Jason Witten is the unquestioned leader of the Dallas Cowboys. He’s the player everyone looks to as a role model on and off the field.
His influence could be seen Thursday night for the inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award ceremony at Ford Center. Not only is he the namesake for the award, but the crowd was a who’s who of sorts.
Roger Staubach, recognized with a “Legend of Leadership” award, was on hand. So were former Cowboys such as Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray and Doug Free, and current teammates such as Sean Lee and Travis Frederick.
“He’s such a special guy,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s been a great player, a great college player and a great player in the National Football League. He’s a rare guy.”
So is the inaugural winner of the award – UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin. Griffin had his left hand amputated at a young age because of a rare birth defect, but managed to become a college star and NFL prospect.
“It shows what I’m doing is the right thing,” Griffin said as he accepted the award.
Along with Griffin, the other finalists were Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph and Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.
The award is modeled after the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award, an honor that Witten won in 2012. The Jason Witten Award goes to a college player who “has demonstrated a record of leadership by exhibiting exceptional courage, integrity and sportsmanship both on and off the field.”
Griffin is a worthy recipient and the night also put a spotlight on everything Witten has done in his career – on and off the field.
Witten’s on-field accomplishments include being a member of the 1,000-catch club and an 11-time Pro Bowler. Off the field, Witten has supported families and individuals affected by domestic violence through his SCORE Foundation.
Witten’s legacy is intact with this award, but he isn’t done with his playing days quite yet. He made it clear that he’s eager for another season and another chance to chase a coveted championship with the Cowboys.
“Look, I know where I’m at in my career and I have one goal – that is to compete for a championship,” said Witten, who turns 36 in May.
Witten said he welcomes the idea of the Cowboys possibly adding his potential replacement through the NFL Draft and is willing to help that player along. As stated, Witten’s sole focus is on winning a championship at this point in his career.
But Witten is determined to keep his standard the same as long as possible, and continues to reach out to older players to see how they've kept their edge as they aged. He’s talked with players such as Tom Brady and Dirk Nowitzki about the “secrets” of staying elite as they age.
“You’re fighting off Father Time and you’ve got to work your ass off to do it,” Witten said.
It’s that sort of mindset that has made Witten among the most likeable players in franchise history. Heck, executive vice president Stephen Jones may have put it best when asked about possibly drafting Witten’s replacement with Witten standing within earshot.
“Are you kidding me? Did you just ask me that?” Jones said. “Every time we’ve drafted a tight end, Jason Witten has walked into my office and gone, ‘Another wasted pick.’ So I’m not going to start doubting him now. We feel good about that position.
“Obviously Jason Witten is more driven than ever. I’d never bet against him. I don’t think anyone in this organization would. We’ve got some good young tight ends. I won’t say it too loud or he might grab me from right here. But that’s what makes Jason, Jason.
“He’s the ultimate competitor and of course we just love him.”