The most prestigious award in college football is the Heisman Trophy.
It is presented annually to the most outstanding player who defines “excellence with integrity,” and it’s something that Kayvon Thibodeaux has a legitimate shot at claiming at the end of this 2021-2022 football season.
The 6’5”, 250-pound defensive end was a five-star player coming out of Oaks Christian High School in Los Angeles, California and the No. 1 ranked player in the class of 2019 when he chose to pursue his academic and athletic career at the University of Oregon.
During his commitment, he stated why he chose Mario Cristobal and the Ducks:
"There were a lot of reasons why I chose Oregon. I have a great comfort level with the coaching staff and I know I can go in there and get developed. I've known coach [Keith] Heyward since I was just a freshman and I really like coach Joe [Salave'a, DL coach] a lot. He's a great coach, one of the best coaches in the country and I can't wait to learn from him.
"I have a strong relationship with coach [Mario] Cristobal too. He knows me really well and we talk about my interest outside of football and what I want to do. It's never just about football with him, he's a players coach and I'm very comfortable with him and the rest of the staff."
Coming to Oregon has paid off.
In his first year at Oregon, he recorded 35 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, nine sacks, one forced fumble, four QB hits, three pass breakups and one blocked punt.
In year two, more of the same: 38 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, two QB hits, and three pass breakups in this past year’s shortened seven-game season.
This is the work ethic Thibodeaux has always known.
On the latest Talkin’ Ducks, host Jordan Kent is joined by Pac-12 football analyst Yogi Roth to discuss more on Thibodeaux’s dominance these past two seasons:
“Everyone raves about his five-star ability, his five-star work ethic, right? That’s the Coach [Mario] Cristobal quote we’ve heard so many times,” said Roth. “And now he’s put on the five-star weight to be an NFL prospect. He’s not just the freak coming off the edge that will beat any tackle in the country. He’s doing it with speed, he’s looping, he’s dropping into coverage, all things that we saw in the Pac-12 title game where he went down as the MVP of the game on the defensive side of the ball.”
After just one year of college ball under his belt, Thibodeaux was already in 2022 NFL Draft first-round, potentially top-5 pick conversations.
But before the 2022 NFL Draft comes Thibodeaux’s junior season and the potential of claiming the Heisman Trophy.
Of course, there is always a bias to quarterbacks when it comes to the Heisman Trophy. The last defensive player to win the Heisman was Michigan defensive back Charles Woodson in 1997.
In the last 20 years alone, there have been three winners who did not play quarterback: Alabama running back Mark Ingram in 2009; Alabama running back Derrick Henry in 2015; and Alabama wide receiver Devonta Smith in 2020.
Could Thibodeaux be another link to break the chain in the Heisman Trophy winner list? He will need a little help from the Ducks as well and their quest to be one of the final four teams in the College Football Playoff… Not having Larry Scott run the Pac-12 Conference might help too…
“I think it’s worthy because he’s that dominant of a player in the likes of Ndamukong Suh,” Roth continued. “I think he’s got that ability. He’s got that brand of Oregon that elevate him there. He’s got all the stuff: character, charisma. I think it will be fun and I think he’s gonna be the face of this conference, I really do. And I think Oregon is going to be talented so if they can make a run at the CFP [College Football Playoff] - we know how this thing works - he’ll find himself in the mix.”