Jared Fel

The legends of both collegiate and professional football — including national champion LSU’s head coach Ed Orgeron, quarterback Joe Burrow and NFL superstar Von Miller — congregated in Payne Whitney Gymnasium on Saturday evening to be recognized at the Walter Camp Awards Dinner.

The event, which is in its 53rd year, hands out numerous awards, including the best college football player and coach of the season. Burrow took home the Walter Camp Award for his excellence under center for LSU and Orgeron was tabbed as the top coach for the undefeated season that the Bayou Bengals put together. Other awards included the first and second All-American team, the Connecticut Player of the Year, the Man of the Year, the Alumnus of the Year, the Perseverance Award, and the Distinguished American Award.

“It’s an amazing honor,” Walter Camp All-Time All-American and NFL veteran Luke Kuechly said. “I came here twice in college and to come back after eight years is a lot of fun. This is a great school, a great campus, and a great organization. We’re all happy to be back.”

The dinner was emceed by ESPN reporter and analyst Kevin Negandhi, who returned for the second year in a row to do the honors. He led the introduction of the All-Americans, a list that included Oklahoma State’s standout running back Chuba Hubbard and Georgia’s kicker Rodrigo Blankenship. The defensive first team included players like Utah’s defensive lineman Bradlee Anae and Ohio State’s defensive end Chase Young.

The Class L state champion St. Joseph’s of Trumbull received the Joseph W. Kelly Award for the best high school team. The Cardinals took home this award for just the second time in school history, a commemoration of the team’s dominant 13–0 season. The Connecticut Player of the Year Award went to Christian Montano, an Orange, Connecticut native who played at both Brown and Tulane. He was recognized not only for his success on the gridiron, but also his lifesaving bone marrow donation in 2018.

“It’s an incredible honor to be recognized in the Walter Camp All-American team,” Blankenship said. “It’s one of the most prestigious football foundations in the country. It is amazing to join this family of exceptional players who have come through college football and many who made their mark in the pros.”

Then came time to recognize the recipient of the Alumnus of the Year Award — Super Bowl 50 MVP and NFL All-Pro outside linebacker Von Miller. Posting 10.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss in his senior season at Texas A&M, he earned his first trip to the Walter Camp Awards nine years ago as an All-American. Miller made his return to New Haven for his recognition in what the Foundation sees as “exhibiting dedication and good moral conduct in achieving success.”

Nearly eight years ago, Miller had the goal of providing the Denver area youth with free eye examinations and eyewear, as up to 30 percent of all children experience vision problems that have a significant impact on one’s long-term health. Thus, the foundation Von’s Vision was born. The organization has provided more than $5 million in vision care and eyewear to over 8,500 kids since its inception.

On the red-carpeted Payne Whitney hallway, Miller gave some advice to future NFL rookies who might find it tough to win over some of the veterans in the locker rooms.

“They should just be themselves,” Miller said. “There will always be a restart process when you move up to any team, whether it’s from high school to college or college to the pros. They should just continue to be themselves and do what they do best. They’ll be all right.”

Next up was the Man of the Year Award, celebrating an individual who not only attained great success as a leader on the gridiron, but one who has given back to his community. University of Pittsburgh alumnus and Pro Football Hall of Famer Curtis Martin was recognized by the Walter Camp Football Foundation as the recipient of this honor. His accomplishments on the field speak for themselves and include five Pro Bowls, three All-Pro seasons, leading the NFL in rushing in 2004 and finishing his career as the fourth leading rusher in league history.

Last up to accept an award was Chris Berman, who is universally regarded as one of the country’s most revered and popular sports commentators. Berman was named the recipient of this year’s Distinguished American Award. Hired at ESPN more than 40 years ago, Berman has gone on to be selected for six National Sportscaster of the Year awards, as decided by National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association members. A veteran of 37 Super Bowls, Berman became just the fifth on-air personality to be inducted into the Cable Hall of Fame.

The Walter Camp Awards Dinner is held every January at Yale.

Jared Fel | jared.fel@yale.edu

Eamonn Smith | eamonn.smith@yale.edu