For ODU and Heinicke, tonight's a big night
NORFOLK, Nov 17, 2012 (Menafn - The Virginian-Pilot - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --Much is at stake when Old Dominion visits James Madison tonight in the Monarchs' final football game as a member of the Colonial Athletic Association.
A win would give ODU 10 regular-season victories for the first time. It also likely would clinch a first-round bye in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs when the field is announced Sunday. Conceivably, it could also propel ODU to No. 1 in the FCS national polls.
But it's also a huge game for Taylor Heinicke, ODU's record-setting sophomore quarterback.
Heinicke is a frontrunner for the Walter Payton Award, considered the Heisman Trophy of the FCS. Tonight will be his last and most high-profile chance to make an impression on voters. The game will be broadcast nationally by the NBC Sports Network. The 7:05 p.m. kickoff comes long after most other FCS games have ended.
Craig Haley, who administers Payton Award voting for The Sports Network, said Heinicke and Stony Brook running back Miguel Maysonet probably are the two favorites among the 20 finalists. Wofford running back Eric Breitenstein is the darkhorse, he said.
Balloting begins Monday and ends Friday and includes 150 sports information directors, conference public relations officials, sportswriters and broadcasters. About two-thirds of the voters are affiliated with FCS schools and the rest are journalists, Haley said.
Heinicke bolted into the national spotlight when he passed for a Division I-record 730 yards and set an all-divisions record with 791 total yards in a 64-61 victory over New Hampshire on Sept. 22.
As defenses have ramped up to stop him, his passing yardage has dropped. Even so, Heinicke leads the nation in five offensive categories, including total offense per game (419 yards), total passing yards (3,801) and points responsible for per game (24.2).
With 199 yards passing tonight, he would become just the 18th FCS quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards. His 380 yards per game ranks fourth all-time. He has thrown 31 TD passes against 12 interceptions. He also has 387 yards rushing and eight rushing touchdowns.
Coach Bobby Wilder said he should be the favorite.
"He's doing it all," Wilder said. "He's not only leading the nation in total offense, he's got his team at 9-1 and poised to make the playoffs. Obviously, I'm biased. But I've studied the statistics and right now in terms of having an impact on his team, he's the clear-cut favorite to win the award."
JMU coach Mickey Matthews agrees.
"The reason their offense has so many yards is because their quarterback is a great, great athlete," he said. "He makes more plays with his feet than he makes with his arm. He can really throw some great balls. But his scrambling is what won it for them last year against us. I wanted to leave some guys open so he'd stop scrambling.
"He's not only the best quarterback in the league, he's the best running back in the league. He could play running back for Old Dominion and running back for us."
William and Mary coach Jimmye Laycock said Heinicke's ability to elude sacks and read opposing defenses is why ODU has nine wins.
"He's got 360-degree vision," Laycock said. "I don't know how he knows where people are when he's being rushed. We had him hemmed in a lot of times. But he felt the pressure and made great plays."
Heinicke, who majors in engineering and was named team captain as a sophomore, also has a compelling personal narrative -- his father, Brett Heinicke, died of a heart attack at age 50 last December.
Taylor has a tattoo on his left arm to honor his father, and points to the sky after every touchdown pass or run.
"He's the best player in the country," ODU offensive coordinator Brian Scott said. "When you put his character on top of it, he clearly deserves it."
Maysonet has his own statistics and compelling life story. The 5-foot-10, 210-pound senior has rushed for 1,721 yards and 19 touchdowns. He leads the nation with 157 yards rushing per game and has led Stony Brook to a 9-2 record against a schedule that included a victory over Army and a narrow loss at Syracuse.
Maysonet's mom worked two jobs, and he learned to play football on the streets because his family was too poor to afford Pop Warner football.
"He's had a great career at Stony Brook, but he will continue playing at the next level," Syracuse coach Doug Marrone told the New York Post.
Maysonet may have an advantage in that Stony Brook is in the New York media market. ODU and Stony Brook have set up websites to promote their candidates, but The Sports Network discourages direct lobbying of voters.
Wilder said he doesn't believe ODU's impending departure from FCS will affect the voting.
"I can't imagine any circumstances where they wouldn't want to give that award to the best player," he said.
Harry Minium, 757-446-2371, email@example.com
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