LAKE BUENA VISTA — Toby Gerhart was in the middle of a weeklong series of finals that included calculus, optimization problem sets (an engineering class), archaeology and investment science. But the Stanford senior running back couldn't stop himself from briefly taking a break Monday afternoon.
Gerhart spent about a half-hour running back and forth between a study area and the locker room awaiting the announcement of the Heisman Trophy finalists.
"I had a final at 3:15, and I was studying," Gerhart said. "I ran in (the locker room). There were about 10 other teammates in there with me. And when they called my name, everybody was jumping up and down high-fiving each other.
"And then I just ran out the door. I had two tests that day, so I didn't really get a chance to celebrate. But it put me in a good mood to go and take my finals."
Tonight, Gerhart, Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, Alabama running back Mark Ingram and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow will sit in the Nokia Theatre in New York and hope to hear their names called as winner of the trophy recognizing the nation's best player.
McCoy and Tebow are finalists for the second and third times, respectively. (Tebow won in 2007, the first sophomore to win the honor) But the others are first-time guests of this exclusive club and thrilled to be a part of it.
"I have no clue what allowed me to get to New York," said Suh, a 6-foot-4 interior lineman who is the fifth defensive player to be a finalist and first since Charles Woodson in 1997.
"It feels great. I just want to represent all the guys that are in the trenches, the unsung heroes on the defensive line and the offensive line."
Whether the race is wide open or a slam dunk for one candidate depends on which poll you're studying or whom you're talking to — in which part of the country.
Gerhart appears to have the regional votes from the West. Many believed the race was between McCoy and Ingram. But McCoy won both the Maxwell (best all-around player) and Davey O'Brien (best quarterback) awards Thursday night, seemingly giving him the edge.
But stiffarmtrophy.com, which claims to have correctly picked the past seven winners, predicts the finishing order as Ingram, Gerhart, Suh, McCoy and Tebow. The gambling Web site bodog.com has McCoy, the runnerup last season, as the 2-1 favorite. Tebow is 15-1.
"I was excited, honored and humbled that they invited me back one more year," said Tebow, the first to be invited three times since the practice began in 1982. "I'm a representation of my team, and that's exactly what I told my coaches and teammates.
"I got invited back because of … the work we put in; the time and energy; all the summer and spring workouts. I'm honored to be there, and the guys who are up for the award are extremely deserving."
Florida center Mike Pouncey said his heart is with Tebow but he can't help but root for Suh — a fellow big man at a position not known for generating Heisman attention.
"He's a phenomenal athlete," Pouncey said. "Mike (his twin brother) told me the other day 'Watch Suh sneak up and take it.' I said, 'I don't know. He's got some good guys up there with him.' But it's nice to see a big guy up there."
Tebow has acknowledged his chances are slim, but it hasn't diminished his excitement about being among the finalists.
"It's very humbling and overwhelming to have the opportunity to go again and be a part of it because the Heisman is something that is very overwhelming," Tebow said. "I'm going to just have fun, be able to hang out with my family and enjoy the process and just enjoy being there."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.