ATLANTA — When he arrived at the end of a red carpet Thursday night, Ed Orgeron walked into a surprise. He was at the College Football Awards to support his players, taking a break from recruiting and preparation for the College Football Playoff. And there stood his three sons.
Orgeron didn’t know his boys had flown to Atlanta to watch him receive the Home Depot Coach of the Year trophy. He laughed when he saw them and pulled them into hugs.
“Man, what are y’all doing here?” Orgeron said. “Y’all are looking sharp.”
For a man who botched his first head coaching job and three years ago held an “interim” designation at LSU, the whole night felt surreal. Orgeron didn’t expect to receive the trophy during the presentation. He shook his head when thinking about the past. And he still deflected attention from his accomplishments.
“It's about the team,” Orgeron said. “It's about our football players. I wouldn't be here without our players.”
Those players cleaned up during the awards show. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase and safety Grant Delpit arrived inside the College Football Hall of Fame as finalists for four national awards. They won all four.
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Burrow received the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award and the Maxwell Award, the latest additions to his growing trophy collection. Delpit won the Jim Thorpe Award. Chase took the Biletnikoff Award as the best receiver in the nation.
In the midst of No. 1 LSU’s so far undefeated season, with about two weeks until the Tigers face No. 4 Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl, the players and their coach took a moment to relax. They enjoyed their success. They also looked ahead to the College Football Playoff.
“We're going to have to forget about this within the next 48 hours,” Chase said, “and go back to work.”
The presentation began with Burrow. The quarterback, who earlier Thursday was named AP College Football Player of the Year, had flown from Baltimore, where he received the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award on Wednesday. Johnny Unitas’ son gave him a picture signed by the Hall of Fame quarterback.
Burrow walked into the venue Thursday wearing a purple seersucker suit and shoes with purple soles. Herschel Walker praised him for his swagger and told Burrow he's one of the best quarterbacks Walker had ever seen.
"Don't lose that attitude," Walker said. "I love that spunk he has."
Burrow became the first LSU player to win the Davey O’Brien Award. He ended the presentation by winning the Maxwell, which is given to the top overall player in college football.
“I'm a firm believer in good things happen to good people who work hard,” Burrow said, “and I think I'm one of those people.”
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The television cameras soon focused on Delpit. The junior safety bit his lip in the seconds before the Thorpe Award announcement, and when his name was called, Delpit hugged his parents. His eyes glistened on stage.
Hampered by injuries and positioned farther from the line of scrimmage, Delpit admitted he hasn’t played as well as he did last season. But he still became LSU’s third winner of the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the best defensive back in the nation.
Before the season, Delpit longed to create his own legacy at LSU, one separate from the defensive backs who came before him while honoring their accomplishments. He wanted to win a national championship. That has not changed.
“If I could drop the award just to win a national championship and have the whole team here, I would,” Delpit said. “It's a true honor and blessing to win this award, but we're not done yet. We've got bigger dreams.”
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Then came Chase. Leading the nation in touchdown catches and yards receiving, he suspected he had won the Biletnikoff Award. But months ago, Chase just felt happy sitting in first class for the first time on the team plane, an area reserved for veterans and playmakers. He has surprised himself this season. He has also reached his goals.
Over the summer, Chase wrote “Biletnikoff Winner” on a Post-It note. He pasted it inside his bathroom as a daily reminder of what he wanted to accomplish.
Someday he wanted to replace the note with the real thing. He can now.
“I don't know what to do with the paper,” Chase said. “I won. I guess I got to take it down.”
As Chase spoke inside a room above the main stage, Burrow won the Maxwell Award, the final honor presented during the show. Someone in the back of the room told Chase, and the receiver turned toward a nearby television screen. He watched Burrow accept his second award of the night.
"Joe won again?" Chase said. "Geez. Man's a GOAT, man."
"Joe for Heisman," he said. "That's what I'm going with."
The awards show, which lasted two hours, continued a string of recognitions for LSU. The players enjoyed their honors, but the presentation mostly provided a moment of relaxation in the midst of championship pursuits.
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This weekend, Burrow will fly to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Orgeron will join him between recruiting trips. Then on Monday, LSU begins practice for its Peach Bowl semifinal game against Oklahoma.
“We're still trying to win a national title, so I think if I take time to reflect yet, I'm selling our team short,” Burrow said. “I'm not going to do it quite yet.”
In the midst of the awards show, as Orgeron stood behind his Coach of the Year trophy, he described what’s coming for his team.
The Tigers won the Southeastern Conference championship. They reached the College Football Playoff. They received their awards. But for LSU, more significant goals remain ahead. The awards marked one stop in the postseason.
“We all know what our final destination is in our mind,” Orgeron said. “We never talk about it, but we want to reach it now. Is it going to be tough to get there? Yes. But we're willing to fight.”