The Biletnikoff Award, given annually to the best receiver in college football, will be handed out again this Saturday when Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks receives the trophy at a banquet at the University Center Club at Doak Campbell Stadium.
But that won’t be the most important thing given out by the Tallahassee Quarterback Club Foundation that night. Not even close.
The organization, which created the Biletnikoff Award in 1994, says it will also be providing an estimated $850,000 in scholarships and other benefits to 16 high school seniors from the Big Bend area.
“That’s the essence of the whole organization,” said Walter Manley II, who is the fundraising chairman and a founding trustee. “We’re so driven to help these kids. I’m 66 years old. I’m a retired Florida State professor. And I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do.
“This is the thing that I love to do the most.”
Manley said they received well over 100 applications this year.
As the award continues to grow in popularity and prestige, so do the scholarship funds that come pouring in. And thereby, so too the amount of young lives are changed by the charitable donations.
“We’re totally merit-based,” Manley said of the scholarships. “We don’t have any preferences in any way. We’re going to pick the best 10, 12, 15 kids based on them overcoming significant barriers to achieve at the highest academic and extra-curricular levels.
“The most important thing (for the trustees) is that we have a charitable heart. That’s the thing that really gets everyone excited.”
There is the football element of the award, of course. Cooks and his head coach, Mike Riley, will be in attendance on Saturday night. As will guest speaker Dick Vermeil and the man the award is named after, NFL Hall of Famer and former Florida State star Fred Biletnikoff.
But as good as the guest speakers might be, and they have ranged in recent years from Gene Stallings to Don Shula to Archie Manning, Manley says the highlight of the banquet is always when Charlie Barnes, the master of ceremonies, tells the audience about the challenges overcome by each scholarship recipient.
It’s what makes the Biletnikoff Award so unique, Manley said. It’s why he and his fellow founding trustees (Bob Teel, Rocky Bevis and L. Thomas Cox) are still so passionate about the fundraising. Even though they’ve been doing it now for two decades.
“We’re one of the best-kept secrets in Tallahassee,” Manley said. “We’re totally volunteer. … And it’s truly unbelievable what we do. … We’re the only ones that don’t have paid directors. We just have a lot of (darn) good trustees. They are money-raising fanatics.
“And they believe in these kids.”
For the second year in a row the Biletnikoff Award banquet will be broadcast live on ESPN3 at 7 p.m. For more information on the Tallahassee Quarterback Club Foundation, the award or how to contribute visit: www.biletnikoffaward.com.