Quinshon Judkins hurdles for yardage against Texas A & M. (Photo by Joshua McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics)

Deion Sanders was asked earlier this week if he was proud of his son, Shedeur, for being named Jackson State’s finalist for the C Spire Conerly Trophy.

“Well, I’d like to see him win,” Sanders said, chuckling. “We were there last year, got all dressed up and all that. You don’t want to get dressed up and go there and see somebody else win a durn trophy. We’re winners. We want to win.”

Rick Cleveland

Shedeur Sanders surely might win the Conerly. He ranks among the top two or three favorites. He is the quarterback of an undefeated, nationally ranked team. He has thrown 31 touchdowns, just five interceptions. He is resourceful and he is accurate. He is a winner.

But he is no slam dunk.

Quinshon Judkins, the Ole Miss freshman running back, surely deserves strong consideration. At times looking like a reincarnation of the great Walter Payton, Judkins has rushed for 1,117 yards and 15 touchdowns through 10 games. He has been at his best against some of the most talented defenses in the country.

Just look at Judkins’ last four games: 135 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama, 205 yards and a touchdown against Texas A&M, 111 yards and two touchdowns against LSU, 139 yards and two touchdowns against Auburn.

This is no flippant comparison I make to Payton, the greatest all-around back these eyes have ever seen. I once asked Hall of Fame linebacker D.D. Lewis who was the toughest man he ever had to tackle. Lewis laughed before he answered. “Walter Payton, not even close,” D.D. said. “Trying to tackle Walter was like trying to tackle a 210-pound bowling ball.”

Judkins is much like that. Payton was 5 foot, 10 inches tall and weighed 210. Judkins is 5-11 and weighs 210. Judkins, as Payton, explodes through the line. When he gets hit, the battle has just begun. He bounces off defenders, runs through arm tackles, cuts on a dime, and his helmet always comes out at the end of any pile-up. When you tackle Judkins, it hurts you worse than it hurts him, as was always the case with Payton.

Shedeur Sanders passes over Grambling linebacker Joshua Reed.

This is not to say that Quinshon Judkins is another Walter Payton. It’s much too early for that. But keep in mind, Judkins just turned 19 last month. He should only get stronger.

Judkins and Shedeur Sanders have plenty of top-flight company among the Conerly finalists:

  • Delta State quarterback Patrick Shegog has thrown for 2,485 yards and run for 685 yards for a team that has won 10 games and is about to enter the Division II playoffs. 
  • Mississippi State junior cornerback Emmanuel Forbes ranks second in the nation in pass interceptions with five and has tied a Southeastern Conference record with five career pick-sixes (touchdown interceptions).
  • Southern Miss wide receiver Jason Brownlee, despite USM playing musical quarterbacks due to injuries, has caught 44 passes for 687 yards and six touchdowns. He’s tall, rangy and fast. You will be watching Brownlee on Sundays.
  • Alcorn running back Jarveon Howard leads the SWAC in rushing with 1,174 yards. Howard, a Syracuse transfer, runs with both power and speed and has scored 11 touchdowns.

Other finalists include Mississippi Valley State defensive tackle Ronnie Thomas, Belhaven linebacker Conner Fordham, Mississippi College running back Marcus Williams, and Millsaps wide receiver/kick returner Moise Tezzo. 

Important to note: Each finalist was selected by the college or university he represents. The Conerly will be presented at a banquet Nov. 29 at the Country Club of Jackson.

Yes, I have a vote, and, no, I have not decided. The deadline for voting is Nov. 27. There are vitally important games to be played before then.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.