Eagle quarterback was runner-up in 2013 for the award presented by The Sports Network, while Kupp ran away with the Jerry Rice Award given by TSN to the top freshman in FCS
Well-known already in The Sports Network postseason awards circles, junior quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. and sophomore Cooper Kupp are on the initial Watch List for the Walter Payton Award presented annually by TSN to the top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
Adams was the 2013 runner-up for the Payton Award while Kupp was a unanimous winner of the Jerry Rice Award given by TSN to the top freshman in FCS. They join a list of 20 players on the initial Watch List.
Adams finished with 446 votes last season, 130 behind the 576 of winner Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois, who was drafted in the second round by the New England Patriots in the 2014 NFL Draft (62nd pick overall). Adams was the only non-senior in the top four, with fifth-place finisher Michael Nebrich of Fordham finishing with 106 votes. Nebrich is on the initial Watch List as well.
Adams enters his senior season 20-4 as a starter, including a 15-1 record in Big Sky Conference games. The Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year last season, Adams has led EWU to back-to-back semifinal appearances in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs and a pair of league titles.
A year ago he passed for 4,994 yards and 55 touchdowns -- which both rank third all-time in an FCS season -- and rushed for 605 yards and four touchdowns for the Eagles. Formerly from Pasadena, Calif., his 5,559 yards of offense were the second-most in FCS history.
Kupp has averaged a touchdown reception for every 4.4 catches so far in his young career, with an average of 18.2 yards per catch and 11 receptions of 40 yards or more. He accounted for numerous school, conference and FCS records in 2013 with a sensational debut season of 93 catches for 1,691 yards and 21 touchdowns. Besides winning the Jerry Rice Award, the 2012 graduate of Davis High School in Yakima, Wash., was a first team selection on all nine FCS All-America teams and earned four other FCS Freshman of the Year accolades.
Both Adams and Kupp have already been named to four preseason All-America teams as first team selections (TSN, Lindy's, Sporting News, Athlon), as well as Watch Lists for awards presented by College Football Performance Awards. A year ago, Adams won the CFPA National Performer of the Year for FCS, and Kupp won that organization's FCS Wide Receiver Award.
The Eagles finished the 2013 season 12-3 and a perfect 8-0 in the Big Sky Conference for the first time in school history. Eastern opened the season with a 49-46 victory over 25th-ranked Oregon State, and went on to advance to the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs for the third time in four years.
Former Eagles Erik Meyer and Bo Levin Mitchell both won the Payton Award – Meyer in 2005 and Mitchell in 2011 – when both were senior quarterbacks for the Eagles. Matt Nichols (2009), Taiwan Jones (2010) and Jesse Chatman (2001) all finished fourth in the voting for the Payton Award in their final seasons as Eagles.
More About the Payton Award . . .
This year's winner will join a list of Payton Award greats such as former Eagles Erik Meyer (2005) and Bo Levi Mitchell (2011). Steve McNair, John Friesz, Brian Westbrook, Tony Romo, Brian Finneran and Armanti Edwards are among the other more notable winners.
The Walter Payton Award Watch List can undergo revision during the 2014 season. Ballots will be sent to a national panel of over 150 sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries following the regular season. The top three vote-getters will be invited to the presentation of the award.
The Sports Network also presents the Buck Buchanan, Jerry Rice and Eddie Robinson awards. The Buchanan Award honors the outstanding defensive player in the FCS, the Rice Award goes to the FCS freshman of the year and the Robinson Award honors the FCS coach of the year. The winners of those three awards, as well as the three Payton finalists, will be invited to the national banquet on Dec. 15, 2015.