'Athlete A' Nichols, Hurts are Big 12's top athletes
IRVING, Texas – Two-time NCAA all-around champion gymnast Maggie Nichols and Heisman Trophy runner-up Jalen Hurts were honored as the Big 12 Athletes of the Year, giving Oklahoma a sweep of the conference's top individual awards for the third time in five years.
It was the second time for Nichols to be honored as the Big 12's top female athlete, having also won the award two years ago.
Before arriving at Oklahoma in the fall of 2016 and winning 11 NCAA trophies, Nichols competed at the elite level for USA Gymnastics. Her steady performance in the team finals at the 2015 world championship helped power the U.S. team to a gold medal. A knee injury in 2016 hampered her attempt to make the Olympic team.
Nichols was among hundreds of athletes who have said they were abused by former U.S. team doctor Larry Nassar under the guise of medical treatment. She first mentioned her concerns about Nassar to a teammate in 2015, which were overheard by her coach that passed them along to the hierarchy at USA Gymnastics.
In January 2018, just days before her sophomore season at Oklahoma, Nichols became "Athlete A" when she dropped her anonymity to help others who were abused by Nassar speak up.
USA Gymnastics, the USOPC and Michigan State are still trying to emerge from the the fallout, and Nassar is serving essentially a life sentence after pleading guilty to sexual assault and child pornography crimes.
Nichols won the NCAA all-around titles in 2018 and 2019, and ranked No. 1 nationally in the all-around and on vault, and No. 2 on bars, when the 2020 season ended prematurely because of the coronavirus pandemic. She and other Nassar survivors were presented with the Arthur Ashe Award at the 2018 ESPYs, and she was the first gymnast to be given the NCAA Inspiration Award.
After transferring to Oklahoma from Alabama, Hurts had 5,149 total yards of offense (3,851 passing and 1,298 rushing) while accounting for 53 touchdowns in his only season with the Big 12 champion Sooners last fall. He was a second-round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL draft last month.
The Big 12 athlete of the year selections are based on athletic performance, academic achievement and citizenship.