Which college football quarterback had the best freshman season of all-time? Many would point to recent history with two freshmen taking home the ultimate prize in the Heisman Trophy. Two years ago Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel broke the mold becoming the first freshman to take home the trophy. It only took one more season for the next freshman to upstage Johnny Football as Jameis Winston not only won the Heisman, he also led Florida State to a National Championship.
These are great stories for the newbies of college football, however there is one caveat. Both Manziel and Winston were redshirt freshmen, meaning they had a year to adjust to campus life and were able to directly observe from the sidelines. Throughout the history of the sport, there has only been one TRUE freshman to lead his team to a national title, and his name is Jamelle Holieway.
In the fall of 1985, the University of Oklahoma was a football powerhouse. Ranked No. 3 in the nation, the Sooners would play host to an unranked Miami team with all indications pointing towards a dominating performance by the Sooner powerhouse. But in the blink of an eye, the Sooners season flashed before their eyes as star quarterback, and future NFL Hall of Famer Troy Aikman, dropped back to pass and was sacked by defensive tackle Jerome Brown. The play resulted in Aikman breaking his ankle which would result in him missing the remainder of the season. So with 6:30 left to play in the first half, and the Sooners trailing the Hurricanes 14-7, head coach Barry Switzer was forced to play “true” freshman Jamelle Holieway of Carson, CA. His task was to simply manage the game and not get out of character. Holieway would do just that, only attempting six passes, however he would rush for 57 yards on 17 carries. Unfortunately for the Oklahoma, they would fall to Miami 27-14, which left Sooner fans in a cloud of doubt in their outlook on the season.
It was the very next week that Holieway put all of the doubts in check. A 76-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Shepard in a 59-14 win over Iowa State got the juices flowing amongst the Oklahoma fan base. By the end of the season, he was running the offense like it was his team all along. In fact, he would go on to break the school’s single-game record for total offense with 324 yards (156 on the ground, 168 in the air). The grinning and personable Holieway seemed unfazed by the attention and pressure. He has no idea that no “true” freshman had ever led his team to a national title.
The Holieway-led Sooners would go on an epic run through the 1985 season, winning their next seven games after the Miami loss. They would earn a birth to the Orange Bowl to play Penn State for the 1986 national title. The one signature play that will live in OU lore forever is a 71-yard touchdown pass to tight end Keith Jackson which set the tone for the game leading the Sooners to a 25-10 victory and a sixth national championship. The play called “72 Y Go” was the fourth longest scoring reception in Orange Bowl history. To date, Jamelle Holiway is still the only TRUE” freshman to lead his team to a national championship.
During that season, Holieway broke runs of 30 yards or more seven times that season alone. It would prove to be his calling card as he would go on to rush for more than 2,700 yards in his career, more than any other Sooner quarterback in history. And to think, had it not been for a brutal ACL injury that took place during the 1987 season, who knows what type of records he would have set.
Before the "Read-Option" that has developed in today's game, the Wishbone offense drove defenses crazy, and the name Jamelle Holieway is synonymous with that formation. He was the youngest to do it, and, quite frankly, he was perhaps the best to ever do it. #RESPECT