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December 13, 2011
NEW YORK - Stefon Diggs wasn't afraid to admit it.
He and fellow U.S. Army Player of the Year candidate Dorial Green-Beckham enjoyed rubbing shoulders with former Heisman Trophy winners before the start of the dinner gala on Monday night, but aside from this year's winner - Baylor's Robert Giffin III - they really didn't know anything about them.
But once the former stars started talking, Diggs' youthful innocence was quickly replaced by respect and admiration.
"I didn't know too many of these guys because most of them were before my time," Diggs said. "After the speeches, that's when it really hit how much impact these guys had, not just on college football but the NFL and football in general."
Prior to the main dinner and event, Diggs and Green-Beckham attended the VIP Reception. Decked out in their U.S. Army All-American Bowl jerseys, they were recognized by several of the patrons and signed a few autographs of their own. There they also talked with former Heisman winners including Troy Smith, Eric Crouch, Tim Brown, Vinnie Testaverde, Archie Griffin, Johnny Rodgers and Howard "Hopalong" Cassady among others.
"All of them had good advice, and I just took it in," Green-Beckham said. "They all came from someplace different, they've all been through a lot and all had big goals they had set for themselves."
The MVP Trophy of the Jan. 7 U.S. Army All-American Bowl is named the Pete Dawkins Trophy after the 1958 Heisman Trophy winner from Army. Dawkins was in attendance for the dinner, and spoke with both players after the dinner.
Green-Beckham and Diggs also took motivation away from the speeches delivered by Crouch, Testaverde and Floyd Little, representing 1961 Heisman winner Ernie Davis. Each was commemorating a milestone anniversary of their award.
"Being African-American and [hearing] how Ernie Davis was the first to win a Heisman, that was motivational," Diggs said. "Vinny Testaverde's speech really hit hard with me when he said his dad passed because my dad passed. It made me think about my dad and I gave him a standing ovation. It's tough when you lose the man who you try to honor and who made you."
Green-Beckham found similarities between his own story and that of the night's main honoree. Like Griffin, Green-Beckham has family in the Army. His brother, Kingsley Ehie played in Saturday's Army-Navy game and is a cadet at West Point. Green-Beckham also recognized the stories about the level of dedication Griffin displayed in order to reach the pinnacle of his sport.
"What stood out the most was what the Baylor coach and the Baylor president said about how Robert Griffin changed everything for himself to be the best he can be," Green-Beckham said. "It felt good to hear what he did to succeed on his own and the people that had been there for him since day one. It was like we had the same type of background."
This year's Heisman Trophy award was predicted by Griffin following Baylor's win over Texas in the regular season finale, and Diggs showed similar confidence coming out of the event.
"I am motivated every day, but this made me want to be the best of the best and made me want to win the Heisman one day," Diggs said. "It's not what I want to do, it's what I am going to do. I'm going to dedicate myself and win the Heisman one day."
Green-Beckham also displayed his own confidence in being a future honoree of the dinner, saying he was aiming for 2014 to be his year. Considering the level of talent both Diggs and Green-Beckham possess, that may someday be the case for one or both individuals.
"This opened my eyes that I am blessed to be in this situation," Diggs said. "Seeing all these athletes, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life and something I will never forget."