10/18/2012 02:27 pm ET Updated Dec 18, 2012

Heisman Trophy Now Synonymous With Dedication to Education, Morals and Values

For decades, the discussion on athletes' impact on society has been a never-ending debate. There have been Charles Barkley's famous rants that athletes aren't true role models, claims that Larry Bird never attended class and of course the recent Penn State football controversy. Overall, the country has been seriously divided on whether or not college athletes should be viewed as athletes, students, celebrities or public role models.

Well, the Heisman Trophy voting committee has showed their opinion on the matter in their recent selections -- the last few selections in particular, praising athletes who possess educational values and very positive morals.

In 2009, Alabama junior RB, Mark Ingram, earned the prestigious honor of "Heisman winner" after a dominant season for the Tide, leading his team to a national championship. But not only did Ingram excel on the football field, but also in the classroom. Ingram's coach, Nick Saban, praised the now New Orleans Saints running back's dedication to his education when the back declared for the draft shortly after winning the fabled accolade and vowed to still work towards his degree, especially during the NFL Lockout last fall. But Ingram also represented strong family values as well, which he dawned proudly on his athletic tape. He wore "RIP Grandpa" on the tape to honor the man who truly guided him during his childhood. Ingram clearly has been driven for success in all aspects of his life thus far, and his hard work and determination truly revealed itself when tears trickled down his face in New York during his Heisman celebration.

In 2011, Robert Griffin III became the latest member of the most historic college football players of all time. But, even before college, RG3 graduated from high school early. Then, while playing AND studying at Baylor, the now quarterback of the Washington Redskins finished college in three years, and, is on pace to complete his graduate program in communications ahead of schedule. Now relishing in the NFL spotlight every Sunday, Griffin III still plans on attending law school, regardless of what happens during the rest of his NFL career. This drive undoubtedly comes from his past, living in a project house in New Orleans for six months when he was a kid. But, Griffin III isn't your typical rags-to-riches athlete relying on talent to rescue him from the ghetto. He used his brain, books and dedication to education to mold himself into an honorable young man people of all ages should be motivated and inspired by.

This season, several top Heisman Trophy candidates posses very similar admirable attributes as well.

Kansas State senior QB Collin Klein clearly has his head on straight. Before even setting foot on a football field this fall, Klein graduated from KState with a degree in finance this summer, now playing in his fifth year of eligibility as a redshirt senior, and married to his longtime girlfriend Shalin Spani. It's no question the Heisman committee will value this young man's maturity and both academic and athletic success at the university.

Next, we have freshman Oregon RB, De'Anthony Thomas. At barley 19-years-old, Thomas has overcome a large amount of hatred from turning down a scholarship from his hometown school, USC, maturely responded to appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated while creating a new life in Eugene. Thomas has turned to his past family experiences to inspire him to continue his drive to excel as a football player, role model and student. As the oldest of his mother, Gavlian Dupree's, five sons, Thomas was dealt a large responsibility in helping raise his younger brothers and provide them with a responsible and positive role model. He still says he feels inclined to set the bar for his brothers, thus its no coincidence head coach, Chip Kelly, as said Thomas is one of the humblest stars the powerhouse program has had in a long time.

Lastly, we come to West Virginia senior QB Geno Smith. Smith's commitment to and passion for education started at a very young age. Several years ago, Smith was labeled a gifted student in elementary school, and was placed into an advanced curriculum that emphasized the arts. During that time, he won a fifth grade oratorical contest, acted in his school's production of "The Nutcracker" and developed an impressive art portfolio. His family and teachers have also praised his natural ability in the visual and performing arts. Now, as one of the most decorated football players in the country today, Smith still acts on his passion for the arts. An English major, Smith will graduate from West Virginia in the spring, while presumably declaring for the NFL Draft as well. But, on his path towards earning a degree, Smith is currently enrolled in a Shakespeare course and American Literature course -- both classes the public would never expect the average big-time college athlete to dare spending time in.

Now that the college football season is halfway over, the Heisman Trophy candidates have been narrowed down to a very precise list. As the trophy won't be awarded until December, it's unclear who will be the 2012 recipient of the hallowed award. But, the young man deemed victorious will undoubtedly be an individual spectators, media members and athletic haters can agree is a positive role model for the American public.