- Jeff Miller
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Oklahoma State junior Justin Blackmon has proven he can win an election.
The talented receiver was selected 2008 senior class president at little Plainview High School near the southern Oklahoma town of Ardmore and says he didn't even put his name on the ballot. But when you are all-state in football and basketball, can play a mean center field and have a bubbly personality to boot, that's a tough platform to beat.
Blackmon even played drums at halftime early in his high school football career before the coaches decided he needed to spend the break focusing on the second half rather than playing paradiddles.
"It wasn't an easy job," Blackmon said of being the chief executive of his class. "Had to do a lot for fundraisers, blood drives."
So he has campaign experience, including winning last year's Biletnikoff Award as college football's top receiver in his first season as a starter. He has impressive stats, averaging more than 100 receiving yards a game again this season.
Like a little attitude in your candidate? "I can catch anything," he told John Brenkus of ESPN's "Sport Science."
Yet asked to assess his chances of winning the Heisman Trophy in what surely is his final college season, Blackmon quickly replied, "Between slim and none."
He's majoring in business management but apparently has some affinity for history, at least concerning Heismans and wideouts. Of the 76 players who have been awarded the trophy beginning in 1935, only four have been classified as receivers -- Yale's Larry Kelley in 1936, Notre Dame's Leon Hart (1949) and Tim Brown (1987), and Michigan's Desmond Howard in 1991.
The herd of quarterbacks and running backs who have dominated Heisman presentations includes Oklahoma State's only winner -- 1988 trophy recipient and running back Barry Sanders, whose Cowboys team was quarterbacked by current OSU coach Mike Gundy.
"It's difficult for a receiver," Gundy said. "It's unfortunate because I'm not so sure that he's not the best player in the country. And I'm sitting here with both [senior Cowboys quarterback Brandon] Weeden and Blackmon, who are really, really good players. I just don't know if I've seen another receiver that can dominate a game like he can."
As a sophomore in 2010, Blackmon led the Football Bowl Subdivision by averaging 148.5 receiving yards per game and was second in catches per game with 9.25. Through six games this season, he averages more than 101 yards and nearly nine catches. At 6-foot-1, he has a leaping ability that puts him in the same category as 6-foot-5 Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions when it comes to jump-ball offense.
"He can do that on any pass," Gundy said. "He also catches balls going across the middle. Slants. The fade route. The deep ball.
"He can change a game. The number of games that we've played in the last two years, I haven't seen anybody else on the field that was better than him."
Oklahoma State's offensive numbers haven't changed much this season with the transition to new offensive coordinator Todd Monken following the departure of Dana Holgorsen, who is now the head coach at West Virginia. Texas succeeded in holding the Cowboys to relatively mundane passing statistics Saturday, with Weeden throwing for 218 yards (his career low for a start) and Blackmon catching seven balls for 74 yards while being double- and triple-teamed for much of the game.
But Blackmon accounted for 57 yards in the 63-yard touchdown drive that gave Oklahoma State the lead for good in the second quarter. The drive culminated with Blackmon's fourth catch among the eight plays as he stretched into the end zone for a 15-yard score.
Though not invited last December to New York as one of the Heisman finalists, Blackmon finished fifth to Auburn's Cam Newton. One Heisman voter placed him first on his ballot.
"I was very surprised," Blackmon said. "It was a shock."
Blackmon's production with the Cowboys has been something of a shock to some in college football. He wasn't considered a blue-chip recruit coming out of Plainview, playing in Oklahoma's Class 3A (the state's largest classification is 6A). The traditional heavyweight collegiate programs in the Southwest -- Oklahoma and Texas -- didn't show much interest. Blackmon said he chose Oklahoma State over offers from Colorado and Missouri.
"He played at a small school and was just a little bit overweight, kind of pudgy," Gundy said. "Some doubted that he could play at this level consistently. There was not much that they had seen of him, just a highlight tape. We felt like from day one we were getting a big-time sleeper."
Blackmon's career in Stillwater began with a redshirt season in 2008 and a slight overlap with Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State's previous star receiver who now plays for the Dallas Cowboys. Bryant played from 2007 to 2009 before being declared ineligible in early October of his final season. Blackmon said he learned from Bryant "that you're going to compete anytime you go out on the field, even in practice."
"Both of them have unbelievable hands and some great body control," Gundy said of Blackmon and Bryant. "I think before it's all said and done, Justin's going to be just ... the best receiver, because he's more of a complete player."
In the 20 years since Howard won the Heisman, one major factor in receivers being shut out has been that many of the best have gone pro early. Pitt's Larry Fitzgerald finished second in 2003, Marshall's Randy Moss was fourth in 1997 and Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree was fifth in 2008, and all three left for the NFL with college eligibility remaining.
Howard said he has been neither surprised nor disappointed that no other receiver has won the Heisman in the past 20 years.
"I think the people who won it are deserving," said Howard, now an ESPN analyst. "I can't say I'm disappointed, just so we could say a receiver won it. I'm not that type of guy. I want the best player to win."
Howard was also a talented returner. It was in that role during his regular-season finale against Ohio State that he famously struck the Heisman pose in the end zone.
"I think any player is greatly enhanced by the more they can do," Howard said.
Blackmon recently asked if he could return punts. Gundy complied, saying he would "try to help him a little bit, and it makes our team better."
In Blackmon's debut as a returner during the second half against Texas, there was no opportunity to strike a pose: three punts, three fair catches. (He did account for 15 yards when he was popped on the third one and Texas received an interference penalty.)
That figures to be the extent of Blackmon's extra credit work. He has fielded one direct snap this season, but that was specifically to run 39 yards in the other direction for a safety in the final seconds to ensure Oklahoma State's victory over Texas A&M.
How about passing off an end around?
"Hmm," Blackmon said, "that might raise my stock."
Or he could always play the drums at halftime again.
From class president to fifth in last year's Heisman race, Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon says he still faces long odds at winning the trophy.