Posted: Nov 14, 2012 3:12 PM
University of Kentucky senior center Matt Smith has been named one of eight finalists for the 2012 Wuerffel Trophy, which is a national award that honors the college football player who best combines exemplary community service with outstanding academic and athletic achievement, the All Sports Association, Inc., announced Wednesday.
The award is named after former Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel, who led the Florida Gators to the 1996 national championship, played six years in the National Football League and has received national recognition for his humanitarian and community service efforts with Desire Street Ministries in New Orleans and around the country.
The finalists, who were nominated by their schools' sports information directors or football liaisons,
are (listed alphabetically by university): Riley Nelson (Brigham Young), Cody Wilson (Central Michigan), Dustin Hopkins (Florida State), Aaron Murray (Georgia), Matt Smith (Kentucky), Ben Buchanan (Ohio State), Gabe Ikard (Oklahoma), Matt Barkley (Southern California). Ikard and Murray are the only juniors on the list, while the rest are seniors. Murray and Smith represent the Southeastern Conference on the list, which is the only conference to have two selections.
"It means a lot to me and it means a lot to Matt as well," UK head coach Joker Phillips said on the selection. "I remember sitting in his home and talking to him about how he would grow here. For him to be a finalist for this award, it shows how much he has grown here. He has an unbelievable family and that is where it started. He has just carried it on and it has helped with the process of him growing up. We are proud of him."
Matt is one of the all-around leaders on the team, which is evident by the offensive players voting him permanent game captain before the season. Matt has spent the last three seasons starting for Kentucky at center and although he has had a different starting quarterback to start the season each year, his knowledge of the game has allowed for smooth transitions all three seasons.
Matt has put a strong emphasis on academics during his time at Kentucky, currently majoring in community communication and leadership development and wants to work with children following his football career. Matt is a two-year member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll and holds a cumulative GPA of 3.29. Matt had an interesting opportunity earlier this year when he and two of his fellow players and head coach Joker Phillips traveled to Ethiopia on an educational/service trip. On the trip, Matt and his peers did a number of educational and service events, including interacting with children and teaching them American football.
On top of his educational/service trip to Ethiopia, Matt has been very involved in community service during his tenure at Kentucky. Last summer, Matt worked at a Salvation Army summer camp as a volunteer for 100 hours of service, while last summer he traveled with students on field trips to serve as a mentor. Matt has also spent time at the Veteran Administration Hospital in Louisville and Lexington as well as participating in Read Across America on several occasions. Overall, Matt has over 200 hours of community service.
"I have so much for respect for him as a man. He has always demonstrated without exception, a true sense of inner character," UK offensive line coach Mike Summers said. "When you are as close to these players as we are as coaches, they reveal who they are to you on a daily basis through the challenges you present to them as a coach, through the challenges that are presented to them as a man. Without exception, Matt has always demonstrated character, above normal character, that is unshakeable. He chooses to do the right thing in every situation and because of that has earned my respect maybe above any player I have coached."
For the past two seasons, Matt has been on the Rimington Trophy Watch List, which honors the nation's best center. During his redshirt freshman year, Matt was named the Scout Team Player of the Week for his hard work during UK's months of practice. Matt has helped UK advance to three bowl games during his time at Kentucky.
A committee that includes the Wuerffel Trophy national directors, selection committee members and past winners, will vote on the finalists later this month, and the winner will be formally announced on Dec. 4.
Past winners of the award are: 2005 - Rudy Niswanger (LSU); 2006 - Joel Penton (Ohio State); 2007 -
Paul Smith (Tulsa); 2008 - Tim Tebow (Florida); 2009 - Tim Hiller (Western Michigan); 2010 - Sam Acho (Texas); 2011 - Barrett Jones (Alabama).
Kentucky has had five finalists in the eight-year history of the award, including Antoine Huffman (2005), Jacob Tamme (2007), Tim Masthay (2008), Stuart Hines (2011) and Matt Smith.
The 2012 Wuerffel Trophy will be presented to the winner at the All Sports Association's 44th Annual
Awards Banquet on Friday, February 8, 2013.