In the FCS Huddle: Year of the defensive ends

Philadelphia, PA ( - Buck Buchanan Award voters sure love their defensive ends.

The last two national defensive players of the year in the FCS, five of the last seven and eight of 19 overall have come from the pass rushing position that combines athleticism, power and speed.

It won't be surprising if another defensive end wins the Buchanan when the award celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

Quarterback may be the most important position in football, but there likely isn't a more talented position in the FCS than defensive end. The list of standouts is ridiculously deep, including NFL prospects for 2015.

Three defensive ends return from being finalists for the 2013 Buchanan Award: Gardner-Webb's Shaquille Riddick (6-foot-7, 240 pounds), who finished fifth in the voting; UT-Chattanooga's Davis Tull (6-3, 240), who was 13th; and Harvard's Zach Hodges (6-3, 235), who was 16th. Tull has already won two Southern Conference defensive player of the year awards, while Hodges took top honors in the Ivy League last year. All Riddick did was rack up 19 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and 17 QB hurries.

Trying to pick just two of the three as preseason All-American first-team selections sets up a debate that really has no end.

Most of the FCS conferences have a true stud player returning at defensive end. Some have multiple standouts, like the Big Sky, which boasts Montana's Zack Wagenmann (6-3, 250), Cal Poly's Jake Irwin (6-4, 240) and Southern Utah's James Cowser (6-4, 244), who is just a junior.

Montana's 2013 Buchanan Award finalist, linebacker Jordan Tripp, has passed the Grizzlies' No. 37 legacy jersey on to Wagenmann, who has racked up 29.5 tackles for loss and 20 sacks over the last two seasons.

Across the country from the Big Sky, CAA Football offers up William & Mary's Mike Reilly (6-4, 265) and Towson's Ryan Delaire (6-4, 250). Reilly was part of one of the best defenses in the FCS last season, while Delaire was a first- year transfer to Towson from Massachusetts, and helped the Tigers reach the FCS national championship game.

Few FCS defensive ends come bigger than Central Arkansas junior Jonathan Woodard (6-6, 271), who has earned All-Southland first-team honors in both of his first two seasons. He's joined out of the Southland by McNeese State defensive leader Everett Ellefsen (6-3, 230).

Out of the Big South, there's Riddick and Liberty's Chima Uzowihe (6-2, 240), who's a junior. Meanwhile, the Missouri Valley Football Conference boasts Indiana State's Connor Underwood (6-3, 230) and North Dakota State's Kyle Emanuel (6-3, 246). The latter has been a member of three straight FCS national championship squads at NDSU.

There's also big-time D-ends in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with South Carolina State's Andrew Carter (6-1, 240), Bethune-Cookman's athletic LeBrandon Richardson (6-2, 255) and Howard junior Damon Gresham-Chisholm (6-3, 250). Norfolk State's Lynden Trail is another standout in the MEAC who generally plays linebacker, but he can convert to defensive end and is a pro prospect for 2015.

Tennessee State's Anthony Bass (6-2, 230) was the Ohio Valley Conference's 2013 defensive player of the year, the Southern Conference has undersized playmaker Tarek Odom (5-10, 258) of Wofford and the Southwestern Athletic Conference boasts Jackson State's Javancy Jones (6-2, 230), who is coming off a banner freshman campaign.

It's one of the deeper returning crops of defensive ends in quite some time.