ATLANTA — They met on a football field in southeast Texas, two sixth grade boys who loved football. They earned spots on a select team near Houston, and throughout middle school, CeeDee Lamb and Grant Delpit played together.
They participated then for fun, not yet college prospects with scholarship offers or attention, just two boys who dreamed of success. Their lives split when they attended separate high schools, but they remained in touch.
Seven years have passed since their last game as teammates on the Fort Bend Express. In that time, Lamb and Delpit have become two of the best players in college football — Lamb as a wide receiver at No. 4 Oklahoma and Delpit as a safety at No. 1 LSU.
“That's still my brother,” Lamb said. "It was very fortunate that we kept the same relationship though high school and into college."
The two juniors will soon face each other in the College Football Playoff, but before they begin bowl practices and film study for a national championship semifinal on Dec. 28, they will attend the Home Depot College Football Awards on Thursday night in Atlanta.
Lamb wants to receive the Biletnikoff Award, which is given to the nation’s top receiver. Delpit may receive the Jim Thorpe Award, presented to the best defensive back in the country. He watched the awards growing up.
"It's going to be crazy to be in there," Delpit said. "To win it would be extremely humbling, and I would be very blessed. I know my family would be real proud."
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Delpit is one of three LSU players who will attend the awards show at the College Football Hall of Fame, which will air at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
Quarterback Joe Burrow will come for the Maxwell Award and the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award, two days before he attends the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York. Wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase may receive the Biletnikoff trophy.
Chase has caught 73 passes for 1,498 yards and 18 touchdowns, crushing the LSU single-season record for touchdowns, during a breakout sophomore year. He leads all Football Bowl Subdivision receivers in yards and touchdowns.
“His run after catch is one of the best in college football, if not the best,” said Southern Cal wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr., a finalist for the Biletnikoff. “He's always wide open.”
Chase has always wanted to receive the Biletnikoff Award. Needing two more scores to become the 13th player in NCAA history to record 20 touchdowns in one season, he looks like the front-runner. Only one LSU player, Josh Reed in 2001, has won the Biletnikoff Award.
"I feel like I should win it," Chase said.
The father and son parked in the lot near the highway, where the smell of butter and spice floated from the restaurant to greet them.
During a record-setting and transformative year, Burrow has thrown for 4,715 yards and 48 touchdowns — both SEC single-season records — with only six interceptions. He has broken a slew of LSU single-season marks, and Burrow has helped the Tigers score 47.8 points per game, third-most among FBS teams.
Burrow, who received the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award on Wednesday in Baltimore, has completed 77.9% of his passes. He is on pace to break the FBS single-season completion percentage record owned by Colt McCoy, who completed 76.7% of his attempts in 2008.
The LSU players were not at the College Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday evening, but with three Ohio State players — quarterback Justin Fields, running back J.K. Dobbins and defensive end Chase Young — present as award finalists, Burrow’s name popped up throughout conversations. They all smiled when asked about the former Buckeye.
During Burrow's three-year stint at Ohio State, his former teammates noticed some of the same qualities that have made him successful at LSU, including vocal leadership and hard work. Young and Dobbins anticipated his success.
"When he was here," said Young, also a finalist for the Maxwell Award, "we knew Joe could have started anywhere in the country."
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People still say Burrow’s name inside the Ohio State facility. Fields, who transferred to Ohio State this year, and Young enjoy teasing each other. And when they do, their jokes sometimes include Burrow, a player they respect and have enjoyed watching this year.
“Chase,” Fields has said, “you're not the best defensive player in the nation.”
“If Joe was here,” Young has responded, laughing, “you would not be starting right now."
As for Lamb and Delpit, they still talk occasionally, tracking each other’s success from afar. They looked forward to seeing each other during the show, which includes a red carpet special. They feel proud of each other.
On those fields in Texas, years away from major accolades, national championship games or fame, neither anticipated this.
“When we were growing up,” Delpit said, “we didn't think we were going to be here.”
COLLEGE FOOTBALL AWARDS SHOW
WHERE: Chick-Fil-A College Football Hall of Fame; Atlanta, Georgia
WHEN: 6 p.m. (CDT)
STREAM: WatchESPN app
FINALISTS: Click here