Towson football coach Rob Ambrose heard the news as he was busy recruiting and making preparations for winter workouts.
Then he looked up past winners of the Eddie Robinson Award, in honor of the legendary Grambling State coach and given since 1987 to the top coach in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision.
"When I look at the names on the list of the guys who have done this before, that's when it kind of sinks in a little," Ambrose said earlier this week. "Not to be trite, it's an honor, it's humbling to get this kind of award. But you don't do your job for an award. I heard about it and thought, 'That's kind of neat.' I didn't pay much attention and just went back to work. People are making all these comments and I realize: This is a really big deal. I saw the names on the list and I thought, 'Oh, my God.'"
Ambrose was told a couple of weeks ago, but the official announcement came Thursday night. Ambrose will join a list that includes Jim Tressel (1994 at Youngstown State) and Paul Johnson (1998 at Georgia Southern) when he is honored Saturday during the FCS title game in Frisco, Texas.
Ambrose could also receive a similar award from the American Football Coaches Association on Sunday in San Antonio.
"I just started thinking of what we've done -- and it's we -- this is so much bigger than me, it's a joke," said Ambrose, 41, who recently signed a three-year contract extension. "It's Towson. It's Baltimore.
"It's the community, it's the state of Maryland. This is an award that gets to come back to the state of Maryland. It's got my name, but I'm hoping that it has Towson on it, because that's what it's really about."
The third-year head coach, who led the Tigers to a 9-3 record and their first FCS playoff appearance after going 3-19 his first two seasons at his alma mater, will be accompanied for the first leg of his Texas trip by freshman tailback Terrance West (Northwestern). West was named Thursday as the recipient of the first Jerry Rice Award, given to the top freshman in the FCS.
West had 29 touchdowns to lead the subdivision in scoring and finished 12th in rushing with 1,294 yards on 194 carries.
As much as Ambrose has taken the program from being mostly a doormat for the rest of the Colonial Athletic Association to being CAA champions, West did his part.
Playing in the shadow of Tavon Austin (Dunbar) and others in high school, West had fallen off the radar after not qualifying academically for several Football Bowl Subdivision schools, including Maryland, where he had been recruited by former coach Ralph Friedgen.
After spending a year at a prep school in Virginia, West returned home and found that new Maryland coach Randy Edsall wasn't interested.
Ambrose, who had recruited West out of high school, was. "He was home and he was searching" for an FBS school," Ambrose recalled. "We were the guys that were there at the beginning and we were the guys that were there at the end. That's part of the difference of recruiting at this level, in that it's so much more difficult because you have to develop relationships with kids that are meaningful and tight, and they may go off to other places. Whenever the young man's perception of where he should be may not work out, the trustworthy people who were there at the beginning are still there."
Going into the season, West was considered the team's fourth-string tailback, and Ambrose didn't even play him in the season opener because he was "seriously" considering redshirting him. Ambrose offered the possibility to West, who turned him down.
With several of Towson's running backs injured going into the second game at Villanova, West was used in short-yardage situations and near the goal line. He scored twice in an upset of the Wildcats. It was the first indication of Towson's transformation, and it also served noticed to the rest of the CAA about West.
"He kind of grew his role from there," Ambrose said.