Nichols Regains Offensive Player of the Year Honor

Payton Award candidate is one of five first team selections as 12 Eagles are honored on the All-Big Sky Conference team 

Offensive Player of the Year
16 - Matt Nichols - QB - 6-3 - 220 - Sr. - Cottonwood, Calif. (West Valley HS '05) 

First Team
16 - Matt Nichols - QB - 6-3 - 220 - Sr. - Cottonwood, Calif. (West Valley HS '05)
4 - J.C. Sherritt - OLB - 5-10 - 220 - Jr. - Pullman, Wash. (Pullman HS '06)
22 - Taiwan Jones - RB - 6-1 - 200 - So. - Antioch, Calif. (Deer Valley HS '07)
19 - Nathan Overbay - TE - 6-5 - 270 - Sr. - Chehalis, Wash. (W.F. West HS '05)
98 - Renard Williams - DT - 6-2 - 300 - So. - Port Orchard, Wash. (South Kitsap HS '07) 

Second Team
20 - Tony Davis - WR - 5-9 - 185 - Sr. - Olympia, Wash. (Capital HS '05)
9 - Aaron Boyce - WR - 6-3 - 210 - Sr. - Kent, Wash. (Kentwood HS '05) 

Honorable Mention
78 - Chris Powers - OC - 6-2 - 270 - So. - Black Diamond, Wash. (Tahoma HS '07)
70 - Ryan Forney - OG - 6-3 - 295 - Sr. - Silverdale, Wash. (Central Kitsap HS '05)
71 - Chris Thomas - OT - 6-5 - 300 - Sr. - Sumner, Wash. (Sumner HS '05)
99 - Jacob Kragt - DE - 6-3 - 235 - Sr. - Ritzville, Wash. (Ritzville HS '05)
15 - Kevin Hatch - S - 5-9 - 180 - Sr. - Spokane, Wash. (Freeman HS '05)
10 - Matt Johnson - S - 6-1 - 205 - So. - Tumwater, Wash. (Tumwater HS '07)
27 - Makai Borden - OLB - 5-11 - 215 - Sr. - Puyallup, Wash. (Puyallup HS '05)

Honorable mention just didn't seem right.

Sensational Eastern Washington University senior quarterback Matt Nichols took back the award he won as a sophomore in 2007 as he was selected by Big Sky Conference head coaches as the league's Offensive Player of the Year, the Big Sky announced Tuesday (Nov. 24).

Nichols joined tight end Nathan Overbay, running back Taiwan Jones, outside linebacker J.C. Sherritt and defensive tackle Renard Williams on the first team. Nichols and Sherritt are on the voting list for the Walter Payton Award (offense) and the Buck Buchanan Award (defense), respectively, given to the top players in FCS football.

Wide receivers Aaron Boyce and Tony Davis were selected to the second team, and seven Eagles earned honorable mention -- offensive tackle Chris Thomas, offensive guard Ryan Forney, center Chris Powers, defensive end Jacob Kragt, outside linebacker Makai Borden and safeties Kevin Hatch and Matt Johnson.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Nichols closed the season with a flurry as Eastern won its last four games to finish the regular season 8-3 and earn a berth in the NCAA Championship Subdivision Playoffs. He won the league's top offensive award and was a first team selection in 2007 when EWU also advanced to the playoffs. But last year he was just an honorable mention pick as EWU finished 6-5.

So far this season, Nichols has thrown for 3,369 yards and 30 touchdowns, and has completed 67 percent of his passes to give him a passing efficiency rating of 164.1 to rank fourth in FCS (as a team, Eastern leads the nation in efficiency at 161.59). He is fifth in total offense (314.0 per game) and fourth in passing offense (306.3).

Nichols has just five interceptions, and had a streak of 151 attempts without a pick ended against Weber State on Oct. 10. He hasn't had an interception since then as his current interception-less streak stands at 207. In his last five games alone, Nichols has completed 68 percent of his passes for an average of 368.0 yards per game (1,840 total), 20 touchdowns, no interceptions and a passing efficiency rating of 183.0.

Nichols has 12,155 passing yards in his career to move into seventh in FCS history and needs just 53 yards this week at Stephen F. Austin to break the career passing record in the 46-year-old Big Sky Conference. He already owns the league's total offense record and ranks sixth nationally with 12,830 career yards.

Overbay has 12 touchdown receptions this year to equal the fourth-most in school history and easily the most by a tight end all-time at EWU. With 43 catches (the most ever for an EWU tight end) for 488 yards this season, he is averaging a TD every 3.6 catches in his 42-game career. In his career, he has caught 85 passes for 1,089 yards and a school record for a tight end with 18 touchdown receptions (ninth overall). He earned honorable mention honors last season.

Just a sophomore, Jones recorded the 14th 1,000-yard performance for an Eastern running back in a single season, and his current total of 1,095 ranks as the 10th-most in school history. He has had five 100-yard rushing performances this season, and five times he has had at least 222 all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving, returns).

Jones is averaging a lofty 7.4 yards per rush in an average of 13.4 carries per game and is averaging a touchdown every 11.5 times he touches the ball. Jones has 2,145 all-purpose yards and 18 touchdowns in 206 total touches for averages of 195.0 yards per game and 10.4 per touch. His average of 99.5 yards rushing is third in the Big Sky and ranks 11th in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, and he is also fourth nationally in scoring (9.82 per game) and second nationally in all-purpose yards per game (195.0).

Sherritt remains the leader in FCS statistics with an average of 14.0 tackles per game. He has a total of 154 stops this season to break the school record of 151 set by Greg Belzer in 2000. A school-record 24 tackles versus Weber State on Oct. 10, 17 more against Montana on Oct. 17 and 18 against Montana State on Oct. 24 helped move him into the national lead. Besides his 154 tackles, Sherritt has 14 tackles for loss, four passes broken up, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and an interception in 11 games this season. He earned honorable mention honors last season.

Williams is also just a sophomore, and closed the regular season with 29 tackles, with 7 1/2 sacks, 13 total tackles for loss and five quarterback hurries.

Boyce, although he played just seven games before suffering a season-ending Achilles tendon injury, had 39 catches for 634 yards and six touchdowns. He finished his career second in school history with 222 receptions, 3,330 reception yards and 29 touchdown catches. Boyce was also a second team selection last season and earned first team honors as a sophomore.

Davis finished the regular season with 67 receptions for 833 yards and a touchdown, and he now ranks third in school history with 203 career receptions and 2,451 career yards to rank fifth. Davis earned honorable mention honors last season.

Thomas, Forney and Powers helped block for an Eagle offense ranked in the top 10 in FCS in three offensive categories, including passing (4th, 308.6), total offense (4th, 450.1) and scoring (9th, 33.7). In addition, the Eagles lead FCS in passing efficiency (161.59), completing 66 percent of their passes for 30 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Thomas also earned honorable mention honors last season.

Kragt started all 11 games this season at defensive end, and has 24 total tackles this season with 4 1/2 sacks, three fumble recoveries and six quarterback hurries. He has started 12 career games, and has 67 total tackles with six sacks in his 43-game Eagle career.

Hatch has 57 tackles, three interceptions and seven passes broken up as a senior. He now has eight interceptions in his career, and needs just one more to join six other former Eagles with nine to rank 10th on EWU's leaders list.  Hatch also has 207 career tackles to rank 23rd all-time at EWU.

Johnson also earned honorable mention honors as a freshman last season, and has 92 tackles, six interceptions, four passes broken up and three forced fumbles as a sophomore. He already has 10 career interceptions to rank eighth in school history, including four on Oct. 31 versus Portland State to tie the Big Sky Conference record shared by two other players. As a result, he was selected as the Sports Network National Defensive Player of the Week, a College Sporting News National All-Star and was the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week after leading Eastern to a commanding 33-4 halftime lead.

Borden has tallied 77 tackles this season in 10 games, but his mere presence on the field has been important the past three seasons for the Eagles. Eastern is now 20-7 in the last two-plus seasons (2007-09) with Borden in the starting lineup and 3-5 without him in it. He has 200 tackles (27th in school history), four interceptions (including an 85-yard return for a touchdown on Nov. 21 against Northern Arizona) and six passes broken up in 40 career games, and EWU is 21-9 in his 30 games as a starter. He earned honorable mention honors the last two seasons.


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