Witten, the Elizabethton native and former University of Tennessee star, and his organization created the award to honor the college football player who has demonstrated an outstanding record of leadership by exhibiting courage, integrity and sportsmanship.
The three finalists were Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph, Alabama cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick and Central Florida linebacker Shaquem Griffin. Griffin took home the award in front of group that included several of Witten’s past and current Cowboys teammates, including Tony Romo and Emmitt Smith, as well as Phillip Fulmer, his college coach.
Griffin led UCF to an undefeated season and conference championship, despite having only one hand. An inspiration to his teammates, he graduated with a degree in sociology and is a regular volunteer at local Boys & Girls Clubs.
“I am truly honored to present the inaugural Collegiate Man of the Year award to Shaquem Griffin,” Witten said. “Shaquem embodies everything that is great about college football and everything that makes a great leader. He has obviously overcome a lot of adversity to accomplish all that he has, and the fact that he gives so much of himself to the community makes him even more impressive.”
As the recipient of the award, Griffin will have a $10,000 contribution in his name made to his school’s athletic scholarship fund through Jason Witten’s SCORE Foundation, the official charity of Jason and his wife, Michelle.
“I was honored to be sitting at the head table at the first ever Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year event,” Fulmer, now Tennessee’s athletic director, said in a release from the university. “The presentation was outstanding and congratulations to Shaquem Griffin on being the first winner of the award.
“Jason Witten is the perfect man, player, leader and role model to have his name on this award. Jason has achieved, overcome, worked and led at the highest level of collegiate and professional football, all the while maintaining his integrity, passion, compassion and character as a husband, father and community leader. I am proud of Jason as he continues to represent UT, the Dallas Cowboys and all that is good in sports on a daily basis.
“This is an award that every college football player should strive to be nominated for.”
Witten was named the 2012 Walter Payton Man of the Year in recognition of his off-the-field community service and playing excellence. He has made 11 Pro Bowl appearances, tying the Cowboys’ record, and is the franchise’s all-time leader in games played (239), receptions (1,152) and receiving yards (12,448). Witten played three seasons at Tennessee and totaled 797 yards and 68 receptions, becoming one of the nation’s best all-around tight ends as a junior.
Witten also has received the Bart Starr Award, Pro Football Weekly’s Humanitarian of the Year Award, Home Depot NFL Neighborhood MVP and the Bob Lilly Award, among many others.