(I’m reposting and updating this article from its original placement).
While writing up a post recently about Kavontae Turpin and the role he’ll play in the TCU offense in 2016, I decided to track the Big 12’s history of fantastically productive little guys.
There have been so many, that it seemed about time that we made up a trophy to recognize them all. With a hat tip to my pal @drryanpepper who came up with the name, I present to you the “Darren Sproles water bug trophy for most outstanding tiny person.”
To be eligible for the award a player needs to play offense, fit the size requirements*, and be an absolute terror in space.
I present to you, the most outstanding tiny persons of the Big 12 dating back to the year 2000.
Winners of the Darren Sproles water bug trophy for most outstanding tiny person
2000: Hodges Mitchell, Texas
Hodges had the unenviable task of replacing Ricky Williams at Texas but he did admirably well with consecutive 1500 yard seasons, including this one which makes him our first recognized “most outstanding tiny person.”
Runner-up: Quentin Griffin, Oklahoma
Quentin Griffin was Darren Sproles before Darren Sproles was in school yet. There can be little doubt that Oklahoma’s Air Raid attack in 2000 and championship season was largely enabled by Griffin’s ability to be a worthy back but also a dynamic weapon in the passing game.
2001: Quentin Griffin, Oklahoma
Griffin helped the Oklahoma machine keep going sans Josh Heupel but didn’t have as many opportunities as a part of a weaker offense. However, he also didn’t have to compete with Hodges Mitchell.
Runner-up: Ricky Williams, Texas Tech
Way back in 2001 it wasn’t yet common knowledge that Mike Leach had brought a system to Texas Tech that was going to make monsters out of every crafty, hard working offensive player that he brought to Lubbock. It also wasn’t yet common knowledge that Wes Welker would transcend beyond the system and be one of the greatest slot receivers of his time in both college and the NFL. Welker’s 2001 season was his first good one, but Tech was still relying heavily on this scat back who had 142 rushing attempts AND 92 receptions.
2002: Quentin Griffin, Oklahoma
It’s remarkable that this little guy saved his best year for his senior season when he’d already endured several seasons of pounding. Getting 322 touches is crazy but when a guy is averaging 6.7 per play you keep giving him the ball.
Runner-up: Darren Sproles, Kansas State
Year one for the namesake, but Sproles wasn’t quite ready to seize the honors with Quentin Griffin playing like this. Considering that Wes Welker put up his first 1k yard season this was THE YEAR of the tiny person in the Big 12. Any one of the three would have won the award going away in most other years.
2003: Darren Sproles, Kansas State
Quentin Griffin moved on to the NFL and it was down to Sproles vs Welker…there was no denying the namesake. With Quentin Griffin gone there was also no tiny person around to protect Oklahoma from the 35-7 thrashing that Sproles and co. administered to the Sooners in the Big 12 championship game. This was his finest season at K-State.
Runner-up: Wes Welker, Texas Tech
Wes Welker had a phenomenal three-year stretch but just couldn’t break through and win the distinction as the pre-eminent little man with Quentin Griffin and/or the trophy’s namesake always around. However, he did help create the potential for breakthrough for future tiny persons at WR.
2004: Darren Sproles, Kansas State
Sproles’ numbers slipped a bit and he had to play off Dylan Meier and serve as the main punch of the Wildcat attack with Ell Roberson gone. He was up for it.
Runner-up: Cory Ross, Nebraska
Another explosive little guy who thrived taking the pitch in an option offense, this time at Nebraska, Cory Ross came on the scene strong in 2004 and set himself up to take over for the future.
2005: Cory Ross, Nebraska
Ross narrowly took advantage of the namesake finally moving on to the NFL and held off a tiny challenger despite a slip in production.
Runner-up: Hugh Charles, Colorado
2005 was the year of 6’5″ super-freak Vince Young, there were no little men around to deny him from getting all the attention.
2006: Tony Temple, Missouri
The mid to late 00s in the Big 12 were filled with scat back sized RBs that rarely dominated games but were always a threat to take advantage of the increasing amounts of space that spread systems would put them in.
Runner-up: Dantrell Savage, Oklahoma State
Savage initiated a nearly-uninterrupted run of five years in which Oklahoma State put little guys on the field at RB where they did serious damage running behind very good Joe Wickline offensive lines.
2007: Dantrell Savage, Oklahoma State
Savage took over the full load of the Oklahoma State offense in 2007 and did quality work with his quick bursts.
Runner-up: Eric Morris, Texas Tech
Tony Temple had another solid season but 1/5 of his yardage came in their bowl game and it seemed more fitting to reward Eric Morris and the Texas Tech tradition that will prove to have a strong presence on this list.
Morris wasn’t utterly horrifying unless it was 4th and 3, your defense was gassed, and you knew that another Texas Tech 1st down was going to be the end of your DL’s legs. In that scenario, he was pretty scary.
2008: Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State
Hunter picked up where Dantrell Savage left off and did serious damage in 2008, which was probably one of the strongest offensive years the Big 12 has ever seen. The Cowboys had a devastating attack triggered by Zac Robinson with Russell Okung and Brandon Pettigrew mauling the edges at LT and TE and Dez Bryant running routes downfield.
Runner-up: Quan Cosby, Texas
2009: Rodney Stewart, Colorado
2009 was a down year for little men because Quan Cosby graduated and Kendall Hunter sat the year out with an injury. Stewart filled the vacuum with a solid year on a pretty weak Buffalo team.
Runner-up: Alexander Robinson, Iowa State
Robinson’s 2009 season was an early positive mark on the resume of modern day spread guru Tom Herman, who was the OC at Iowa State at this time. Playing with Austen Arnaud, Robinson was able to do a reasonable amount of damage.
2010: Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State
Runner-up: Rodney Stewart, Colorado
2011: Tevin Reese, Baylor
Tevin Reese took over the water bug trophy with his breakout 2011 as part of one of the most all-time explosive Big 12 offenses in history.
Runner-up: John Hubert, Kansas State
This was year one of Hubert’s remarkably steady run at K-State. Back in 2011 he was pretty nasty catching option pitches on the perimeter from Collin Klein but obviously he didn’t get too many TDs thank to Optimus taking on the role as power back.
2012: Tavon Austin, West Virginia
Runner-up: Tevin Reese, Baylor
2013: John Hubert, Kansas State
Runner-up: Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
2014: Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
With Hubert moving on and Grant slowly evolving his game beyond “constraint in Kingsbury’s Air Raid,” Jakeem assumed control. Interestingly, Grant is the only Tech player to actually win the award though many Raiders appear all over the list.
Runner-up: Tyreek Hill
2015: Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
Grant finished up a strong run as the league’s most lethal water bug with a brilliant senior campaign. The torch must now be passed.
Runner-up: Kavontae Turpin, TCU
Turpin was well set up as the heir apparent to Grant and may even prove to be the finest tiny guy the league has produced.
2016: Jalen McCleskey, Oklahoma State
It looked like Kavontae Turpin would put this award on lockdown for a year or so but injuries kept him out of the TCU lineup. Meanwhile McCleskey exploded at OSU working with Mason Rudolph, opposite James Washington, and with a resurgent Cowboy run game.
He was fantastic in 2016 and probably could have been the no. 1 option for a good team had he not been playing with Washington.
Runner-up: Steven Sims, Kansas
Steven Sims had a really strong 2016 season and fellow water-bug LaQuvionte Gonzalez almost matched him, but Sims was the main guy in the Jayhawk passing game. You could make a case for him over McCleskey given the numbers and the circumstance but Sims’ production came in games that mattered less and with less focus and attention from the opponents so I couldn’t give it to him.
Dominique Heath of K-State (438 yards) and Kavontae Turpin were also still knocking on the door as runner-ups. All of them return to make a run at the reward in 2017.
So, who was the greatest? What was the best season by a “Darren Sproles water bug trophy for most outstanding tiny person” recipient? Who’s got next?
*The size requirements
A 5’10” player must be 180 or lighter.
A 5’9″ player must be 190 or lighter.
A 5’8″ player must be 200 or lighter.
At 5’7″ a player can weigh any amount and be eligible.