The Legendary Jim Thorpe, and the 2023 Season Watchlist for Top Defensive Back

August 11, 2023 by Staff

The prestigious Jim Thorpe Award is given annually to the best defensive back in college football based on performance on the field, athletic ability and character. The preseason watchlist includes 35 of the nation’s best defensive backs, representing 10 conferences and one independent. The winner will be announced on ESPN’s live presentation of The Home Depot College Football Awards on Thursday, December 7.

About Jim Thorpe - The Legend

Thorpe was an early star of the game. During his football career, Thorpe played running back, punter and placekicker, but shined as a defensive back.

The native Indian-American of mixed ancestry was born and raised in Oklahoma. He excelled in several sports and won two Olympic medals in track during the 1912 Games in Stockholm. Controversially, he was stripped of his medals in 1913 because he made $25 a week on the side playing minor league baseball in 1909 and 1910 in North Carolina. It wasn't until July of last year (2022) that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) officially reinstated Thorpe as the winner of the Gold Medla in the pentathlon and the decathlon.

He played college football at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School  whose nickname was 'Indians". His innovative head coach, who was just beginning his career, was none other than Glenn "Pop" Warner. In a game against Army, he scored on a 92-yard run that was called back for a 5-yard penalty - so he ran 97 yards on the next play.

Thorpe would go on to play at the professional level for the Canton Bulldogs and the New York Giants, among others.

In 1920, Thorpe was named as the first president of the organization that eventually became the National Football League. Thirty years later in 1950, he was named the 20th century’s “greatest athlete” by the Associated Press. Almost 50 years after that, the AP put him at No. 3 on their list of the Top 100 Athletes of the 20th Century in 1999, but ABC Sports released a list the following year that put Thorpe at the head of the class.

Thorpe was a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963, but his presentation was posthumous as he had died penniless of a heart attack in 1953. Still, the league and sport that he was instrumental in popularizing, enshrined him at the first opportunity.

Thorpe entered "The Hall" in a class filled with stars with great nicknames -- 'Slingin' Sammy Baugh, 'Red' Grange, George 'Papa Bear' Halas, 'Curly' Lambeau and 'Bronko' Nagurski.

Jim Thorpe is simply referred to as "The Legend".

2023 Watchlist

The list is selected by a screening committee whose members compile a list of up to 50 players based on previous performance in NCAA Division I college football and preseason All-America lists. This list is not final, and players who have outstanding seasons may be added to the semifinalists and finalists lists as the season progresses.

Micah Abraham, Marshall, Senior
Yam Banks, South Alabama, Junior
Cole Bishop, Utah, Junior
Cobee Bryant, Kansas, Junior
Calen Bullock, USC, Junior
Denzel Burke, Ohio State, Junior
Fentrell Cypress II, Florida State, Junior
Cooper DeJean, Iowa, Junior
Tra Fluellen, Middle Tennessee, Senior
Marcus Fuqua, Buffalo, Senior
Jack Howell, Colorado State, Junior
Will Johnson, Michigan, Sophomore
Kamren Kinchens, Miami (FL), Junior
Kalen King, Penn State, Junior
Ike Larsen, Utah State, Sophomore
Kool-Aid McKinstry, Alabama, Junior
Quinyon Mitchell, Toledo, Junior
Jarius Monroe, Tulane, Senior
Benjamin Morrison, Notre Dame, Sophomore
Andrew Mukuba, Clemson, Junior
Josh Newton, TCU, Senior
Tyler Nubin, Minnesota, Senior
Lathan Ransom, Ohio State, Senior
Demani Richardson, Texas A&M, Senior
Willie Roberts, Louisiana Tech, Senior
Teldrick Ross, Middle Tennessee, Senior
Kobe Savage, Kansas State, Senior
Jay Stanley, Southern Miss, Senior
Malaki Starks, Georgia, Sophomore
Reddy Steward, Troy, Senior
Cameron Stone, Hawaii, Senior
Upton Stout, Western Kentucky, Sophomore
TJ Tampa, Iowa State, Senior
Trey Taylor, Air Force, Senior
Aydan White, NC State, Junior

By Conference: AAC (1), ACC (4), Big Ten (6), Big 12 (4), C-USA (4), Independent (1), MAC (2), MW (4), PAC-12 (2), SEC (3), Sun Belt (4).

The official presentation takes place in Oklahoma City at the Paycom Jim Thorpe Award Banquet each year. This season's gala will take place on Tuesday, February 6, 2024 with the current winner and all former winners invited to celebrate. The event typically draws over 500 guests, including many celebrities and dignitaries.

Past Winners

1997 winner, Charles Woodson of Michigan, stands out as the only two-way star in the modern era (early 1960's to now) to win the Heisman Trophy.

Woodson returned punts and caught passes, but was most notably recognized for his 7 interceptions and 43 tackles in a season that ended with him not only winning the Jim Thorpe Award, but also topping Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning for the Heisman.

Last year's winner, Tre'Vius Hodges-Tomlinson of TCU, had 3 picks, 15 pass break-ups, and 40 solo tackles with 2 for a loss.

2022 - Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, TCU
2021 - Coby Bryant, Cincinnati
2020 - Trevon Moehrig, TCU
2019 - Grant Delpit, LSU
2018 - Deandre Baker, Georgia
2017 - Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
2016 - Adoree' Jackson, USC
2015 - Desmond King, Iowa
2014 - Gerod Holliman, Louisville
2013 - Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
2012 - Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State
2011 - Morris Claiborne, LSU
2010 - Patrick Peterson, LSU
2009 - Eric Berry, Tennessee
2008 - Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State
2007 - Antoine Cason, Arizona
2006 - Aaron Ross, Texas
2005 - Michael Huff, Texas
2004 - Carlos Rogers, Auburn
2003 - Derrick Strait, Oklahoma
2002 - Terence Newman, Kansas State
2001 - Roy Williams, Oklahoma
2000 - Jamar Fletcher, Wisconsin
1999 - Tyrone Carter, Minnesota
1998 - Antoine Winfield, Ohio State
1997 - Charles Woodson, Michigan
1996 - Lawrence Wright, Florida
1995 - Greg Myers, Colorado State
1994 - Chris Hudson, Colorado
1993 - Antonio Langham, Alabama
1992 - Deon Figures, Colorado
1991 - Terrell Buckey, Florida State
1990 - Daryl Lewis, Arizona
1989 - Mark Carrier, USC
1988 - Deion Sanders, Florida State
1987 - Bennie Blades, Miami (Fla.), (co-recipient) Rickey Dixon, Oklahoma
1986 - Thomas Everett, Baylor