Which High School Football States Have Produced the Most Heisman Trophy Winners?

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistDecember 16, 2013

The pride of Hueytown, Ala., Jameis Winston won the 78th Heisman Trophy on Saturday night, becoming the third product of Alabama high school football to receive the award and the first since Bo Jackson in 1985.

The win pushed the Heart of Dixie into semi-elite company, making it one of just 10 states in the union that have produced three or more winners. Alabama is now tied for seventh all time with Nebraska, Massachusetts and New Jersey—all of which have also produced three Heismans, but none of which has done so in the past 12 years.

Only six states have produced four or more Heisman Trophy winners, and half of those states have produced exactly four, while the other half has far exceeded that number:

States That Have Produced Four Heisman Trophies
California14Glenn Davis (1946)Reggie Bush (2005)*
Ohio11Frank Sinkwich (1942)Troy Smith (2006)
Texas9Davey O'Brien (1938)Johnny Manziel (2012)
Georgia4George Rogers (1980)Cam Newton (2010)
Oklahoma4Billy Vessels (1952)Sam Bradford (2008)
Pennsylvania4Johnny Lujack (1947)Tony Dorsett (1976)
Source: Heisman Trust

*Reggie Bush's Heisman was vacated in 2010, but for all intents and purposes, since he actually received the award, we're going to count him as a winner.

Georgia has usurped Pennsylvania's role as a Heisman factory in the last 33 years, producing four trophies since 1980 after producing zero before that. Pennsylvania won its four trophies between 1947 and 1976 but has been blanked since Tony Dorsett blew out the field with 75 percent of the vote that year.

Oklahoma, the other four-win state, has been the opposite of those two extremes, winning two Heismans between 1950 and 1970, zero in the subsequent 33 years, then two in 2003 and 2008 from quarterbacks Jason White and Sam Bradford, respectively, both of whom stayed in-state to play for Bob Stoops' Sooners in Norman.

And that leaves us with the Big Three, the LeBron-Wade-Bosh of producing Heisman Trophy winners: California, Ohio and Texas. With 14, 11 and nine respective recipients, they are clearly the cream of the elite talent-producing crop, yielding 44 percent of all Heismans ever.

Here's a closer look at how those states stack up:

Top Three Heisman-Producing States, Fast Facts
Running Back86.54
In-State College9/14 (64%)6/11 (55%)6/9 (66%)
Source: Heisman Trust

*1944 winner Les Horvath played both quarterback and running back, so he was counted as .5 in each category for Ohio.

Ohio did most of its damage between 1935 and 1963, producing six of the first 29 Heisman winners. Even the fertile recruiting grounds of California and Texas only had one apiece in that time frame.

Since that, though, Ohio has tailed off and only won five, while California has won 13 and Texas has won eight. Outside of California and Texas, the Buckeye State's five in that span are still more than any other state has ever won, so it's not like it has fallen off the face of the earth. It's just clearly been third best.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to look at between those three teams is retention rate. For the most part, California, Ohio and Texas are able to keep their Heisman Trophy winners at home, with 62 percent (21 of 34) playing for an in-state university.

But check out how that breakdown works by era:

In-State Retention Rate for Heisman Winners (CA, OH, TX)
RATE:5/10 (50%)10/12 (83%)0/6 (0%)6/6 (100%)
Source: Heisman Trust

Between 1965-1989 and 1999-2013, 16 of 18 Heisman Trophy winners from California, Ohio and Texas chose to stay in-state for college. That is a massive number.

But look at that weird phase during the '90s. In just nine short years, six guys from California, Ohio and Texas won the Heisman, but zero of them stayed in-state for college. Almost 90 percent of the winners in the surrounding 40 years stayed at home, but during the 1990s, that script was completely reversed.

What does it all mean? I'm not quite sure. It could all just be a coincidence.

The first of those winners was Ty Detmer, who left Texas to play at BYU. He wasn't a Mormon when he left, but he did convert during his junior year, so that appears to be a weird case that can be thrown out as an outlier.

Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson both spurned Ohio State to play at Michigan, but Michigan was the stronger program back then, so that checks out, too. The weirdest is the three California guys—Gino Torretta, Rashaan Salaam and Ricky Williams—who all left the Golden State to play at Miami, Colorado and Texas, respectively.

It wasn't just the winners from the three main states, either. From 1990-2000, 10 of 11 overall winners played out of state, including Florida State's Charlie Ward (Georgia), Ohio State's Eddie George (Virginia), Wisconsin's Ron Dayne (New Jersey) and Florida State's Chris Weinke (Minnesota)

The only Heisman winner out of those 11 who stayed at home was Florida's Danny Wuerffel.

What was it about the '90s that made players like that want to leave home? And what was it about the next decade, when California guys like Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush won the award at USC, that made players want to stay?

It's hard to conjure an answer. Those are questions for much smarter men then myself. For now, California, Texas and Ohio are the three best Heisman-producing regions, and it's been 15 years since a winner has left their borders to play in college.

Those states would like to keep it that way.


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