One of the more exciting parts of the college football experience that often gets overlooked due to playoff races and rivalry games are the post season awards. Every division has them, though most people only know about awards like the Heisman. At the lower levels these awards are known as the Walter Payton, Buck Buchanan, Harlon Hill, and Melberger awards. They are given out annually to the most outstanding players at their divisions and today we’ll take a sneak peek at who the main contenders are for each award.
Walter Payton Award (FCS Offensive Player of the Year)
QB Chris Lum-Lehigh-Senior
Lum has put together quite an impressive senior campaign amassing over 2,500 passing yards thus far, leading Lehigh to a 6-1 record, and once again has his team in position to make the playoffs. Lum’s accuracy and efficiency has been the key difference this year as he’s completing more than 68 percent of his passes and has thrown two or more touchdowns in every game this season. It’s also interesting to note that Lum has thrown for at least 300 yards in all seven games in 2011.
QB Zach Lewis-Morehead State-Junior
Right behind Lum is a QB some might consider to be a bit of sleeper for this award, but is a player who should not be overlooked. Lewis’s 18 to 4 TD to INT ratio this season is amongst the best in the nation, and it’s that kind of decision making that has turned Morehead State into a weekly competitive force. Three of Morehead’s six losses have been by less than five points, which shows you how far Lewis has led them.
RB Shakir Bell-Indiana State-Sophomore
I saw on Twitter last week that somebody said that there wasn’t a better back at the FCS level than Bell. This immediately made me think of players like Jordan Grimes and Andrew Pierce, who may take offense to that. Then I looked into the numbers, and Bell is averaging eight yards per carry this season, a number which blows away any other running back who has enough carries to qualify. His 1,248 yards leads the nation and he has scored 11 times. Bell may or may not be the best RB in the nation, but he’s without question worthy of the discussion and this award.
WR Ryan Spadola-Lehigh-Junior
You want to know one of the secrets to Lum’s success? It has been Spadola and his ability to get open deep down the field. His 18 yards per catch average leads the nation, and he’s one of only a few players to have already eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards. Spadola’s ability to get open deep was never more on display then when Lehigh took on Princeton on September 17th. On that day, Spadola has nine catches for 214 yards, and three TD’s. He averaged over 23 yards per catch against Princeton, and those are the kind of performances that put him on the radar for this award.
WR Aaron Mellette-Elon-Junior
Everybody wants to talk about wide receiver Brian Quick from Appalachian State before Mellette because they both play in the same conference (SOCON), however Mellette is just as dominant at the position. Mellette has gone over 100 yards in six of his eight games including week one vs. Vanderbilt where he was matched up against a very good cornerback in Casey Hayward. Also until this past weekend, Mellette had caught one TD in every single game this season.
Buck Buchanan Award (FCS Defensive Player of the Year)
DE Adrian Hamilton-Prairie View A&M-Senior
Hamilton is a bit of an older collegiate player but that shouldn’t matter when it comes to awards. Hamilton’s 19.5 tackles for loss leads the nation and his 12.5 sacks are amongst the league leaders as well. Hamilton has also forced four fumbles this year to go along with five quarterback hurries and 57 tackles. Prairie View may not be in contention to win the SWAC this year; however Hamilton is doing all he can to keep them in as many games as possible.
LB Ryan Davis-Bethune-Cookman-Senior
Bethune-Cookman LB Reggie Sandilands was the player who got all the love this preseason but it has been Davis who has shown off his ability on that field. Davis’s 18 tackles for the loss ranks second behind only Hamilton, and he’s been an absolute terror to block. His nine sacks, and 12 QB hurries indicate just how good a pass rusher he is and his name is being whispered as a possible sleeper for this April’s NFL Draft.
DE Joseph Lebeau-Jackson State-Junior
Three HBCU players should be in contention for this year’s Buck Buchannan, which would be a change from how these awards usually play out. However it would be a horrible oversight if the award committee were to overlook Lebeau’s 17.5 tackles for loss or his 10 sacks. Leabeau has actually been the most consistent of all three HBCU defenders as he has registered at least five tackles, one tackle for loss, and one sack in every game he’s played in. With that kind of consistent productivity it’s no wonder as to why Jackson State is ranked in the Top 25.
LB LJ Fort-Northern Iowa-Senior
Fort is the heart and soul of a UNI defense that has not allowed more than 23 points in any game this entire season and is only allowing an average of 13.2 points per game. Fort leads the team with 91 tackles, and his ability to make plays all over the field is what makes him so valuable. That was most apparent when UNI took on conference foe Indiana State three weeks ago; Fort had 12 tackles with two and half going for a loss. He also forced a fumble in that game, one of the five he has forced on the year. Fort is a player that many offensive coordinators have tried to scheme around but he always seems to blow plays up despite that.
CB Bryce Robertson-Bucknell-Senior
I don’t care what anybody says, because anytime you have as many INT’s as games you’ve played in that’s impressive, especially when that number proves true this late into the season. Robertson’s eight INT’s leads the country and are the most of any player at any level. He’s had two multi-INT games including this past weekend vs. Holy Cross. Robertson doesn’t offer a ton of help when trying to stop the run but as long as he keeps producing INT’s I don’t think the coaches will mind much.
Harlon Hill Trophy (Division II Player of the Year)
RB Jonas Randolph-Mars Hill-Senior
Randolph has long been thought of as the top RB in all of Division II and he’s continuing to show people why that is with his 1,373 rushing yards this season. He is averaging over five and a half yards per carry and has scored 10 times. Randolph’s biggest game came two weeks ago when he rushed for 331 yards against Catawba on 46 carries. Anytime you can put up a single game performance like that you deserve to be in the running for a national award.
RB Rashaad Slowey-Southern Connecticut State-Senior
Slowey doesn’t quite have the yardage that Randolph has this season (1,180) but he has more than doubled his TD production with 24 scores so far this season. Slowey has been the go to guy for an Owl offense that at times has struggled to generate a passing attack. Slowey averages 27 carries, 147 yards, and three TD’s per game. That’s not to mention his 20 receptions for 222 yards and two more TD’s through the air this year. Slowey knack for finding the end zone will make him a Harlon Hill finalist.
QB Adam Neugebauer-West Virginia Wesleyan-Senior
Neugebauer has come out of literally nowhere to become one of most dangerous QB’s in all of Division II. His 67.34 completion percentage is among the league leaders, and his TD to INT ratio is certainly turning some heads (4:1). Neugebauer has thrown for six TD’s in a game twice already this year and five TD’s once. Also like Chris Lum he has yet to be held to under 300 yards passing and his dominance cannot be understated.
LB Alex Whitehill-Fort Hays State-Senior
Whitehill’s 119 tackles lead all Division II defenders in tackles, and he is averaging over 14 tackles per game. Whitehill’s ability to fill gaps and make key stops are the reason why he’s been Fort Hays most dominant defender this year. Whitehill has had 20 tackles in a game twice this year and has been held to less than 10 tackles twice. He is a dominant defender who is always around the ball.
DE Connor Wright-Colorado Mesa-Senior
Connor Wright may be one of the most dominant DE’s in the country that nobody has ever heard of. Not only is he making plays in the backfield (19.5 TFL) and putting pressure on the QB (10 sacks), he is also getting off his blocks and making plays (77 tackles). Wright’s ability to be a good all-around defender is the reason he should be in the running for the Harlon Hill award.
Melberger Trophy (Division III Player of the Year)
RB Melikke Van Alstyne-Framingham State-Sophomore
It’s ironic that amongst all the award favorites only two sophomores are listed and both happen to be RB’s. However their lack of class clout should not have any effect on their award potential as both have put together fantastic years. Van Alstyne in particular has put up dominant numbers as he has rushed for 1,219 yards and 16 TD’s on 205 carries. His nearly six yards per carry average ranks tops in Division III.
WR Michael Zweifel-Dubuque-Senior
Zweifel is the first WR in the entire country to reach 100 receptions on the year, as he eclipsed that mark this past weekend with a 17 catch performance. Zweifel has over 1500 yards on the year and has scored 20 TD’s. Zweifel has gone over 200 yards receiving in a game four times already this season, and has been held under 100 just once, when he still picked up 99 yards. Zweifel has been un-coverable all season, and as long as his numbers continue there is no reason to think he won’t win the Melberger.
WR Mike Bolodgett-Monmouth-Senior
Not far behind Zweifel is Mike Bolodgett who has seen a huge boost in his numbers with the return of fifth year senior Alex Tanney from injury. Bolodgett has become Tanney’s favorite target this season and the two have hooked up 82 times for 1,140 yards, and 11 TD’s. Bolodgett doesn’t have as many 200+ yard games as Zweifel (1) but unlike Zweifel he has yet to be held to under 100 yards in any game.
LB Mike Hendrick-Knox-Junior
Quite possibly the most complete defender in the entire nation, I’m simply going to list Hendrick’s stats to make his case; 123 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, eight sacks, one INT, two pass breakups, and a forced fumble. Sure plenty of defenders have triple digit tackle totals, or double digit tackles for loss but almost nobody has both. Hendrick’s play for Knox has been simple unbelievable this year.
DE Derron Hamilton-Baldwin-Wallace-Senior
While Hendrick has been a very good defender, we should not overlook the pass rush ability of Derron Hamilton at Baldwin-Wallace. Hamilton’s 11 sacks lead all of Division III, and he has been held sackless in only one game so far this year. Twice he has put up three and a half sack performances and his constant pressure off the edge has become something that many teams have to worry about.
Be sure to check back tomorrow morning for a special Small School Report breaking down the Division II Regional Rankings that will be released a little later today.
Matt Elder provides insight into the small-school college football scene with his column on Crystal Ball run every Monday. Please follow him on Twitter @MatthewCElder.
Also, Matt will be writing a bonus second column this week on Tuesday, when the small-school regional rankings are announced on Monday afternoon.