HUNTSVILLE, Texas - A national panel of voters began to select the STATS FCS legacy awards, which honor the players and coaches of the year, on Monday with each of the four awards including one Sam Houston State Bearkat on the watch list.
The 13 FCS conferences have finalists for the STATS FCS Walter Payton Award (FCS offensive player of the year), STATS FCS Buck Buchanan Award (FCS defensive player of the year), STATS FCS Jerry Rice Award (FCS freshman player of the year) and STATS FCS Eddie Robinson Award (FCS coach of the year).
All four awards and the STATS FCS Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete of the Year will be celebrated at the STATS FCS Awards Banquet and Presentation, scheduled for Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas, on the eve of the national championship game.
Not all nominees to the awards watch lists become finalists. The final addition was Western Illinois linebacker Brett Taylor to the Buck Buchanan Awards watch list.
The voting panel consists of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries. Voting is based on the regular season.
The Bearkats, who held the No. 1 spot in the STATS FCS poll each of the final six weeks of the season, are well represented with candidates for the major awards with a player up for the Walter Payton Award, the Buck Buchanan Award and the Jerry Rice Award in addition to K.C. Keeler being up for the Eddie Robinson Award.
Here’s a look at the resumes for each Bearkat candidate as the voting begins this week:
EDDIE ROBINSON AWARD – K.C. KEELER
Keeler joins Willie Fritz and Ron Randelman as Bearkat coaches to win the Southland Conference Coach of the Year honor on Tuesday. It is the first such honor for Keeler since taking over the Bearkats in 2014, leading them to the FCS playoffs in each of his three seasons.
This year the Kats finished the regular season 11-0 for just the second time in program history and held the No. 1 spot in the STATS FCS and NCAA Coaches’ polls for the final six weeks of the season. They will enter the FCS Playoffs as the No. 5 overall seed.
It was a milestone season for Keeler, who earned his 200th career win on Oct. 1 in a win in the Battle of the Piney Woods over Stephen F. Austin. He is now 207-86-1 in his 23rd year of coaching between stops at Rowan, Delaware and Sam Houston and is the ninth-fastest coach to reach the 200-win mark in the history of college football.
This season is the 13th 10-win season in his career and gives him a 33-9 record as the Bearkat head man, including 23-3 in Southland Conference play.
WALTER PAYTON AWARD – JEREMIAH BRISCOE
Briscoe has directed the Bearkat offense to a record-setting season in 2016 and enters the playoffs having already set a new Southland Conference single-season record with 52 touchdown passes, smashing the former record of 48 that had been held by Stephen F. Austin’s Todd Hammel since 1989.
Those 52 scores are a dozen more than anyone else in the country and are just four shy of the FCS national record of 56, set by Mississippi Valley State’s Willie Totten in 1984 and tied by Grambling’s Bruce Eugene in 2005. Briscoe is just the fifth player in FCS history with 50 touchdowns in a season, along with Totten, Eugene, Eastern Washington’s Vernon Adams and Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo.
It is the sixth time since Sam Houston joined the Southland that it has captured a Player of the Year honor with Briscoe being the first since Timothy Flanders did so in both the 2011 and 2012 seasons. He currently leads all of FCS in touchdown passes (52), passing yards (4,096), passing yards per game (372.4) and pass efficiency (187.0).
Briscoe was named to the Walter Payton Award watch list earlier in the season and has posted five games with at least 400 passing yards in addition to throwing for at least five touchdowns in six of 11 games, including each of the last four games of the regular season. He now owns each of the top four single-game touchdown marks at Sam Houston, all coming this year with the previous record being just five, and had two games – vs SFA, vs UCA – with seven touchdown passes.
Since the 2013, FCS quarterbacks had only had a combined five games with seven touchdown passes with Briscoe now being the first quarterback since UT Martin’s Derek Carr in 2012 having done it multiple times in a season.
He has done most of his work early on in games, having rarely taken snaps in the fourth quarter. In fact, of his 419 passes attempted this season, only 116 have come in the second half (27.6 percent) and 40 (9.5 percent) in the fourth quarter.
The junior has also spread the ball around this season, throwing his 52 touchdowns to 13 different receivers. His top trio of targets – Yedidiah Louis, Davion Davis and Nathan Stewart – have a combined 31 touchdowns between them with each player approaching 1,000 yards for the season. Should those three each make it to 1,000 yards in 2016, Sam Houston would join the 2013 and 2014 Fordham teams as the only three teams to ever have three 1,000-yard receivers on its roster in a single season.
BUCK BUCHANAN AWARD – P.J. HALL
Hall is the third Bearkat to take the Southland’s Defensive Player of the Year award, joining Darnell Taylor (2011 and 2012) and Keith Davis (2000).
The dominant Bearkat junior defensive end leads the Southland with 21 tackles for loss and three fumble recoveries this season and his 9.5 sacks ranks second. Hall has been named the league’s defensive player of the week twice and earned national player of the week honors after his efforts in a win at Lamar.
Hall is on the Buck Buchanan Award watch list (national defensive player of the year) and has picked up at least one tackle behind the line of scrimmage in eight games in 2016, including three games with at least 4.5. He tied the Sam Houston school record in the Kats’ win over McNeese, picking up four sacks and forcing a fumble against the Cowboys. His four sacks against McNeese is currently tied for the most sacks in a single game in the FCS this season.
He currently ranks fourth among active FCS player in TFLs per game and his 29.5 career sacks rank him fourth among all players in the FCS.
JERRY RICE AWARD – NATHAN STEWART
Stewart burst on to the scene with five catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns in the Battle of the Piney Woods and has been one of Sam Houston’s top offensive threats ever since. He is the fifth Bearkat to win the league’s Freshman of the Year honor and first since Hall did so from the defensive side in 2014.
The freshman from Dallas currently ranks second in the Southland, only behind Louis, with 47 catches and 903 receiving yards and his tied with him with 11 touchdown catches. His yardage and touchdown totals lead all freshmen nationally, while his 19.2 yards per catch ranks 10th in the nation among all players.
With 97 more yards, Stewart will become the first Bearkat freshman in school history to pick up 1,000 yards in a season and just the third freshman nationally since 2013 to reach the millennium mark.
Stewart landed on the Jerry Rice Award watch list (national freshman of the year) after a record-setting week against McNese on Nov. 5 in Huntsville. The freshman receiver hauled in a career-best 12 passes for a Southland Conference record 268 yards to go with three touchdowns against the Cowboys. In addition to being added to the Payton, Stewart was also named STATS FCS national player of the week for his efforts.
That mark still stands as the second-highest receiving total by an FCS player this year, with only Eastern Washington’s Cooper Kupp’s 274 yards against UC Davis topping it.