This past weekend, the Lanman Center in Payne Whitney Gymnasium hosted the most prestigious college football awards dinner in America as football legends — both young and old — converged in New Haven to celebrate the highlights and top players from the 2018 college football season.
Walter Camp Weekend, named after legendary Yale football player and coach Walter Camp, began with programming last Thursday and ended on Saturday evening with the Annual National Awards Dinner which honored the year’s top names in football. Saturday’s dinner recognized, among others, University of Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and head coach Nick Saban as 2018’s Player and Coach of the Year, respectively. With a slew of nationally acclaimed past and present football personalities gathered in the decked-out Payne Whitney, New Haven temporarily became the center of college football.
“When you’re growing up as a kid you dream of having awards, you dream of being named one of the top prospects as a football player,” Tagovailoa said at the event. “Just to be at an event like this is awesome.”
Saturday’s honorees also included Saban, who received Coach of the Year after leading the Crimson Tide to a 14–1 record as well as NFL wideout and 2003 Player of the Year Larry Fitzgerald, who took home the Alumni Award. Former NFL quarterback Archie Manning — and father of two other NFL quarterbacks, Peyton Manning and Eli Manning — won the Distinguished American Award. Mike Golic, a professional player turned ESPN commentator, earned a nod as Man of the Year. In a reference to Camp and the Foundation’s roots in the Nutmeg State, nearby Greenwich High School received the 2018 Joseph W. Kelly award after foundation members voted it Connecticut’s top high school football team.
Camp, the foundation and weekend’s namesake, has come to be recognized as one of the founding fathers of American football. A player and three-year captain on the Yale football team from 1877 to 1882, he is credited with developing the line of scrimmage, limiting each team to 11 players on the field and set plays — all of which are staples of modern football as known by current players and fans. Camp’s contribution to the sport is more than just developing the game; he spread the game to the South and the West — despite resistance from those who deemed the game too violent and dangerous — and cemented Yale’s status in the 19th and early 20th century as the nation’s preeminent football program.
Camp is also credited with selecting the first All-American team, which recognizes outstanding players throughout the country in every position. The foundation continues this legacy by annually naming an All-American team at the awards dinner and furthers it through the promotion of community service and engagement.
“[The Walter Camp Football Foundation] embodies more than just honoring great football players,” publicity director for the Walter Camp Awards Dinner Al Carbone said. “We go to schools. We go to hospitals. The people who come here go back into the community to reach out and spread goodwill. That’s always been a commitment of this foundation.”
Leading up to the final evening’s Awards Dinner, the Walter Camp Football Foundation hosts community events. This year, the events included a Stay in School Rally, where 2,000 middle school students from local communities were invited to listen to speakers and Walter Camp celebrities that aim to encourage and inspire. Some All-Americans and alumni also visited the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center to bring gifts, take pictures and sign autographs.
Proceeds from the Awards Dinner and other events such as the Walter Camp All-American Youth Clinic — which gives children aged seven to 14 the opportunity to participate in football drills run by select All-Americans — are donated to local charities and youth-oriented organizations.
“Getting the news bulletins every year in the mail and seeing what the Walter Camp Foundation is doing in this community and how it serves people, that’s really what I’m most proud about,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals said at the award ceremony. “Obviously, it has a rich tradition of honoring athletes, but it really matters how you support the people in need.”
The Walter Camp Awards Dinner is held every January at Yale.
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