DALLAS, Texas – Two standout Arkansas college football players have been named among 20 semifinalists for the inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year award.
They are University of Arkansas offensive lineman Frank Ragnow and Arkansas State cornerback and return specialist Blaise Taylor.
The inaugural award will recognize the Football Bowl Subdivision player who has demonstrated a record of leadership by exhibiting exceptional courage, integrity and sportsmanship both on and off the field. It will honor the type of exemplary character and commitment to community, family and teammates demonstrated by Jason Witten, the 10-time Pro Bowl tight end for the Dallas Cowboys and the 2012 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year.
A team captain as voted by his teammates, Ragnow is a tremendous ambassador for the University of Arkansas, the Razorback football program, and college athletics.
Ragnow has consistently volunteered his time off the field to the Northwest Arkansas community, while maintaining a 3.31 GPA in the classroom. He needs just three credit hours to graduate and will earn his undergraduate degree in recreation and sport management in December. He was selected to the SEC Academic Honor Roll last year and was named to the league’s 2014-15 First Year Academic Honor Roll as a freshman.
The top graded offensive lineman in the nation by Pro Football focus over the last two seasons, Ragnow will miss the remainder of the regular season with a high-ankle sprain. Ragnow, a consensus preseason All-American, injured the ankle during the Auburn game on Oct. 21.
Ragnow started 33 consecutive games and didn’t allow a sack over 2,603 career snaps at center and right guard. He only missed 43 offensive snaps since becoming a permanent starter as a sophomore in 2015.
Three finalists will be named for the award on Dec. 11. The winner will be announced at the award ceremony on Feb. 22, 2018, at The Star in Frisco, Texas. The winner will also receive a $10,000 contribution in his name to his school’s athletic scholarship fund. The contribution will be made by Jason Witten’s SCORE Foundation, the official charity of Jason and his wife Michelle.
The announcement of Taylor as a semifinalist for the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year is the latest honor for A-State’s all-time leader in punt return yards. Last week he was named a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy and a semifinalist for the Wuerffel Trophy. Taylor is the only student-athlete in the nation to receive all three honors and one of just five to be appear on more than one of the lists.
Taylor was also a 2017 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team nominee and is currently a Senior CLASS Award candidate and a member of the 2017 Hornung Watch List. A two-time All-Sun Belt Conference selection, Taylor is the only current FBS player in the nation to earn both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees before the start of his true senior season.
The Waco, Texas, native earned his Master of Business Administration in August 2017 with a 3.82 GPA, and he also graduated Magna Cum Laude in August 2016 with his bachelor’s degree in business administration. A member of the Arkansas State University Chancellor’s List, Dean’s List, Athletics Director’s Honor Roll and Sun Belt Conference Commissioner’s List, Taylor earned both degrees in less than four years.
A two-time Wuerffel Trophy Watch List member, Taylor has been heavily involved in community service while also spending time on the Arkansas State Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. He recently created a non-profit organization with his sister, sophomore A-State women’s basketball guard Starr Taylor, titled “The Power of 1 or 2.” The organization is designed to work with underprivileged at-risk children. He is highly invested in working with at-risk youth, including participating at a local alternative school called Success Academy.
Taylor is a 2017 Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference selection as both a return specialist (first team) and defensive back (second team). His football career has seen him pile up 88 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, five interceptions, 23 pass break-ups, a forced fumble and a blocked kick while earning all-conference recognition in both 2014 and 2016.
He is the Sun Belt Conference’s second all-time leader in career punt return yards (1,089), and he currently needs five passes defended to tie the league’s career record (33). The senior standout holds four of the top-10 marks in school history for punt return yards in a game, as well as in a season. He is the second all-time leader in Sun Belt Conference history for punt returns for a touchdown (4), while his 1,089 career punt return yards are the second most in the nation among active players.
The Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year, presented by Albertsons and Tom Thumb, focuses primarily on a player’s leadership, both on and off the field. Leadership is a term synonymous with Witten, who, in addition to becoming one of the best tight ends in the history of the sport and the Cowboys’ all-time leading receiver, has served as one of football’s most prominent role models during his 15-year pro career.
The full list of semifinalists includes: Azeez Al-Shaair (Florida Atlantic), Braxton Berrios (Miami, FL), David Blough (Purdue), Adam Breneman (Massachusetts), Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama), Zaire Franklin (Syracuse), KeShun Freeman (Georgia Tech), Zack Golditch (Colorado State), Shaquem Griffin (Central Florida), Luke Jackson (Tulane), Shaq Jones (Alabama-Birmigham), Keith Kirkwood (Temple), Micah Kiser (Virginia), Derek McCartney (Colorado), Jake Olson (USC), Harrison Phillips (Stanford), Frank Ragnow (Arkansas), Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State), Brandon Smith (Penn State) and Blaise Taylor (Arkansas State).