Smith became the third Alabama player to claim college football’s most prestigious award, and the first receiver to win it since Michigan‘s Desmond Howard in 1991. Smith beat out three other finalists, all of whom were quarterbacks: Alabama’s Mac Jones, Clemson‘s Trevor Lawrence and Florida‘s Kyle Trask.
Smith won the award with 1,856 points. Lawrence was second (1,187), Jones was third (1,130) and Trask was fourth (737).
Smith called the award a blessing, thanking his parents, coaches and teammates during a short speech at Alabama’s football facility. Wearing a sharp, burgundy blazer and bow tie, he spoke about the power of self-belief, reflecting on coming from the small town of Amite, Louisiana, and how he was doubted because of his size.
Despite standing a slight 6-foot-1 and weighing 175 pounds, Smith became the best wide receiver and the most accomplished player in college football. He leads the FBS in receptions (105), receiving yards (1,641) and receiving touchdowns (20). He has dropped only two passes all season.
And like the previous receiver to win the Heisman, Smith is more than just a pass-catcher. He rushed for one touchdown and returned a punt for another score this season. Along the way, he set an SEC record for career touchdowns and an Alabama record for career receiving yards.
Last week, Smith was named The Associated Press Player of the Year, becoming the first receiver to win the award.
Not bad for a skinny kid from Tangipahoa Parish who in high school would drop to the floor and do pushups whenever he saw his reflection because he thought he was too small to play college football.
“Tay-Tay,” as he’s known back home, got stronger but remained a relative featherweight compared to other big-bodied receivers. Because of his slight build, strong hands and skill as a route runner, he would draw comparisons to former Indianapolis Colts great Marvin Harrison.
At Alabama, coaches and players would call him simply “Smitty.” But he also picked up the nickname of the “Slim Reaper” along the way.
During his Heisman acceptance speech, Smith took a moment to address kids like him.
“To all the young kids out there that’s not the biggest, not the strongest, just keep pushing, because I’m not the biggest,” he said. “I’ve been doubted a lot just because of my size. Really, it just comes down to you put your mind to it, you can do it. No job is too big.”
As a freshman, Smith achieved national recognition when he caught the game-winning pass in overtime of the 2018 College Football Playoff title game against Georgia. The iconic play — known forever as “2nd-and-26” — could have defined his career, but the reserved Smith shied away from reliving it whenever it was brought up. As he would say later, “I don’t too much care about the catch no more. It’s a new year. We’re moving on.”