Since the NCAA began allowing athletic scholarships in 1950, no player to win the Heisman Trophy ever started his career as a walk-on.
Baker Mayfield changed that Saturday night.
Mayfield, the Oklahoma quarterback whose storybook saga began with him walking-on to Texas Tech, captured the 83rd Heisman in a landslide victory.
He collected 732 first-place votes and 2,398 points in voting totals. Stanford running back Bryce Love was second with 1,300 points (75 first-place votes); Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, last year’s Heisman winner, was third with 793 (47).
For Mayfield, it was the third-highest percentage of possible points received (86 percent) since 1950, behind Ohio State’s Troy Smith (2006) and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota (2014).
“This is unbelievable for me, being up here among these greats,” Mayfield said upon receiving the award, with past Heisman winners standing behind him. “It’s something that words can’t even describe. God has put me in this position that I’m so blessed, and a lot of times I wonder why. But it’s such an honor to be up here. It’s unbelievable.”
Mayfield became the first senior to win the Heisman since Smith in 2006. Earlier in the week, he also won the Davey O’Brien (best quarterback) and Maxwell (player of the year) awards; the Associated Press and Walter Camp also both named him their player of the year.
Mayfield has put together one of the most impressive individual offensive seasons in the game’s history and, in the process, led Oklahoma to the College Football Playoff for the second time in three years. The Sooners will open the playoff against Georgia in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.
He has completed 71 percent of his passes and thrown for 4,340 yards and 41 touchdowns with only five interceptions. Mayfield is also averaging 11.8 yards per passing attempt, which would shatter the FBS record that Mayfield set last season.
With Mayfield running the show, the Sooners have posted the highest offensive efficiency rating since ESPN began tracking the metric in 2005. Since Mayfield took over as Oklahoma’s starting quarterback in 2015, the Sooners led the FBS in points per game, offensive touchdowns, yards per game and yards per play over the last three seasons.
This season, Mayfield became the 10th player in FBS history to throw for 14,000 yards in a career. But he’s the first of those to rush for 1,000 yards, as well.
Mayfield has also moved ahead of former Oklahoma quarterback and Heisman winner Sam Bradford for the FBS record for career passing efficiency.
Mayfield gave Oklahoma its sixth Heisman winner, which moves the Sooners into a tie with USC for the third-most all-time (not including Reggie Bush’s 2005 vacated Heisman). Alongside fellow Heisman winners Billy Vessels, Steve Owens, Billy Sims, Jason White and Bradford, Oklahoma will soon erect a statue of Mayfield in its Heisman Park, which sits just to the east of Oklahoma’s Memorial Stadium.
“It’s been a dream come true to play at OU,” Mayfield said. “Although I grew up in Austin, Texas, I was always Sooner-born and Sooner-bred. And you know, they say, ‘when I die I’ll be Sooner-dead,’ and I truly mean that. It’s been a dream for me. And it’s an honor to represent my school.”
After he won the starting job as a walk-on true freshman at Texas Tech, Mayfield bolted for Oklahoma. Mayfield showed up in Norman in 2014 without an invitation from then-coach Bob Stoops, much less the promise of a scholarship. But Mayfield had grown up a Sooner fan living in Austin, Texas, and wanted to see if he could make it at his “dream school.”
Then, after sitting out the first season as an ineligible transfer, Mayfield beat out incumbent Trevor Knight for the starting job. In 2015, he led Oklahoma to the playoff on his way to posting a 34-5 career record with the Sooners.
“There’s a lot of people who put effort into this. Coach Stoops, you welcomed a chubby, unathletic kid into the program with open arms,” Mayfield said. “I wouldn’t say that many would do that, but thank you. But the thing that I’m most thankful for is hiring Coach [Lincoln] Riley. The day you did that, changed my life. Coach Riley, you’ve been a great mentor to me. Been through a lot together, so appreciate you.”
Mayfield became just the fifth player ever — and joined Georgia’s Herschel Walker as only the second in 68 years — to finish in the top four of the Heisman voting three times. The other three to do it, SMU’s Doak Walker, Army’s Glenn Davis and Army’s Doc Blanchard, all achieved the feat during the 1940s. Before Mayfield, Blanchard was also the only other Heisman winner to transfer from one FBS-level program to another. Blanchard played at North Carolina before joining Army.
Mayfield’s Heisman year, however, didn’t come without obstacles and controversy that he mostly created for himself and had to overcome.
In the early morning of Feb. 25, he was arrested in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on chargers of public intoxication, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and fleeing. A month later, police released dash-cam video of Mayfield attempting to run away from the scene before officers tackled him into a wall. Mayfield agreed to a plea deal that eliminated the resisting arrest charge. After Oklahoma’s first spring practice, he spoke publicly for almost a half-hour, noting he realized he’d “let down” many people.
Twice during the season, Mayfield’s on-field antics stirred up controversy, as well.
Following one of the biggest wins of his career, a 31-16 victory over Ohio State on Sept. 9, Mayfield planted an Oklahoma field at midfield of Ohio Stadium. Two days later, he apologized, saying he “didn’t mean for it to be disrespectful.”
Mayfield also would apologize after grabbing his crotch and cursing at the Kansas sidelines on Nov. 18. In turn, Riley suspended Mayfield from starting the final home game of his career and temporarily stripped him of his captain status. But after sitting out the first series, Mayfield passed for three touchdowns in the victory over West Virginia. Then the following week, he passed for another four scores to propel the Sooners past TCU in the Big 12 championship game, which effectively punched Oklahoma’s ticket to the playoff.
And clinched the Heisman for Mayfield.