DALLAS (FWAA) The Utah Utes football team is the 20th annual recipient of the 2021 Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award. Utah won its first Pac-12 title in a season that has been defined by both tragedy and triumph, as the program has lost two of its players, Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe, since the end of the 2020 season.
Both players wore the No. 22 jersey, which the program has retired. The message throughout the Utes has been to live the way Jordan and Lowe did, and to be 22 percent better every day.
Utah is the third team to be honored as the Courage Award winner, joining the 2005 Tulane and 2009 UConn teams.
"We always tell our guys that adversity will hit at some point, but what matters most is how we respond to it," Utah Head Coach Kyle Whittingham said. "This team has been faced with more adversity than we ever thought possible, and watching our players overcome it and respond to it the way they have has been incredible. The level of unity and love this team has for one another is something special. They define courage and we are proud to coach them."
In 2020, Jordan led all freshmen nationally in rushing yards per game (119.4) and was named the Pac-12's Offensive Freshman of the Year. He tragically died on Dec. 26, 2020. Lowe, a good friend of Jordan's who had attended West Mesquite High School in Texas with him, was given the Ty Jordan Memorial Scholarship ahead of this season. Lowe also changed his jersey number from No. 2 to No. 22.
Lowe played in 20 career games and became Utah's backup nickelback this season. But he, too, lost his life on Sept. 26, 2021 nine months to the day of his friend and teammate's death. Utah has created the Aaron Lowe Memorial Scholarship in Lowe's honor.
Utah retired the No. 22 jersey during an Oct. 30 game against UCLA, making it the first retired number in school history. On that same night, the program unveiled a video honoring Jordan and Lowe that now plays at Rice-Eccles Stadium between the third and fourth quarters. The video has come to affectionately be known as a "moment of loudness," as Whittingham encourages fans to live the way Jordan and Lowe did.
The Utes had entered that Oct. 30 matchup against the Bruins at 4-3. They won that game, 44-24, to earn sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 South. And they have not looked back since.
Utah has won six straight games and now sits at 10-3 overall and No. 11 in the College Football Playoff rankings. Two of those victories during this winning streak came in dominant fashion over a higher-ranked Oregon team a 38-7 rout in Salt Lake City on Nov. 20, then a 38-10 victory in a rematch 13 days later in the Pac-12 Championship Game in Las Vegas.
"Every year, we are privileged to help share the stories of so many remarkable people and programs throughout the college football season," former FWAA President Matt Fortuna said. "Watching this year's Utah team was particularly moving. The way the Utes have been able to push forward and find tremendous success on the field, while honoring Ty and Aaron every step of the way, shows that they have never lost sight of life's bigger picture."
Utah will close its season against No. 6 Ohio State in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day, marking the Utes' first appearance in "The Granddaddy of Them All."
"This is the 20th year that the FWAA has awarded the Courage Award, and it's hard to think of a more appropriate representative than this year's Utah team," Fortuna said. "We would like to thank the Orange Bowl for their 17 years of sponsorship."
Amid Utah's confetti-filled celebration after winning the Pac-12 title, a member of the team's traveling party placed a red Pac-12 Champions· t-shirt on the 22 yard line at Allegiant Stadium, in honor of Jordan and Lowe.
Players spoke adamantly after the game about how much it meant to win the conference title for Jordan and Lowe.
"The entire Utah football program has embodied what the Courage Award is all about," Orange Bowl Committee President and Chair Jack Seiler said. "Through their tributes to their fallen brothers, and through their remarkable play on the field, the Utes have simply been inspiring to so many around college football. They have represented the very best of this great game. We are excited to honor them on December 31."
The Courage Award was first presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) in 2002. A select group of writers from the FWAA vote on the winner each year. The requirements for nomination include displaying courage on or off the field, including overcoming an injury or physical handicap, preventing a disaster or living through hardship. The Utes will be included in festivities during Capital One Orange Bowl week and recognized during the game.
Previous winners of the Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award are Arkansas State analyst Alex Charlton (2020), Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson (2019), SUNY Cortland linebacker Kyle Richard (2018), Wisconsin safety D'Cota Dixon (2017), Pitt running back James Conner (2016), Miami offensive lineman Hunter Knighton (2015), Duke offensive lineman Laken Tomlinson (2014), San Jose State defensive lineman Anthony Larceval (2013), Clemson wide receiver Daniel Rodriguez (2012), Michigan State offensive lineman Arthur Ray Jr. (2011), Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand (2010), the University of Connecticut football team (2009), Tulsa's Wilson Holloway (2008), Navy's Zerbin Singleton (2007), Clemson's Ray Ray McElrathbey (2006), the Tulane football team (2005), Memphis' Haracio Colen (2004), San Jose State's Neil Parry (2003) and Toledo's William Bratton (2002).
About the Orange Bowl
The Orange Bowl is a 380-member, primarily-volunteer non-profit sports organization that promotes and serves the South Florida community. With its primary mission since being created in 1935 to bring tourism to South Florida through an annual football game and events, it has also maintained a legacy of charitable contributions and community outreach. Orange Bowl community outreach efforts are comprised of four pillars through its Orange Bowl Cares program: Youth Sports, Education, Community Engagement and Legacy Programs. Orange Bowl features a year-round schedule of events culminating with the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl on Dec. 31, 2021. For more information on the 2021 Orange Bowl events, including promotional inquiries and volunteer opportunities through the Ambassador Program presented by Panera Bread, log on to orangebowl.org or follow @OrangeBowl on social media.
Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America consists of journalists, broadcasters, publicists, photographers and key executives in all areas of college football. The FWAA works to govern media access and gameday operations while presenting awards and honors, including an annual All-America team. For more information about the FWAA and its programs and initiatives, contact Executive Director Steve Richardson at 214-870-6516 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
2021 Capital One Orange Bowl Courage Award Nominees
Sept. 22: McKenzie Milton, Florida State
· Sept. 29: Yohance Burnett, Tulsa
· Oct. 6: J.J. Weaver, Kentucky
· Oct. 13: Elijah Hicks, Cal
· Oct. 20: Eli Thomas, Minnesota State
· Oct. 27: Taijh Alston, West Virginia
· Nov. 3: Utah Utes
· Nov. 10: Vederian Lowe, Illinois
· Nov. 17: Tre Tipton, Pitt
· Nov. 24: Tanner Morgan, Minnesota