LAKE BUENA VISTA — Inside a ballroom at Disney’s Boardwalk Hotel, there was Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston, the lightning rod of college football, the Heisman Trophy favorite and leader of the nation’s No. 1-ranked team.
There was Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, last season’s Heisman winner, Johnny Football himself.
There were the household-name players headed to the Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl.
“I can’t believe my eyes,’’ Michigan State defensive back Darqueze Dennard said. “This is like a who’s who of the sport.’’
There was University of South Florida junior place-kicker Marvin Kloss, beaming, taking it all in, finally coming to the realization that he, too, belonged in this group.
“I couldn’t have imagined this a few months ago,’’ said Kloss, one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award, which will be presented at tonight’s Home Depot College Football Awards. “It’s out of my hands now. I’m just enjoying this moment.’’
Kloss, Anthony Fera of Texas and Roberto Aguayo of FSU are nominated for the Groza Award.
They spent the past two days in West Palm Beach. At the Breakers Resort, Kloss said he “had some of the best food I ever had in my life.’’ At Tuesday night’s banquet, he was provided a black tuxedo. “Looked pretty good,’’ Kloss said. “I felt like James Bond.’’
Kloss, USF’s first finalist for a national football award, is not considered a Groza favorite by any means. But he mounted a special case while playing for the offensively challenged Bulls (2-10). He led the nation with 11 field goals from 40 yards and beyond. USF registered both of its wins without scoring an offensive touchdown, relying on Kloss and its defense.
Overall, Kloss made 18 of 23 field goal attempts, hitting 13 straight at one point to set a USF school record.
“To me, Marvin’s stats are very impressive,’’ said Fera, who doubles as the Texas punter. “He has four field goals over 50 yards and I have one. He’s not just making short field goals. They kept throwing him out there for the long ones. And he kept making them.’’
Aguayo, a close friend from their participation in kicking camps, said he appreciates Kloss’ contributions.
“He gets more chances to kick field goals and I get more chances to kick extra points,’’ said Aguayo, who is 90-for-90 on PATs. “That’s my downfall. Their offense stalls at the 35 and they send him in for the 50-yarders. He meant a lot to his team.’’
Despite Kloss’ value, and his Groza candidacy, he was inexplicably omitted from the All-American Athletic Conference first and second teams.
He wasn’t miffed.
“We have a bunch of good kickers in our conference,’’ Kloss said. “I can’t really decide who makes all-conference. That’s up to the coaches. As long as I’m here (at the College Football Awards), I’m happy.’’
Kloss will be joined tonight by his parents, Thomas and Petra, along with USF head football coach Willie Taggart. He hasn’t thought much about the possibilities of winning the award. But if he does?
“I’ll go up there trying to speak, probably with a frog in my throat,’’ Kloss said. “I’m probably more at home on the field, trying to make a kick. But I’m excited to be here with everything this week. It has been a blast.’’
Even when they called him to the stage at the Groza banquet in West Palm Beach.
The emcee engaged Kloss in a question-and-answer session, but not before giving him an especially hard time.
“He was a UCF fan,’’ Kloss said, laughing. “Can you believe it?’’
It was just another moment in this unforgettable week for Marvin Kloss.