Star Cherokee football player wins Heisman Trophy

A member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma made history on Saturday as the first American Indian to win the Heisman Trophy.

Sam Bradford, 21, was named the Most Outstanding College Football Player for 2008, capping an impressive season for the 21-year-old quarterback from the University of Oklahoma. He broke state and national records with the Sooners and emerged as a role model for his tribe and Indian youth.

"I feel like that's another blessing that God's given me. I have a great platform, especially within the Cherokee Nation," Bradford said in New York City, where he was announced as the 74th winner of the Heisman. "And for me to be an example for those kids, I look at it as a great opportunity for me."

Bradford, whose father is Cherokee, has previously said his tribal heritage didn't play a major role in his upbringing. But he has embraced his newfound stardom among the second-largest tribe in the nation.

With the new title, the Cherokees can boast of two tribal members whose football prowess took them to new heights. Sonny Sixkiller, who was born in Tahlequah, is believed to be the first Indian player to start at quarterback for a Division I team -- Bradford is the second.

Sixkiller, who works as a sports commentator, rose to prominence the early 1970s so it's been a long time since an Indian football player made national headlines. Few make it to the college level and none have entered the professional realm since Jim Thorpe, who was Sac and Fox from Oklahoma, and other Native athletes played in the early years of the National Football League.

Few Native athletes are represented in other professional sports though two have become baseball standouts in the past couple of years. Joba Chamberlain, a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, plays for the New York Yankees, and Jacoby Ellsbury, who is Navajo and is enrolled with the Colorado River Indian Tribes, plays for the Boston Red Sox.

Bradford, who is a sophomore at OU, has said he is interested in attending law school after college. There's speculation he may want to enter the NFL draft but has not stated whether he will file the paperwork, which is due in mid-January.

Despite the attention on Bradford, he's not the only Cherokee who plays for OU. Ben Hampton is a deep snapper for the top-ranked team. Derek Shaw, who is Ponca and Osage, is also a deep snapper for the Sooners.

Bradford will be honored tonight in New York City for the Heisman dinner.

Related Stories:
Cherokee football player favored for Heisman (12/10)
Oklahoma players embrace Indian heritage (11/13)
Cherokee Nation embraces star college quarterback (10/13)