Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, Florida State quarterback McKenzie Milton and Kentucky linebacker J.J. Weaver are the winners of the Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year award.
The Mayo Clinic’s comeback players of the year were announced Tuesday and will be honored Jan. 1 at the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona.
Hutchinson returned from a season-ending ankle injury in 2020 to become an All-American and Heisman Trophy runner-up for the playoff-bound, Big Ten champion Wolverines (12-1).
A torn knee ligament cut short Weaver’s 2020 season, but his physical rehabilitation was only part of the challenge he faced in returning to football in 2021. He also had to overcome the grief of losing both his father and high school coach.
Milton’s comeback was more than two years in the making after he suffered a severe leg injury in 2018 while playing for Central Florida. After missing two full seasons, he beat the odds simply by being able to walk again unassisted.
The winners and six other players who received honorable mention were determined by a vote of Associated Press college football poll voters, plus members of the sports information directors association (CoSIDA), the Fiesta Bowl organization and the editors of Touchdown Illustrated.
Those who received honorable mention were West Virginia defensive end Taijh Alston; Baylor linebacker Terrel Bernard; Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan; Johns Hopkins receiver Ryan Hubley; Utah quarterback Cameron Rising and Stetson offensive lineman Avery Samuels.
A donation of $30,000 will be made to the general scholarship funds of the schools of both the winners and honorable mentions.
The Big Ten already was playing an abbreviated season in 2020 when Hutchinson injured his ankle on the first series of the third game. His injury was part of a season that Michigan football fans would like to forget, but it set the stage for a huge comeback for both the Wolverines and their star player.
Hutchinson, a senior, set a school record with 14 sacks this season and Michigan earned a spot in the College Football Playoff for the first time. The second-ranked Wolverines will play No. 3 Georgia on Dec. 31 in the Orange Bowl.
Weaver’s physical recovery from a knee injury has been obvious this year. He has six sacks, 10 tackles for loss and two interceptions for the Wildcats (9-3), who face Iowa in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1.
Weaver also had to cope with deaths of his father, Terrance Weaver, who was shot in Georgia, and coach, Rob Reader, to liver cancer last year. He worked on both his body and mind to return to football in 2021 with the same form he showed in his promising freshman season.
Milton nearly lost his right leg after the injury the day after Thanksgiving 2018 caused nerve damage and slowed blood flow to his leg. Doctors were more concerned about whether he would be able to walk unassisted again than Milton returning to football.
After multiple surgeries and two years of staying involved with the team at UCF, Milton decided to transfer to Florida State for the 2021 season and try to complete his comeback.
In the Seminoles’ first game of the season, Milton came off the bench to help Florida State force overtime in an eventual loss to Notre Dame. Milton ended up starting four games for the rebuilding Seminoles (5-7) and finished the season with 775 yards passing and three TD passes.