what he had hoped it would become.

“It’s a big-time event,” he said. “It’s a big idea. I figured it’d catch on.”

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