By Julie Buehler

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston leads the national conversation for Heisman hopefuls, after his 7th 300+ passing yard performance in 12 games, it’s assumed he’s locked up college football’s most prestigious trophy.

He also may be locked up in the slammer soon. Winston could face serious charges in the coming weeks, as a young woman in Tallahassee is alleging sexual assault AND a cover-up by authorities to protect Winston, his football career and Florida State’s undefeated season.

The Heisman Trophy is awarded to college football’s best player. Not college football’s best character.

Cynics would have you believe that talent trumps character in sports. They want you to think the football ranks rank bone-jarring force before intestinal fortitude. Winston is just the latest example, and certainly question marks surround the circumstances of his life, but cynics point to the likes of Adam “Pacman” Jones, whose NFL resume is bested in length only by his rap sheet. They’d bring up Michael Vick, who served hard time for running a dog-fighting ring before signing a 6-year, $100 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. They’d mention Ben Roethlisberger who was suspended for bad behavior after winning Super Bowls, and of course, bring up Ray Lewis or Aaron Hernandez, who were both involved in murder cases (Lewis pleaded out, Hernandez is still awaiting trial).

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If cynics wanted to run down a list of professional and collegiate athletes that have used their fame and position in society to further their eye’s burning lusts, there’s plenty of fodder for that conversation.

BUT, while that conversation titillates the baser interests of sports fans, there is a growing sentiment among NFL circles that character guys are more productive with less talent than bad character guys with all the talent God can offer.

Ronnie Lott, NFL Hall-of-Fame safety, knew that was how his former coach, 49ers architect, Bill Walsh, felt.

He told me, “Walsh would rather have 10 hard-working guys coming off the bench than 10 divas pushing for playing time.”

And Lott’s name boasts the only nationally recognized trophy in college sports that weighs character AS MUCH as on-the-field performance. It’s the Lott IMPACT Trophy, and it’s awarded to college football’s most impressive defensive talent that also displays Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity.

I was recently at the Colts/Cardinals game in Phoenix and caught up with both Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. Both incredibly gifted football players but Peterson was a Lott Trophy finalist, Mathieu had to take a year off of football to end his addiction to marijuana.

I asked them both if the Lott IMPACT Trophy is doing things the right way by taking character into account.

Peterson said, “The Lott Trophy is definitely a big trophy you can get as far as not just athleticism, but also off the field… That says a lot about the athlete, being recognized for his character and the things he’s doing off the field, academics, spending time in the community, spending time in hospitals with the kids, things like that… You want an all-around athlete representing your trophy and your name, because at the end of the day he’s the guy whose name is on that trophy for that year.”

Mathieu said, “We all need someone to look up to and playing with great players, and great guys makes this game come easier.”

As to whether more trophies, like the Heisman, should include qualities such as integrity, maturity, community and academics, as well as performance, both players agreed more recognition should be given to off-the-field life in assessing who wins these vaunted awards.

So while cynics question the state of athletics and wonder how much is smoke and mirrors and how much character is required for professional athletics, they’ll have to take a day off on Dec 8th when the 10th Lott IMPACT Trophy is awarded in Newport Beach, Ca and the ceremony broadcasted on Fox Sports.

It’s one of my great honors to vote for this trophy and watch the young man receive his hard-earned hardware. From Luke Kuechly, JJ Watt, James Laurenaitis and more, they are not only exceptional college players, but translate well to the NFL.

The four finalists, USC defensive end Devon Kennard, UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland and Iowa linebacker James Morris will be in attendance as a testimony that character matters and Lott will present the trophy to prove it.

Julie Buehler hosts the Coachella Valley’s most popular sports talk radio show, “Buehler’s Day Off” every day from 3-6 on 1010 KXPS, the valley’s all sports station. She’s an avid gym rat, slightly sarcastic and more likely to recite Steve Young’s career passing stats than American Idol winners. Tune in M-F 3-6 pst at www.team1010.com or watch the show on Ustream.