Anyone who has watched even just one Texas Christian University football game is likely to know a little about quarterback Max Duggan. They have heard about the nine-hour heart surgery that was necessary after doctors discovered a heart defect during a COVID test. They heard about how newly-hired head coach Sonny Dykes had to tell Duggan that he would lose his starting spot only the second time they had met. They heard about how Duggan played through a broken foot in 2021. They know that Duggan heads up a team that no one in the country thought had a snowball’s chance back in August.
On December 31, Duggan will lead the Horned Frogs against Michigan with a chance at a national title on the line. This is a player who was not supposed to be here at this late stage in college football on a team that was not supposed to be this good. Every obstacle the team faced this season, they were able to lean on Duggan and his unwavering will to do what it takes to earn victory.
The images of Duggan sprinting down the sideline, ball in hand, forcing his way into the end zone against Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship, blood streaming from his body, barely able to rise from the turf while teammates rallied around will be seared in the memories of TCU fans for years. But Duggan waived them off and could almost be seen to say, “I’m good.” Let’s go and get two’ as he forced himself to his feet. He lined up, tossed a perfect-timing pass, and tied the biggest game of his college career by sheer will, grit, and determination.
Duggan did not get a win in the Big 12 Championship. His Horned Frogs fell short in overtime. Maybe it mattered at the end of the day in terms of Heisman voting, maybe not. Duggan was a finalist for the award given to the most outstanding player in college football. Caleb Williams won the trophy this year, but that does not detract from the accomplishments that Duggan has made at TCU, a school he chose over other opportunities that may have offered a bigger stage. The stage does not get bigger than that of the Heisman Trophy, and that is where Duggan found himself on December 10.
“I think it shows what my team, my guys, mean to me, what my university means to me,” Duggan said of his performance in the Championship game on stage in New York for the Heisman Trophy. “You have so much pride putting the jersey on and fighting for the guys up front and fighting for the guys on the sideline, I think that is why I didn’t quit.”
Something that almost no one knew about Duggan this season was that he coached a flag football team while also practicing and attending classes.
“We talked about, when he was a little kid, as he looked up to other people, that was important. He should do the same,” Duggan’s mom Deb said at the ceremony.
“He was just wired different,” father Jim Duggan said. “The will to succeed, the will to win, it is just part of his DNA.”
Coach Dykes added that Duggan’s character showed when he was told he would not start. Dykes said that Duggan told him that he would be the best backup quarterback in the country, a role that came to a realization in Week 1 when Duggan took the field late in the game for an injured Chandler Morris.
Though Duggan did not win the Heisman, simply finding himself on the stage with some of the greatest college football players of all time must have been thrilling. The NFL draft looms large over the horizon ahead, and already Duggan is facing a new wave of criticism that could fuel his passion. First, the Horned Frogs must overcome Michigan in the VRBO Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Eve before the next phase of the journey can begin.