For the first time in seven years, the Sam Houston State football team has a Buck Buchanan Award candidate. Senior safety Darnell Taylor is among 20 players recognized by The Sports Network as a candidate for the nation’s top defensive player award.

Taylor was also named to the Sports Network first team defense last week, after being tabbed to the first team at the end of last season. Taylor led the Bearkats in 2011 in tackles with 128 and was named to a five All-American squads following the 2011.

Taylor was named the Southland Conference "Defensive Player of the Year" last season and was a first team All-Southland selection. His 128 tackles was the highest single season total since 1988 and he posted double digit tackles in eight games including season best of 12 in McNeese victory. Earlier this week he was tabbed as a preseason Southland Conference first-team selection.

In 2005 SHSU linebacker Marcus Mikulec was a preseason selection to the Buchanan Award watch list, but missed a majority of the season with an injury. The only Bearkat player to finish the year as a finalist for the award was Keith Davis, who finished seventh in the voting in 2001.

New Hampshire senior linebacker Matt Evans won the Award last season and has a chance to repeat this year. The other 2011 finalists returning to the Watch List are Georgia Southern nose tackle Brent Russell, Indiana State defensive end Ben Obaseki, Howard outside linebacker Keith Pough, Northwestern State inside linebacker Derek Rose and Alabama State safety Kejuan Riley.

Taylor joins a list of 13 other newcomers to the watch list, including a pair of Southland Conference defenders, Malcolm Bronson of McNeese State and Willie Jefferson of Stephen F. Austin. The remaining newcomers to the watch list are defensive tackle Zach Minter of Montana State; defensive ends, Joseph LeBeau of Jackson State and Blake Oliaro of San Diego; linebackers Clarence Bumpas of Northern Colorado, Wes Dothard of Chattanooga, Jeremy Kimbrough of Appalachian State, Blake Peiffer of Southeast Missouri State and Tyler Starr of South Dakota; cornerbacks Demetrius McCray of Appalachian State, B.W. Webb of William & Mary and Marcus Williams of FCS champion North Dakota State.

This season's winner will join a list of Buchanan Award greats such as Dexter Coakley, Jared Allen, Rashean Mathis and Kroy Biermann. Coakley, the original Buchanan recipient in 1995, won again a year later and remains the only two- time winner of the award.

The Buchanan 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 Walter Payton, Jerry Rice and Eddie Robinson awards. The Payton Award honors the FCS 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.