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Raiola and Hamilton are first finalists
Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. -- The nation's top collegiate center will be honored with a new award named after the most decorated college football athlete to ever play that position.

The first recipient of the Dave Rimington Award will be announced sometime in February. The 2000 finalists are Nebraska's Dominic Raiola and Minnesota's Ben Hamilton.

The award is named after Rimington, a consensus All-America center at Nebraska in 1981 and 1982. He is the only player to win two Outland Trophies, an honor voted to the nation's outstanding collegiate interior lineman. He also won the Lombardi Award as the nation's best college lineman in 1982.

Only two other centers have ever received a national award since the first one, the Heisman Trophy, was presented in 1935. They are Jim Richter of North Carolina State, who won the Outland in 1979; and Chuck Bednarik of Pennsylvania, who won the Maxwell Trophy in 1948.

"Centers seem to be left out a lot of the national awards," Rimington said Monday after the award carrying his name was announced. "An honor like this is long overdue."

The Rimington Award is being sponsored by the Boomer Esiason Foundation, which the former NFL quarterback created to support research and treatment of cystic fibrosis -- a deadly genetic disease afflicting Esiason's 10-year-old son.

"At first I wasn't really sure about having an award named after me, but we got to thinking that it would be a great way to raise money for cystic fibrosis research," said Rimington, president of the New York-based foundation since its start in 1993.

Rimington was a teammate of Esiason when the two played for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1984 through 1987. Rimington played a total of five seasons with the Bengals and three with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Rimington Award winners will be selected by the foundation, in most cases going to each year's consensus All-America center, Rimington said. Academic performance also will be considered in the selection process.

Raiola, a 6-foot-2, 300-pound junior from Honolulu, was selected by the nation's sports writers and broadcasters to the AP All-America team. He has decided to forgo his senior season at Nebraska to enter the NFL draft.

Hamilton, a 6-foot-5, 285-pound senior and son of former Vikings offensive lineman Wes Hamilton, was a consensus All-American after the 1999 season and was named to most all-American teams in 2000.