The vast majority of Heisman winners followed a fairly common path to football glory: They went to high school and then attended a four-year university on scholarship before winning the trophy.
But the last couple seasons have been different. Each of the last two Heisman winners started their college careers at another school before transferring to the University of Oklahoma. In the case of Baker Mayfield, he started his career as a walk on at Texas Tech before walking on again at Oklahoma, making his journey to the Heisman perhaps the most interesting of them all.
But Mayfield and Kyler Murray are not the only Heisman winners to follow this type of path. Given the proliferation of high profile transfers in college football of late, it figures they won’t be the last. But here is a rundown of the history of Heisman winners whose careers took a circuitous path to stardom.
Yale’s second Heisman winner graduated from Evanston Township High in Illinois in 1933, but spent a post-graduate year at New Jersey’s Lawrenceville School — where he starred in both football and baseball — before heading to New Haven. He won the Heisman as a senior in 1937.
Born in McColl, S.C. (just a few miles from the North Carolina border), Blanchard chose to attend the University of North Carolina, in large part because the Tar Heels head coach, Jim Tatum, was his mother’s cousin. Back then, freshmen were not eligible for varsity ball, so Blanchard played for the freshman squad in 1943. When the war broke out, however, he enrolled at West Point and was immediately eligible, finishing third in the Heisman vote in 1944 before becoming the first junior to win the award in 1945.
Simpson graduated from Galileo High in San Francisco in 1965, then spent two seasons at City College of San Francisco. In his two years at CCSF, he rushed for 2,445 yards and averaged 9.8 yards per carry. He was a junior college All-American in both football and track before heading to USC, where he finished as the Heisman runner up in 1967 and the Heisman winner in 1968. He was the first junior college transfer to win the Heisman.
Rozier was a star sprinter and running back for Woodrow Wilson High in Camden, N.J., but was not a highly recruited player from the class of 1980. Because his grades weren’t quite up to par, he spent that fall at Coffeyville (Kan.) Junior College, helping to lead his team to a perfect 9-0 mark, rushing for 1157 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was a first team junior college All-American. Naturally, recruiters from big time schools came calling, most notably Tom Osborne from Nebraska. Rozier became a Cornhusker and went on to win the Heisman in 1983.
Testaverde graduated from Sewanhaka High in Long Island, NY, in 1981, but needed to get his grades in order before moving on to a four-year university. So Testaverde spent one year at Fork Union Military Academy in Fork Union, Va, before signing with Miami (Fla.) in 1982. He saw limited time that fall for the Hurricanes, then redshirted in 1983, before winning the Heisman in 1986.
George spent his last two seasons of high school playing for Fork Union (which is both a high school and a prep school) after transferring from Abington High outside Philadelphia. As a senior, he rushed for 1,372 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also excelled in track and field, where he won a state title in the 300 hurdles. Following his 1990 senior season, George had only one partial scholarship offer from a Division II school so, like Testaverde before him, he decided to take a post-graduate year in 1991 and played one more fall with the Blue Devils. This was enough to attract the attention of Ohio State and he signed with the Buckeyes in 1992. He went on to win the Heisman in 1995.
The 2010 Heisman winner’s career took several twists and turns. A highly-rated recruit out of Atlanta’s Westlake High in 2006, he signed with Florida and played for the Gators in 2007. He redshirted 2008 due to an ankle injury, then left the Gators to attend Blinn Junior College. He led Blinn to the 2009 national JC championship, throwing for 2,833 yards and 22 touchdowns while rushing for 655 yards. Auburn won the battle for Newton’s service the following spring and, by the fall, he was the Tigers’ starting quarterback. He then led Auburn to the national title and won the Heisman Trophy as a junior in 2010 before leaving school as the first pick in the 2011 NFL draft. He is the only “double transfer” to win the Heisman.
Mayfield starred at Lake Travis High in Austin, leading his team to a 25-2 record as a starter while winning the 2011 4A State Championship. He finished his prep career with 6,255 passing yards and 67 touchdown passes. But the 6-foot-1, 220-pound dual-threat quarterback was passed over by almost every BCS school for a scholarship, so Mayfield chose to walk on at Texas Tech in 2013, where he immediately won the starting quarterback position. He finished his freshman season with 2,315 yards and 12 touchdown passes. Mayfield then chose to transfer to Oklahoma, where he also walked on, then sat out the 2014 season due to transfer rules. By 2015, he was at last a scholarship athlete, then went on to finish fourth, third and first in the next three Heisman votes.
Murray was a highly-touted recruited out of Allen (Texas) High as a 2014 senior. He signed with Texas A&M in 2015 and spent most of that season as a backup. Following his freshman season, he transferred to Oklahoma, and sat out the 2016 season due to NCAA transfer rules. He spent the 2017 season as a backup to Heisman winner Baker Mayfield, then won the Heisman in his first year as a starter in the fall of 2018.
Played in Junior College before winning the Heisman
Went to Prep School after High School
Played at a different four-year university before winning the Heisman
Felix “Doc” Blanchard
Played at two 4-year universities and for a junior college before winning the Heisman