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Preseason Awards Watch: Connor Heyward named to Paul Hornung Watchlist and Elijah Collins named to Doak Walker Watchlist

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NCAA Football: Tulsa at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

As preseason award watch members continue to be announced, another Michigan State Spartan finds his name on a prestigious list. MSU halfback Connor Heyward has been added to the Paul Hornung Award Watchlist.

The Hornung Award is presented by the Louisville Sports Commission, with the support of former Pro Football and College Football Hall of Fame running back Paul Hornung. The trophy is awarded annually to the “most versatile player in college football.” This could mean players who play multiple positions, make an impact on special teams in addition to offense or defense, and those who play multiple roles for their respective teams.

Heyward surely fits the bill here, as a running back, kick returner and solid receiver out of the backfield. In fact, Heyward was actually one of five finalists for the award in 2018. That year, he led the Spartans in carries (118), rushing yards (529), rushing touchdowns (five), kick returns (13 for 287 yards) and all-purpose yards (1,065). He was also third on the team with 32 catches. Heyward played in just four games in 2019 before entering into the transfer portal (while preserving his redshirt). He had 131 all-purpose yards and one receiving touchdown. Heyward, of course, has decided to return to East Lansing as a redshirt junior in 2020, and the team welcomed him back with open arms.

The Hornung Award made its debut in 2010, and past winners include Owen Marecic (Stanford), Odell Beckham Jr. (LSU), Christian McCaffrey (Stanford), Jabrill Peppers (Michigan), Saquon Barkley (Penn State), Rondale Moore (Purdue) and others. Kentucky’s Lynn Bowden Jr. is the most recent recipient. An MSU player has not previously won the award.

Heyward is not the only Spartan to get preseason recognition. Earlier this month, redshirt sophomore running back Elijah Collins was added to the Doak Walker Award Watchlist. The Doak Walker Award is given out annually by Southern Methodist University and named after Pro/College Football Hall of Famer Doak Walker. The trophy is awarded to the nation’s top running back.

Collins had a breakout redshirt freshman campaign in 2019, taking over the starting role in the backfield and rushing for 988 yards on 222 carries (4.45 yards per carry) and five touchdowns. He was just 12 yards shy of becoming MSU’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Jeremy Langford in 2014. Last season Collins earned third-team All-Big Ten honors from the media and Pro Football Focus, and All-Big Ten honorable mention recognition from the coaches. He enters the 2020 season (if there is one) as the bell cow back and No. 1 option at halfback.

The Doak Walker Award started in 1990. Recent winners include Montee Ball (Wisconsin), Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin), Derrick Henry (Alabama), Bryce Love (Stanford) and Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin). An MSU player has also never won this award.

As we reported earlier, linebacker Antjuan Simmons is also on a preseason watchlist. He made the Bednarik Watchlist earlier in July. This is awarded to the College football Defensive Player of the Year. Simmons could be the first Spartan to win this honor.