In the previous eight years of the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award, a quarterback had won all but twice.
That list includes former No. 1 overall NFL draft picks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, along with Bryce Petty, Trevone Boykin, Greg Ward Jr. and then Kyle Trask in 2020.
In 2021, only one quarterback was among the five finalists and that was Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe.
“It means a lot,” Zappe said on Wednesday night at Willow Brook Country Club. “Those are some of the guys I watched on TV. And I’ve been watching this award a while. I remember watching guys like Patrick Mahomes and Kyle Trask last year and other past winners. Just to have my name alongside theirs is a dream come true, and it’s a night I will never forget, no matter if I win the trophy or not.”
Later that night, Zappe did win the trophy.
Zappe played at Victoria East High School for coach Roland Gonzalez. As a senior, he threw for 3,770 yards and 37 touchdowns and rushed for 650 yards and 15 touchdowns. As a junior, he threw for 3,241 yards and 42 touchdowns and rushed for 221 yards and three touchdowns. In his first season as a varsity quarterback, he threw for 1,302 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“I had a great head coach there in Coach Gonzalez and a great offensive coordinator in Coach (Spencer) Gantt,” Zappe said. “I think the biggest thing they told me is to continue to get better every day. And that’s kind of what my dad was also trying to make my mindset, and that’s kind of what I tried to carry on throughout my career. I just try to get better every day. And I think that started in high school when I started to realize that playing at the college level was something that could happen. And I started working harder. And they instilled that in me. Playing college football is kind of like a job. You’ve got to do it 24/7. It’s something you’ve got to love. I love the game of football, and it’s definitely worked out.”
Zappe went on to play at the Division I FCS level at Houston Baptist.
In his first season as a starter at Houston Baptist as a redshirt freshman, Zappe threw for 2,822 yards with 23 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. In 2019, Zappe threw for 3,811 yards and 35 touchdowns with 15 interceptions. In just a four-game 2020 season, Zappe was 141 of 215 for 1,833 yards with 15 touchdowns and one interception.
Zappe transferred to the Division I FBS level for the 2021 season to play at Western Kentucky.
“It was good, and it was hard,” Zappe said. “There’s always a gap in speed of the game when you jump up levels. It was something I had to learn kind of fast going into the season. The transition was nice. To be able to do it was one of my best friends, my offensive coordinator (Zach Kittley) made the transition a lot easier.”
At Western Kentucky, Zappe was 475 of 686 for 5,967 yards with 62 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
The 5,967 yards and 62 touchdowns set new FBS records.
“It was a wild ride to be able to have the year that we had at WKU,” Zappe said. “None of this stuff happens without my teammates and coaches. We definitely accomplished a lot of goals we set for the season. We also didn’t get some of them, like a conference championship. But looking back on it, it was definitely a record-breaking year.”
Now, Zappe hopes to keep his football playing career going in the NFL.
“I’m currently in Mobile, Alabama, got there last Thursday, and I’m training with QB Country,” Zappe said. “I’m training with them the next two months, all the way up to the Senior Bowl (Feb. 5) and then all the way up until the NFL combine (March 1-7).”
Other finalists on Wednesday night were UTSA junior running back Sincere McCormick (Judson High School, Converse); Baylor senior running back Abram Smith (Abilene HS, Abilene); Kansas State sophomore running back Deuce Vaughn (Cedar Ridge HS, Round Rock); and Ohio State junior wide receiver Garrett Wilson (Lake Travis HS, Austin).