David Ubben of The Athletic is the recipient of the first Edward Aschoff Rising Star Award, which is named after the beloved ESPN college football reporter who died last Christmas Eve on his 34th birthday from previously undetected Stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma in his lungs.
In honor of Aschoff, whom ESPN senior vice president Rob King called a "ray of light," the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) decided to recognize one promising journalist no older than 34 who has not only the talent and work ethic it takes to succeed in the business, but also the passion to make it better.
Aschoff, a 2008 graduate of the University of Florida, was a talented storyteller, whether he was on camera or crafting a written piece. And even as his career at ESPN blossomed into more of a national television role when he moved to Los Angeles in 2017, he still guided and befriended younger journalists along the way.
Aschoff and Ubben were former colleagues at ESPN, working together when Aschoff covered the SEC and Ubben the Big 12.
"David has grown so much as a reporter and writer, and was the one name that was on every voter's ballot," said ESPN senior writer Heather Dinich, FWAA first vice president and chairperson of the five-person selection committee. "It's a bonus that he knew Ed and understands the importance of this award from a personal perspective, not just a professional one. The FWAA is thrilled to be able to present this inaugural award to somebody who embodies the true spirit of what it was intended to be."
Ubben, a 2009 graduate of the University of Missouri, has covered the University of Tennessee football team for The Athletic since May 2018.
"Ed was my friend and colleague," Ubben said. "We had a lot in common, but he was much cooler than I am and infinitely more well-dressed. Watching him climb the ladder at ESPN was so thrilling and seeing him live out his dreams in this business made me so happy for him."
Ubben added: "Like Ed did, I want to pass down what I've learned, make this profession better and do what I can to make sure there are plenty of other Ed Aschoffs writing about college football in the decades to come."
Ubben, the FWAA's second vice president, was the Oklahoma football beat writer for The Oklahoman before leaving to write about Big 12 football for ESPN.com for 3½ years. Ubben has also worked at Fox Sports Southwest as a Big 12 columnist and television analyst for the network.
Ubben lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with his wife, Becca, and also serves as an adjunct lecturer for the school of journalism and electronic media at the University of Tennessee.
Matt Fortuna, a colleague of Ubben's at The Athletic, said Ubben has "made many of us rethink the traditional way we have gone about beat writing, especially with the way he always goes the extra mile. And he has proven himself to be more than capable of stepping outside of the day-to-day comfort zone of his beat, as evidenced by his national features."
One of the driving forces in the FWAA creating the Rising Star Award in Aschoff's memory was that as his career at ESPN took off, he never forgot about others in the business trying to make their own mark, and he was always willing to give back. Jordan McPherson, a student reporter at Florida from 2013 to 2017 and now covering the Miami Marlins for The Miami Herald, said Aschoff's positivity was infectious, along with his ability to mentor through simple conversation.
"He will be missed, but always be remembered," McPherson said.
Aschoff and his fiancée, Katy Berteau, were engaged to be married in New Orleans this past April.
The University of Florida's college of journalism and communications has established the Edward Aschoff Memorial Fund, which will provide support for students involved in sports journalism. The SEC also announced in June that it was creating an internship in communications in Aschoff's memory.
Ubben said he misses Aschoff's random text messages to check on him. He also misses Aschoff's jokes and how he took his work seriously, but never took himself seriously.
"I miss his work. It's badly needed in college football today," Ubben said.