Dixon, Simmer, Wimbush win Comeback Player of Year honors
By RALPH D. RUSSO
AP College Football Writer
Tuesday, December 18
Kent State receiver Antwan Dixon, Dartmouth defensive lineman Seth Simmer and Carson-Newman running back Antonio Wimbush are the first recipients of the Mayo Clinic college football Comeback Player of the Year Award.
The new award recognizes college football players from FBS, FCS and lower divisions who overcome injury, illness or other challenges to return to the field. The winners were chosen by the College Sports Information Directors of America in association with The Associated Press.
Mayo Clinic will donate $5,000 each to the general scholarship funds at Kent State, Dartmouth and Carson-Newman in the names of the winners.
Purdue quarterback David Blough, Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey, Virginia Tech defensive back Caleb Farley, Tennessee Tech linebacker Josh Poplar, Ohio Northern linebacker Sam Shook and Washburn linebacker Austin Tillman were honorable mentions. The runner-up schools will each receive a $2,500 donation.
Thirty players from all levels of college football were nominated for the award. Dixon, the FBS winner, and Simmer, the FCS winner, were selected in a vote of AP college football poll voters. Wimbush was selected by COSIDA’s small-college advisory board.
Dixon was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder, aplastic anemia, in high school. He was able to earn a scholarship and have a productive freshman season at Kent State in 2015, but the medication he was using to curb fatigue and frequent flu-like symptoms eventually was not enough. Doctors told him he would need a bone marrow transplant, which he underwent April 2017. Dixon missed two seasons, but returned to school and the team in 2018.
This season, Dixon played in every game and the 5-foot-8, 178-pound receiver led the team with 52 receptions for 532 yards and two touchdowns for the Golden Flashes.
“I want to thank God for guiding me through my struggles and blessing me with another day on Earth. I want to thank my mother and father and whole support system,” Dixon said “This means the world to me and my family and I appreciate everyone who has supported me and sent out prayers to me while I was going through my tough times.”
Simmer was diagnosed after his freshman season in 2016 with a brain tumor that was causing him to go deaf in his left ear. He had surgery to remove 90 percent of the tumor in the summer for 2017 and needed to relearn how to walk and balance himself. He came back to school in the 2018 winter semester and worked his way back into playing shape. This season, the 285-pound sophomore had 11 tackles for Big Green, including a sack for a safety and a fumble recovery against Princeton.
Simmer had his surgery done at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
“I would like to thank everyone that supported me through this entire process including my family, friends, and the entire Dartmouth community from my teammates and their families to the coaches, training staff and administration,” Simmer said. “Their constant support allowed me to push myself to the limit during my recovery and obtain my goals.”
Wimbush tore his ACL in the second game of the 2017 season, but after an aggressive rehabilitation he was ready to start the 2018 season. Wimbush ran for 1,206 yards to lead the Division II South Atlantic Conference. He averaged 8.0 yards per carry, second in Division II.
“It was an honor to be mentioned as a nominee back in September,” Wimbush said. “My story doesn’t compare to those guys and it is truly eye opening to see everything they’ve overcome and an honor to be considered a winner with them. I feel truly blessed to receive this.”
Dixon, Simmer and Wimbush will be honored on the field during the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1 in Glendale, Arizona, when No. 7 UCF faces No. 11 LSU.
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NFL suspends Patriots’ Gordon for substance abuse violation
By KYLE HIGHTOWER
AP Sports Writer
Friday, December 21
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Patriots receiver Josh Gordon was suspended indefinitely Thursday by the NFL for violating an agreement that allowed him to play after multiple drug suspensions, casting doubt on whether the talented but troubled playmaker would ever play in the league again.
League officials said Thursday that Gordon was returned to the reserve/commissioner suspended list indefinitely for breaking the terms of his reinstatement under the NFL substance abuse policy.
The news came several hours after Gordon said he was stepping away from football to focus on his mental health.
Gordon said on Twitter his decision was spurred by his own feelings that he could have a better grasp on things mentally. He thanked the Patriots for their support and vowed to work his way back.
“We support Josh Gordon in his continued efforts to focus on his health. His attempt to do so is a private and personal matter, which we intend to respect,” Patriots team officials said.
Gordon has been suspended several times by the NFL for violations of its drug policies since being drafted by the Browns in 2012, and missed the entire 2015 and 2016 seasons.
After being reinstated by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2017, Gordon revealed in an interview with GQ magazine that he drank or used marijuana before games. “Probably every game of my career,” he said.
Gordon also said in a 2017 mini-documentary on Uninterreupted.com that he took Xanax, cocaine, marijuana and other narcotics.
Gordon’s outlook had improved with New England, where he landed in September in a trade after the Browns felt it was time to cut ties. He had 40 receptions for 720 yards and three touchdowns with the Patriots, five years removed from an All-Pro season in 2013 with 87 catches for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns.
Special teams captain and receiver Matt Slater said despite his suspension, Gordon still has support inside the Patriots locker room.
“My No. 1 concern is with him as a man,” Slater said. “I’m thankful for the approach he took here, how he was as a teammate. I enjoyed getting to know him in that process and I’ll continue to support him in any way I can.”
Safety Devin McCourty said the 27-year-old’s well-being is his biggest concern, not football.
“Life comes before all of that,” McCourty said. “I think we wish him the best and care about that more than wins or losses.”
New England officials had insulated Gordon and focused him on getting acclimated to the team’s highly-disciplined culture, while also limiting his time with reporters.
Coach Bill Belichick said last week that Gordon was thriving on the field, developing chemistry with quarterback Tom Brady and learning the offensive system.
“He’s a smart kid, so he learns well,” Belichick said. “For better or worse, he’s been in a lot of different systems. I know it was only one team, but it was a lot of different systems up there. Most everything we’ve asked him to do he’s done somewhere along the line for somebody.
“As we go through each week, I would say we’ve gained a little more ground on the overall knowledge of the system,” he said.
Gordon said earlier this month he thought he was settling in well with New England.
“It felt like home a long time ago,” Gordon said. “The atmosphere is very welcoming. It took me a little bit to get acclimated to the area. Other than that, it’s been pretty smooth so far, and that’s due in part to the facility, the organization, just everybody helping me along the way.”
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APNewsBreak: Feds eye move to regulate legal sports betting
By WAYNE PARRY
Thursday, December 20
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — A pair of U.S. senators from opposing parties is proposing that the federal government take back control of sports gambling in America, the first formal move by Congress after a Supreme Court ruling reopened a complex debate over fans betting on games and who controls the action.
Several states have begun offering sports betting after New Jersey won a long-fought challenge in May, and many others are expected to take up the issue during new legislative sessions in 2019 as a way to generate millions in revenue.
The federal bill introduced Wednesday by Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah would have the U.S. Justice Department set minimum standards for states to offer sports betting. It does not explicitly provide the sports leagues the cut of gambling revenue they have been seeking, so-called “integrity fees,” but does not prohibit them, either.
“I knew that Congress had an obligation to ensure that the integrity of the games we love was never compromised,” Schumer said of the Sports Wagering Market Integrity Act of 2018. “That is why I believe the time is now to establish a strong national integrity standard for sports betting that will protect consumers and the games themselves from corruption.”
Hatch said that once the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in May, “I began working with stakeholders to ensure we were doing everything possible to protect the integrity of sports from corruption.
“The legislation we’ve introduced today is the culmination of eight months of high-level meetings, discussions, and negotiations, and will serve as a placeholder for the next Congress, should they decide to continue working to address these issues,” said Hatch, who is retiring soon but wanted to show bipartisan support for federal regulation.
The NFL weighed in Wednesday with a letter to the senators expressing support for the bill.
“The threats posed to the integrity of sporting contests cannot be confined within state borders,” wrote Jocelyn Moore, an NFL executive vice president. “Without continued federal guidance and oversight, we are very concerned that sports leagues and state governments alone will not be able to fully protect the integrity of sporting contests and guard against the harms Congress has long recognized as being associated with sports betting.”
Likewise, Major League Baseball said in a statement, “Legalized sports betting is rapidly spreading across the country, creating a clear need for a set of consistent, nationwide integrity standards to protect the sports that millions of Americans love.”
The PGA Tour called for establishment of a national body to oversee the integrity of sports in the United States.
The bill also would provide federal funding from sports betting taxes for programs to address problem gambling.
The eight states that already offer sports betting could still offer it while the Justice Department evaluates the state laws.
So far, legislatures in Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island have legalized sports betting. And although New Mexico has not passed a sports betting law, the Santa Ana Star Casino & Hotel started taking sports bets in October through a tribal gambling compact. City lawmakers in Washington also voted to legalize sports betting in the District of Columbia on Tuesday, legislation that requires Congressional approval but would make the nation’s capital the first U.S. jurisdiction without casinos to authorize sports books.
Several states have already pre-filed sports betting bills for early 2019, including Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia, and Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, which tracks sports betting legislation, predicts 30 states will consider legislation in the new year.
The bill would require sports wagering operators use data provided or licensed by the leagues. Legislating that could be tough as data source requirements have been challenged in court in other ways, with courts holding that fantasy sports operators aren’t required to use official league data. Some leagues, like the NBA and MLB, have reached private agreements with casinos for use of data, particularly for wagers made during games on outcomes within each contest.
The federal bill also would create a National Sports Wagering Clearinghouse to receive and share sports wagering data and suspicious transaction reports among sports wagering operators, state regulators, sports organizations and federal and state law enforcement.
New Jersey’s Supreme Court victory set up a patchwork of laws and rules that differ from state to state. Leagues including the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL have sought one uniform set of rules nationwide.
The bill would allow betting on the Olympics and college sports, but would ban it on other amateur sports.
It also would establish a nationwide self-exclusion list that people with gambling problems can add their names to in order to prohibit sports betting providers from allowing them to bet, similar to state lists that casinos maintain.
It remains to be seen whether the bill has enough support in the incoming Congress to progress. The casino industry’s main trade association, the American Gaming Association, called the bill “the epitome of a solution in search of a problem,” adding that questions like which data should be used by companies should be worked out by the free market, not legislated by government.
But Schumer said he will push hard for the bill, noting that his political differences with Hatch indicate it is something that has support from both parties.
“No bet is ever a guaranteed win, but it’s a smart bet that I will strongly advocate for this bill to move forward and that Congress will vote to pass federal legislation very soon,” Schumer said.
AP sports writer Ben Nuckols in Washington contributed to this report.
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Alabama fans embrace Jalen Hurts from field to stage
By JOHN ZENOR
AP Sports Writer
Thursday, December 20
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — They cheered Jalen Hurts as he picked up his diploma, and applauded his every big play this season.
Sometimes, Alabama fans gave the backup quarterback a nice hand for even stepping on the field — especially for his fifth game, which assured that he wasn’t leaving, at least not right away.
So if he decides to leave Alabama after the playoffs, there probably would be no booing from Crimson Tide faithful.
Even before Hurts came off the bench to lead Alabama to a comeback win over Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game, his popularity only seemed to grow since his role shrank.
“Jalen is a special guy. Everybody knows that,” said Alabama tailback Damien Harris, Hurts’ roommate. “The character he embodies, the way that he has handled this entire situation has been remarkable.”
Backup quarterbacks are often popular among fans when the starter is struggling. Hurts, however, found himself as the understudy to Tua Tagovailoa , who wound up as the Heisman Trophy runner-up.
He stuck it out while other players like ex-Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant opted to transfer instead of burning a year of eligibility. Hurts also has reaped the rewards, including perhaps a third national championship if Alabama can beat Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 29, plus either Clemson or Notre Dame.
He also cemented his Alabama legacy with his performance in the SEC title game.
Hurts replaced an injured Tagovailoa in the fourth quarter against the Bulldogs. He passed for a touchdown and ran 15 yards with 64 seconds left for what proved the winning score.
When Hurts graduated last Saturday, he received a 30-second ovation when his name was called.
Alabama coach Nick Saban touts Hurts’ story as “a great message for all young people” about sticking with something even through adversity.
“I think a lot of people recognize the fact that he put the team first,” Saban said. “He stayed here and focused on improving, trying to get better, trying to help the team, getting ready for any opportunity that might present itself for him. I think we played to get him ready for that.
“When it did in the last game, the SEC championship game, he certainly came through in fine fashion.”
Hurts hasn’t provided a hint about his plans after this season, with one more year of eligibility remaining. He could easily become a coveted transfer option if not “the biggest free agent in college football history” as father Averion predicted last spring.
Both Hurts and his father declined interview requests for this story.
It wasn’t always a smooth relationship for a two-year starter suddenly having his job challenged.
Hurts was miffed when Saban said at SEC media days that he had “no idea” if the quarterback was staying put. Hurts insists he told Saban of his intentions in June, and Tide tailback Josh Jacobs said he gave teammates those assurances as far back as last spring.
“It worked out great for him,” Jacobs said.
Hurts played in all but two games this season, missing those because of an ankle injury. The SEC offensive player of the year as a freshman has completed 74.6 percent of his passes for 755 yards and eight touchdowns against two interceptions.
He went 26-2 as a starter the previous two seasons and has set an Alabama record for a quarterback with 23 rushing touchdowns. Hurts also ranks among the top three career leaders in total offense, touchdown passes and rushing yards by a quarterback.
He also has ensured that the enduring memory of his career won’t be getting benched for the second half of the national title game. Tagovailoa led the Tide to a second-half comeback victory over Georgia in the same building where Hurts would return the favor 11 months later to win the SEC.
The next day Hurts recounted the emotional aftermath of the bittersweet ending in January, where Hurts publicly kept a happy face and celebrated the title. He only showed the hurt in private.
“After the national championship game I’m in the hotel room with my family, and I’m in my mom and dad’s arms crying, asking, ‘What are we going to do now?’” Hurts told ESPN on Dec. 2. “My dad looked at me and said, ‘We’re going to fight.’”
Whether at Alabama next year, or someplace else.
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Twins to retire Mauer’s No 7 jersey next season
By DAVE CAMPBELL
AP Sports Writer
Wednesday, December 19
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Twins will retire Joe Mauer’s No. 7 jersey next season, making a swift move to honor the homegrown player and six-time All-Star who recently retired after a 15-year major league career .
The Twins surprised Mauer with the announcement on Tuesday, while his accomplishments were celebrated at an all-student assembly at his alma mater Cretin-Derham Hall High School.
“I enjoyed putting the uniform on every day and being able to put on the Twins uniform, being at home, meant more to me than you’ll know,” Mauer said. “When I take my kids to a game and see No. 7 up there, it’ll probably put a smile on my face every time I see it.”
Mauer will become the eighth former Twins player or manager with a retired number, joining Harmon Killebrew (3), Rod Carew (29), Tony Oliva (6), Kent Hrbek (14), Kirby Puckett (34), Bert Blyleven (28) and Tom Kelly (10). Jackie Robinson (42) has had his number retired by all major league teams.
Oliva, Hrbek, Blyleven and Kelly entered the gym during the ceremony. Hrbek, another Minnesota-born-and-raised player who spent his entire career with the Twins, spoke at the podium inside the gym and turned to Mauer to reveal the news.
“It’s not every day you have your favorite player growing up telling you you’re going to go on the wall with him with the retired numbers,” Mauer said afterward. “I’m still kind of in shock right now. Those guys helped me out so much, not only as a baseball player, but how to conduct yourself as a man and as a professional.”
In the same place, 17½ years ago, a baby-faced and bespectacled Mauer signed his first contract with the Twins during a news conference following their selection of the smooth-swinging catcher with the first overall pick in the draft. Now, Mauer’s a father of three children with graying and closely shaved hair, contemplating the next phase of life at the ripe old age of 35.
“It’s been going well. It’s been fun to be a full-time dad and help out at home as much as I can,” he said. “It kind of almost feels just like a regular offseason. I know there might be some different feelings and some different emotions come spring training, but I’m definitely in a good place.”
As for scratching that competitive itch, Mauer has begun to join some Sunday pickup basketball games at Cretin-Derham Hall, where he was also a sharpshooting guard and all-state quarterback who had a full scholarship waiting for him at Florida State had he not picked baseball.
“I’m going to miss competing, stepping into the box against the best in the world,” Mauer said. “I’ll miss that when I’m 60 years old, so you know you can’t do it forever, but I’m definitely thankful I was able to do it as long as I did.”
The Twins have yet to determine the date for the jersey-hanging ceremony for Mauer, who leads their all-time list in doubles (428) and times on base (3,087) and is second in games (1,858), hits (2,123) and walks (939). He played 921 games as a catcher, winning three Gold Glove awards, three AL batting titles, five Silver Slugger awards and the 2009 AL MVP award, before a concussion triggered his move in 2014 to first base.
The Twins would love a formal job for Mauer in the future, whether as an ambassador, consultant or coach as other alumni have taken on. There’s no rush for now, particularly with Mauer and his wife, Maddie, caring for month-old Charles at home. He’s being called Chip for now.
“He’s got a lot to think about,” owner Jim Pohlad said, “but my guess is that somehow we’ll connect and there’ll be a role.”
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NCAA college football conditioning drills on Memorial Field in Hanover, N.H. Kent State receiver Antwan Dixon, Dartmouth defensive lineman Seth Simmer and Carson-Newman running back Antonio Wimbush are the first recipients of the Mayo Clinic college football Comeback Player of the Year Award. The new award recognizes college football players from FBS, FCS and lower divisions who overcome injury, illness or other challenges to return to the field. (Tris Wykes/The Valley News via AP)