If there is a common theme to linebackers Robert McCabe of Georgetown and Jordan Tripp of Montana and safety Cooper Taylor of Richmond, it's that they make their teammates better.
Whether they are being vocal or leading by example, they lift their teams to a higher level of play.
Their early season excellence has led to McCabe, Tripp and Taylor joining the Buck Buchanan Award Watch List on Wednesday for the 18th annual award which honors the outstanding defensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision.
This season's winner will join a list of Buchanan Award greats such as Dexter Coakley, Jared Allen, Rashean Mathis, Kroy Biermann and the 2011 recipient, New Hampshire linebacker Matt Evans, who is trying to win for the second season in a row.
McCabe, a 6-foot-2, 234-pound senior, ended September with an FCS-best 13.6 tackles per game, including double-digits in all five Georgetown games. The Patriot League's preseason defensive player of the year has 316 career tackles and is on pace to set the school record for a career. He had a career- high 17 tackles, with three for loss, to open the season against Davidson.
Tripp, a 6-3 1/2, 244-pound junior, is a third-generation Montana player and a Grizzlies linebacker like his father Bryan. Following a 2011 season which was cut short by a shoulder injury, Tripp has come back strong, averaging 10.2 tackles per game, including 5 1/2 for loss and two sacks.
Taylor, a 6-5, 235-pound senior, is the biggest of the three players despite being a safety. Richmond's second-year transfer from Georgia Tech punishes ball carriers with his size, but has the speed to fly around in the secondary. After missing the Spiders' season-opening game, Taylor has intercepted three passes in the last four games, scoring a touchdown on one return, while adding four pass breakups and 27 tackles.
Other nominees on the Watch List are nose tackle Brent Russell of Georgia Southern; defensive ends Willie Jefferson of Stephen F. Austin, Joseph LeBeau of Jackson State and Ben Obaseki of Indiana State; linebackers Evans, Clarence Bumpas of Northern Colorado, Wes Dothard of Chattanooga, Jeremy Kimbrough of Appalachian State, Blake Peiffer of Southeast Missouri State, Keith Pough of Howard, Derek Rose of Northwestern 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; and safeties Kejuan Riley of Alabama State and Darnell Taylor of Sam Houston State.
Bios of all 20 players can be found on the FCS Awards page at http://tinyurl.com/yhv6oh8.
The Buchanan Award will be voted on by a national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries following the regular season on Nov. 19.
The Sports Network also presents the Walter Payton, Jerry Rice and Eddie Robinson awards. The Payton Award honors the outstanding 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.
All four awards will be presented on Dec. 17 at the FCS Awards Banquet and Presentation in Philadelphia.