Last season Tim Flanders took the FCS by storm, quickly making a name for himself on a national level as he racked up yards and touchdowns at an amazing pace. As a late addition to the Walter Payton Award ballot, Flanders finished his sophomore season seventh in the voting for the nation’s top offensive player.
So on Thursday when he was named to the watch list for the 2012 award, it wasn’t much of a surprise. However, Flanders is not alone on the list. Teammate Richard Sincere was also among the 20 players recognized by the Sports Network as the top contenders to take this season’s honor.
“This is a great recognition for both of these young men,” said head coach Willie Fritz. “Both of them are such a big part of our offense and our team. This is a big honor for two quality players.”
It is the first time the Bearkats have placed two players on the watch list for the Payton Award.
Last season, Flanders ranked No. 4 in the nation in scoring, No. 16 in rushing and No. 24 in all-purpose yards and set Southland Conference single season records for touchdowns (24), points (144) and rushing yards (1,644).
Flanders was named to six All-America squads including American Football Coaches Association and Associated Press following the 2011 season and was named Southland Conference Player of the Year. He was a first team All-Southland Conference running back and led the league in rushing (109.6 yards per game) and scoring (144 points) and was No. 2 in the league in all-purpose yards (137.2).
“I have said for a long time I think Tim is the best running back in the FCS,” Fritz said. “Last year in the playoffs, everyone else got the chance to see what we all have known for two years. There is not another back like him.”
Sincere was a College Sporting News first team All-America in 2011 and the Southland Conference Offensive Player of the Year. He was a first team All-Southland offensive selection and two-time Southland "Offensive Player of the Week" (Central Arkansas and SFA). Sincere was the No. 3 rusher in the Southland (979 yards) and No. 7 in Southland scoring (78 points).
He rushed for more than 100 yards in five games (season best 11 for 160 vs. Montana State) and totaled 14 runs of more than 20 yards including long of 52 (Montana State) and TDs of 45 (Central Arkansas) and 50 (Lamar). He also caught TD passes of 77 (Lamar) and 62 (Northwestern St.) and seven of passes of more than 20 yards.
“Richard is such a versatile player and a very dynamic part of our offense,” Fritz said. “There are so many things he can do on the football field, and with his speed, he can cause a lot of problems for opposing defenses.”
The Bearkats do have some history with the Walter Payton Award. Quarterback Dustin Long was the Payton Award runner-up in 2004. Quarterback Josh McCown was the seventh place finisher in 2001. Other SHSU finalists were quarterback Chris Chaloupka 13th in 199, quarterback Rhett Bomar 14th in 2008 and running back D. D. Terry 16th in 2006.
Twelve of this year's initial 20 nominees were finalists for the award last year.
After the season, the most outstanding player in the FCS will join a list of Payton Award greats such as Steve McNair, John Friesz, Brian Westbrook, Tony Romo, Brian Finneran, Armanti Edwards and 2011 winner Bo Levi Mitchell.
The 2011 finalists returning to the Watch List are quarterbacks Casey Brockman of Murray State, DeNarius McGhee of Montana State and Brad Sorensen of Southern Utah; running backs Shakir Bell of Indiana State, Jordan Brown of Bryant, Jamaine Cook of Youngstown State, Flanders, Andrew Pierce of Delaware and Terrance West of Towson; fullback Eric Breitenstein of Wofford; and wide receivers Aaron Mellette of Elon and Rodrick Rumble of Idaho State.
Joining the Watch List are quarterbacks Taylor Heinicke of Old Dominion, Kurt Hess of Youngstown State and Jeff Mathews of Cornell; running backs Zach Bauman of Northern Arizona, Matt Denham of Eastern Kentucky and Miguel Maysonet of Stony Brook; Sincere as an all-purpose back; and wide receiver Ryan Spadola of Lehigh.
The Payton Award Watch List can undergo revision during the 2012 season. Ballots will be sent to a panel of about 175 sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries following the regular season on Nov. 19. The top three vote-getters will be invited to The Sports Network FCS Awards Presentation.
The Sports Network also presents the Buck Buchanan, Jerry Rice and Eddie Robinson awards. The Buchanan Award honors the FCS defensive player of the year, the Rice Award goes to the FCS freshman of the year and the Robinson Award honors the FCS coach of the year. Those three winners will join the top three Payton finalists at the national awards banquet.