Surprise: Isaiah Pead is Big East's best

When the Big East unveiled its Offensive Player of the Year earlier this month, many were surprised to see Cincinnati running back Isaiah Pead walk away with the award.

Including Pead himself.

Pead was at home in Columbus, Ohio, when he got a phone call from coach Butch Jones delivering the good news. West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith was considered the favorite to win the honor, but he may have split votes because teammates Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey were excellent as well. All eight Big East coaches vote for the conference awards, and first and second teams.

"I was honored and the first thing I did was thank my teammates and coaches because they were the first ones who helped me," Pead said in a recent phone interview. "To be voted upon by the Big East coaches as one of the best offensive players in the conference means a lot to me. All the coaches don't know me, they don't see me on a day-to-day basis, but they see my work on film. They see I can be a threat offensively."

Was he surprised?

"I was," he said. "I figured it would go to a West Virginia guy and the years I've been here, Cincinnati hasn't gotten a lot of praise. We've won championships, but none of us has gotten the respect we deserve. I was just thankful for it."

That respect came this season for the Big East co-champions, as Pead and co-defensive player of the year Derek Wolfe picked up the big awards. It is the first time Cincinnati has been honored in each category. Jones also won Big East Coach of the Year honors, a fact he neglected to tell Pead when the two spoke on the phone.

For Pead, this season has been especially gratifying because of a challenge Jones issued to him when the season began. Jones wanted Pead to get himself into better shape and become more physical, because he wanted to place more of the workload on his rising senior.

"I walked right out from that meeting and went to the weight room and started lifting weights," Pead said. "Coach said I have all the talent in the world, I've got all the speed but at the next level they don't look for a runner, they look for a running back. That means being elusive but also being physical. I had to get that in my game. I lifted heavier weights, and set personal bests in the bench, squat and clean."

Pead also set career marks for carries (209), yards rushing (1,110), rushing touchdowns (11), receptions (36), yards receiving (304) and receiving touchdowns (three). That just about sums up every statistical category. Though he did not lead the Big East in rushing (Lyle McCombs of UConn did), Pead had the most rushing touchdowns and most points scored for a non-kicker with 84.

Because he did not lead the league in rushing, many have howled about him winning the award. But perhaps Pead was honored for more than just his stats line. He was Cincinnati's best offensive player even before Zach Collaros got hurt. After Collaros went down, he did everything he could to put the Bearcats on his back. He even returned punts for the first time in his career.

Now he hopes to close out his career with a win over Vanderbilt in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31.

"I've never been a part of a bowl game victory," Pead said. "I think to go out and have a great time, a great week and go out and win the game and have a great night -- that would cap off my college career."