The Jim Thorpe Award for the best defensive back in college football was created in 1986. It was conceived by former Oklahoma City talk show host Ed Sossen and former Jim Thorpe Association (now Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame) Executive Director, W. Lynne Draper as a way to positively promote Oklahoma nationally. The award, which was universally accepted as one of the nation’s top collegiate sports honors, is awarded based on performance on the field, athletic ability and character.
A preseason “watch list” is compiled by the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame based on previous performance and preseason All-America lists. A Screening Committee of Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame members monitors the watch list players and narrows the field to 15 semi-finalists on the first Monday of November. This committee reconvenes on the Monday before Thanksgiving to select three award finalists. The three finalists are submitted to a national panel of over 50 sports writers, sportscasters, former players and coaches who vote to determine the Jim Thorpe Award winner.
All three finalists are invited and required to attend the ESPN’s College Football Awards Show broadcast live from Atlanta in December where the winner is announced along with other awards including the Bednarik, Maxwell, Mackey, Rimington, Lou Groza, Ray Guy, Bronko Nagurski, Outland, Butkus, Lombardi, Biletnikoff, Davey O’Brien, Doak Walker and Walter Camp. This year Governor Mary Fallin announced the winner on ESPN. The official presentation of the award took place in February, at a formal banquet in Oklahoma City where JC Watts officially presented the award to Desmond King from the University of Iowa.
The current winner and all former winners are invited back each year to celebrate. Over 800 attend the banquet each year including many celebrities and dignitaries.