Pair of Eagles are candidates for the award won last year by record-breaking linebacker J.C. Sherritt
Perhaps J.C. Sherritt can pass along his award to one of his former teammates.
Eastern Washington University safety Matt Johnson and defensive tackle Renard Williams are on the 20-player preseason watch list for the 2011 Buck Buchanan Award given by The Sports Network to the top defensive player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Sponsored by Fathead.com, the Buchanan Award was won last year by Sherritt, and two years before that by his former Eagle teammate and current Edmonton Eskimos teammate, Greg Peach.
The Buchanan Award is in its 17th season and will be presented at TSN’s national awards banquet on Jan. 5 in Frisco, Texas, on the eve of the FCS Championship Game won last year by EWU. A week ago, Eagle quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell and wide receiver Brandon Kaufman were selected to the preseason watch list for the Walter Payton Award given to the outstanding player in FCS.
Johnson, a 6-foot-2, 220-pounder who graduated from Tumwater (Wash.) High School in 2007, enters the 2011 season with the most starting experience on EWU’s entire roster with 38 career starts. He has 289 tackles, 15 interceptions and 13 passes broken up in his career, including 106 tackles, five interceptions and eight passes broken up in 2010.
A year ago, Johnson was selected to the College Sporting News “Sweet 63” All-America Team, and was a second-team selection on the Phil Steele Publications All-America squad and a third-team pick on The Sports Network’s A-A team. He also earned first-team All-Big Sky Conference honors after starting all 15 Eastern games at safety.
“Matt has played the most football back there and we expect great things from him as a senior,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “He should get votes for team captain and we expect a lot from him from a leadership standpoint.”
Matt and his twin brother, Zach Johnson, have started every game they have played in their careers, with Matt up to a team-leading 38 and Zach now with 25. Matt now ranks fourth in school history in interceptions with 15, and he is just three interceptions away from the school record of 18 set by Mike Richter from 1971-75. He is second in interception return yards with 210, just 19 behind the record of 219 set by Schulz. His five forced fumbles in his career is currently tied with Williams for third in school history, just one behind the school record shared by two players.
Williams also earned All-America honors from College Sporting News in 2010 and is a two-time first team All-Big Sky Conference selection. He had 54 total tackles with 6 1/2 sacks and four forced fumbles, as a junior after finishing with 9 1/2 sacks as a sophomore.
“Renard has gifts that I’ve never seen at this level,” said Baldwin of the 6-2, 300-pound Williams, who is from Port Orchard, Wash., and graduated from South Kitsap High School in 2007. “We expect him to have the best year of his career as a senior.”
Featuring his signature celebratory salute following a big play he makes for Eastern, Williams now has 18 sacks in his career to rank 10th in school history. Constantly drawing double teams from opposing teams, he has 116 tackles in his 38-game career (29 as a starter), including 40 for losses totaling 204 yards.
The Buchanan Award Watch List will undergo revision during the 2011 season. Ballots will be sent to a panel of about 200 sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries after the regular season on Nov. 21.
The Sports Network also presents the Payton, Jerry Rice and Eddie Robinson awards which are sponsored by Fathead.com. The Payton Award (FCS outstanding player) and Robinson Award (FCS coach of the year) are celebrating their 25th anniversaries, while the Rice Award (FCS freshman of the year) is in its inaugural season.