Greg Ward Jr. became the first hometown winner of the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award on Wednesday night at a star-studded gala at Willow Brook Country Club.
The University of Houston quarterback, who put up dazzling numbers in leading his Cougars to a top 10 finish, and Tyler native was the winner of the third annual award.
Ward, just as the Tyler Rose himself, is a graduate of John Tyler High School.
"I am so humbled to receive this award," said Ward, who was visibly moved when his name was called. "To be associated with this award and the Campbell family is a tremendous honor."
The UH junior is the third straight quarterback to receive the award, named for Campbell, the bruising running back who won the 1977 Heisman Trophy at the University of Texas and is a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
Ward was chosen by a nationwide vote of sports writers and broadcasters. He joined 2013 winner Bryce Petty of Baylor and 2014 winner Trevone Boykin of TCU.
When Tyler and Christian Campbell, sons of Mr. and Mrs. Earl Campbell, read Ward's name, the dining room erupted in cheers for the Rose City native.
"First, I want to thank God; without Him I would not be here," said the soft-spoken Ward, who led the Cougars to a 13-1 record and the American Athletic Conference championship. "I also want to thank my parents (Greg Ward Sr. and Mary Ward), my teammates and coaches, coach (Major) Applewhite (UH quarterback coach) and my brothers back in Houston. I would not be up here without my teammates."
Plus, he thanked his family and friends and the city of Tyler.
Ward was one of five finalists for the award. Other finalists were Boykin, Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman, TCU wide receiver Josh Doctson and Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Boykin, Coleman and Doctson were all working out in preparation for the NFL Draft in May and were not in attendance, as was Mayfield, who is a junior at OU. Boykin sent a message that was played before the audience, thanking the Campbell family and the City of Tyler.
Earl Campbell, a three-time NFL Most Valuable Player while playing for the Houston Oilers, was elated a player "who worked out on the same field and used the same locker room" was nominated for the award.
The Tyler Rose was also happy the first Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award Scholarship winner, Schuyler Wages of New Chapel Hill, was in attendance. She is a nursing major and plays volleyball at LeTourneau University.
Ward was the American Athletic Conference championship game MVP as well as the Offensive Player of the Game for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl when he led the Cougars to a 38-24 victory over Florida State on Dec. 31 in Atlanta.
Ron Franklin, former voice of the Houston Oilers, Texas Longhorns and a broadcaster on ESPN, was the emcee.
Billy Sims, Hooks native and 1978 Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma, was in attendance.
Former NFLers Aaron Ross and Gary Baxter were on hand as well as super agent Leigh Steinberg. Others in attendance were Houston QB coach and former University of Texas quarterback Applewhite, University of Texas assistant coach Jeff Traylor and his wife Cari, JT head football coach Ricklan Holmes and Mayor Martin Heines.
Walter Wilhelmi gave the invocation and a film about Campbell's career was shown. There were highlights shown of each finalist.
The Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award, announced in 2012 by the Tyler Chamber and SPORTyler, recognizes the top offensive player in Division I football who also exhibits the enduring characteristics that define Earl Campbell: integrity, performance, teamwork, sportsmanship, drive, tenacity and community; specifically tenacity to persist and determination to overcome adversity and injury in pursuit of reaching goals.
In addition, the nominee must meet one or more of the following criteria: born in Texas and/or graduated from a Texas High School and/or played at a Texas-based junior college or four-year Division I Texas college.
The sponsors for the event were City of Tyler (Yellow Rose Sponsor); Brookshire's Clements Fluids Management, Kitchens Unique, Patterson Commercial Property Group, R.W. Fair Foundation, TDI Air Conditioning/James and Sharon Wynne, Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals and Clinics, Tyler Morning Telegraph and Chesley and Ted W. Walters (White Rose Sponsors); Austin Bank, Azalea Orthopedics, Southside Bank, Suddenlink and Texas Spine & Joint Hospital (Coral Rose Sponsors); and Hibbs, Hallmark & Co., Prothro, Wilhelmi & Co., Tyler Junior College and the University of Texas at Tyler.