Sinisi broke into the ranks of the top running backs in FCS, setting school records with 1,674 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2008. He ended the campaign ranked third nationally with 152 rushing yards-per-game and was named a honorable mention All-American by the Sports Network and was also selected as the Northeast Conference offensive player of the year. Sinisi extended his FCS record for scoring in consecutive games to 22 during the 2008 season. He established a new Monmouth mark with nine 100-yard games. He had a career best 247 yards rushing, including four touchdowns, in a 42-15 win over St. Francis. Sinisi rushed for 1,184 yards, a 5.7 average and 17 touchdowns in 2007.
Sinisi set a single-game Monmouth and NEC record with six TDs in a 51-36 victory over Central Connecticut State in 2007. In his time with the Hawks, he has 3,612 yards rushing (first all-time at Monmouth) and 55 touchdowns. He also had 63 catches for 663 yards after his junior year. Sinisi finished 16th in Payton Award voting last season.
2008, Armanti Edwards, QB, Appalachian State -- Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards was named the 22nd winner of the Walter Payton Award. The 6-foot-tall, 184-pound junior signal-caller rushed for 941 yards and 11 touchdowns, while completing 64% of his passes for 2,902 yards and 30 touchdowns. He ranked second nationally in passing efficiency, seventh in total offense (296 yards per game, 3,843 total yards) and 11th in passing yards. Edwards, one of the team captains for the Mountaineers, saved his best games for the brightest spotlight. Facing South Carolina State in the first round of the 2008 playoffs, Edwards completed 29-of-41 passes for a school-record 433 yards and four touchdowns, breaking predecessor Richie Williams' mark of 413 in 2004 in a 37-21 win. Edwards finished first in one of the most lopsided Payton Award races in history with 53 first-place votes and 398 points. James Madison quarterback Rodney Landers was second with 17 first-place votes and 290 points, with Western Illinois running back Herb Donaldson placing third with 209 points.
2007, Jayson Foster, RB, Georgia Southern -- Georgia Southern quarterback Jayson Foster was named the 21st winner of the Walter Payton Award. Foster rushed for an NCAA all-divisions quarterback record of 1,844 yards (7.1 yards per carry) with 24 touchdowns during the 2007 season. The senior also completed 109-of-170 passes for 1,203 yards and six touchdowns. Foster is the second Georgia Southern player to win the Payton Award, joining 1999 honoree Adrian Peterson, and is the fourth Southern Conference player to be so honored, along with Peterson, 1992 winner Michael Payton of Marshall and 2000 recipient Louis Ivory of Furman. Foster received 24 first-place votes and 224 points out of 100 ballots cast by a panel of sports information directors and selected media. He finished 40 points ahead of Northern Iowa quarterback Eric Sanders, and 58 points in front of San Diego quarterback Josh Johnson. Foster has spent time on the practice squads of the NFL Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers. He is currently on the roster of the Baltimore Ravens.
2006, Ricky Santos, QB, New Hampshire -- Santos threw for 2,681 yards and 23 touchdowns and ran for 385 yards and 12 scores in the regular season, and directed a New Hampshire offense that threw for 249.6 yards per game and ranked third nationally with 36.5 ppg. Santos tossed only five interceptions all season, and led the Wildcats to the playoffs for the third consecutive season. Santos excelled in the first round of the postseason as well, as he threw for 318 yards and five touchdown passes to lead New Hampshire past Hampton, 41-38. Santos got off to a fast start with five total touchdowns to lead New Hampshire to a 34-17 victory at Northwestern. He also notched five passing touchdowns in a win against Dartmouth, and exploded with five total touchdowns and 391 yards of total offense to lead the Wildcats to a 52-49 victory in a shootout against Delaware. He helped the Wildcats to a 5-0 start and the No. 1 ranking in the country for the first half of the season. Santos recorded 458 yards of total offense and five total touchdowns in a 36-35 loss in overtime at Northeastern, and continued to play well even while the Wildcats lost three out of four games. With his team's playoff fate on the line, Santos once again notched five total touchdowns to lead the Wildcats past Rhode Island, 63-21, and scored a pair of rushing touchdowns to lift New Hampshire to a playoff spot with a 19-13 victory in overtime over Maine. As a junior, Santos completed the regular season with 9,796 passing yards, 93 touchdown passes and only 24 interceptions in his career, and then added six more touchdown passes in the playoffs. Santos spent time on the NFL Kansas City Chiefs roster and is currently in his second season with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.
2005, Erik Meyer, QB, Eastern Washington -- Meyer threw for 3,616 passing yards in the regular season, and directed an Eastern Washington offense that finished second nationally in passing yardage (337.6 ypg) and third in total offense (477.7 ypg). Meyer threw for 26 touchdowns and five interceptions, and added four touchdowns in a playoff loss to Northern Iowa to finish with a 169.3 passer rating. That rating helped Meyer finish with a 166.47 career passer rating, which broke the FCS record of 166.27 set by 1995 Payton Award winner Dave Dickenson. Meyer also helped the Eagles earn the Big Sky's automatic berth to the playoffs. Meyer performed well throughout the season and led the Eagles to at least 23 points in every contest. Meyer threw for more than 300 yards in the first three games of the season, though the Eagles started 1-2. After wins against Northern Arizona and Portland State, Meyer made his defining mark on the season at Montana. Meyer put on a near-flawless show with a 28-for-40, 395-yard, five-touchdown effort in a 34-20 win. In a must-win game, Meyer orchestrated a 35-14 win against Montana State (254 total yards, 2 TD) that put the Eagles in position to claim a share of the Big Sky title. Meyer finished with a gaudy 9,874 yards passing, 80 touchdowns and only 17 interceptions in his career. Meyer spent time in training camps of the NFL Cincinnati Bengals, Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders. Meyer played briefly with the Cologne Centurions in NFL Europe (2007) and was on the practice squad of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2009) of the CFL.
2004, Lang Campbell, QB, William & Mary -- Campbell led William & Mary to its first-ever semifinal appearance and a share of the Atlantic 10 title. He finished the regular season with just one interception, and threw for a school-record 3,988 yards and 30 touchdowns for the year. Campbell also ran for 317 yards and seven touchdowns and totaled 307.5 yards of total offense per game. He came up huge in critical Tribe games at the end of the season and into the playoffs. Campbell led the Tribe to wins in their final four regular season games, with a 26-of-33, 323-yard, two-touchdown effort in a 27-24 win at James Madison to help the Tribe claim a share of the A-10 title. In the quarterfinals, Campbell led the Tribe back from a 31-10 fourth-quarter deficit against Delaware. He threw for 342 yards and three touchdowns in the contest. Campbell is the fourth Walter Payton Award winner from the Atlantic 10, but the first-ever quarterback. Campbell spent time in training camps of the NFL Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons. He also played with the Berlin Thunder (2006) of NFL Europe. He played one season with the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena League Football.
2003, Jamaal Branch, RB, Colgate -- Branch set FCS records with 2,326 yards rushing and 29 rushing touchdowns to lead Colgate to a Patriot League title, 15-1 overall record, and the school's first appearance in the national championship game. Branch had a record-setting 12 games of over 100 yards rushing, and broke the 200-yard barrier on four occasions. He posted a season and career high 280 yards on the ground and three touchdowns in a win against Holy Cross. Branch led all of Division I with 168.8 rushing yards and 12.5 points per game during the 2003 regular season. In the semifinals against Florida Atlantic, Branch ran 45 times for 130 yards and a score to lift Colgate to a 36-24 win. Branch became the second Colgate player to win the Payton Award, and the first since Kenny Gamble won the first-ever Payton Award in 1987. Branch played for the NFL New Orleans Saints in 2006-07. After signing with the Saints on December 29, 2006, Branch scored his first NFL touchdown just two days later.
2002, Tony Romo, QB, Eastern Illinois --Romo passed for 2,950 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2002, completing 237 of 363 passes (65.3 percent) in leading Eastern Illinois to an 8-3 record, the Ohio Valley Conference co-title, and a FCS playoff berth. He headed one of the most prolific offenses in the nation during the 2002 season, as the Panthers averaged 37.7 points per game despite the presence of two I-A opponents and no sub-FCS competition on their '02 slate. The Burlington, WI native finished his career with 84 touchdown passes, shattering the previous school mark of 75 held by current New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton. Romo was signed as a free agent by the Cowboys following his senior season. Romo is now playing quarterback in his seventh season with the Dallas Cowboys and has thrown for over 10,500 yards with 81 touchdowns. Romo has been a starter since the 2006 season.
2001, Brian Westbrook, RB, Villanova -- Westbrook concluded an incredible collegiate career with a brilliant senior season that included 1,603 rushing yards, 59 receptions, and 29 touchdowns for the Atlantic 10 quad-champions. Westbrook became the second Villanova player to win the Payton, and the program joined Idaho as the only schools with two winners of the Award. The Fort Washington, MD native led FCS with 2,823 all-purpose yards, just two years removed from major knee surgery that forced him to miss the 1999 season. Westbrook's 9,512 all-purpose yards are an NCAA all-divisions record, and his single-season all-purpose yard figures in 1998, 2000, and 2001 are the three-best totals in FCS history. Westbrook was selected in the third round of the 2002 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, and is currently in his eighth pro season. Westbrook was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2004 and 2007 and has scored 64 touchdowns, while rushing and receiving for over 9,300 yards.
2000, Louis Ivory, RB, Furman -- Ivory had a breakthrough season in 2000, amassing 2,079 regular season yards and 16 touchdowns to become the second straight Southern Conference underclassman to claim the Payton. The Fort Valley, GA native went over the 100-yard plateau 11 times during the season, leading Furman to a Southern Conference co-title and second consecutive playoff berth. Ivory may have sealed the Payton with a 301-yard, three-touchdown effort in a 45-10 victory over reigning (and eventual) national champion Georgia Southern. Ivory's heroics continued in the postseason, as he accumulated 172-yards and two-touchdowns in a first round playoff loss to Hofstra. For his career, Ivory rushed for 5,353 yards and 53 touchdowns, averaging 6.3 yards per carry. Ivory, who had his number 34 retired by Furman, holds nearly every Paladin career rushing record.
1999, Adrian Peterson, RB, Georgia Southern -- Peterson became the first Southern Conference player to win the Payton since Marshall's Michael Payton in 1992, and like his SoCon predecessor, led his team to a FCS National Championship. In only his sophomore season, the fullback put up eye-popping totals of 2,704 yards and 40 touchdowns, rushing for over 100 yards in all 15 games for the Eagles. Peterson bolted for 247 yards and three touchdowns on just 25 carries in a 59-24 championship game win over Youngstown State. The Alachua, FL native picked up 9,161 yards, 114 touchdowns, and two national titles in his career, and graduated as the NCAA FCS all-time leader with 6,559 regular season rushing yards. Peterson is well known for "The Run," in which he broke numerous tackles en route to a 58-yard gain during the 1999 Championship game victory against Youngstown State. Peterson was selected in the sixth round of the 2002 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears, and is currently in his eighth pro season. His finest NFL season was in 2007, when he caught 51 passes for 420 yards and rushed for 510 yards with three scores.
1998, Jerry Azumah, RB, New Hampshire --The second straight player from an Atlantic 10 school to win the Payton Award, Azumah was also the first honoree from a team with a losing record. The senior's 2,195 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns were both school records, but were not enough to help the Wildcats avoid a 4-7 mark. One of UNH's seven losses was typical of the team's season, as Azumah rambled for 329 yards but the Wildcats lost to Hofstra, 41-38. For his career, the talented Worcester, MA native rushed for 6,193 yards and 60 touchdowns, and 418 points, graduating as the all-time FCS leader in each category. Azumah was drafted in the fifth round of the 1999 NFL draft by the Chicago Bears, and was selected to his first Pro Bowl as a return specialist in 2003. During his first year with the Bears, Azumah was awarded the "Brian Piccolo Award" by his teammates. He enjoyed seven successful seasons at defensive back and return specialist for the Bears.
1997, Brian Finneran, WR, Villanova -- The first-ever receiver to win the Payton, Finneran caught 96 passes for 1,389 yards and 19 touchdowns, and led the Wildcats to an undefeated regular season, Atlantic 10 title and NCAA playoff berth. Finneran's 17 regular-season touchdowns rank fourth in FCS history, with NFL standouts Jerry Rice and Randy Moss among those listed ahead of Finneran on the list. The native Californian remains atop the Villanova career charts for receptions (265), yards (3,872), and touchdown catches (34). The senior finished his storied VU tenure with a 16-catch, 180-yard performance in a playoff loss to eventual national champion Youngstown State and had his number 25 jersey retired by Villanova in 2003. Following graduation, Finneran spent time on the practice squad of the NFL Seattle Seahawks and played three games with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999 before signing with the Atlanta Falcons. Finneran is currently in his 10th year in the NFL and eighth as a member of the Falcons. In his career, Finneran has caught 208 passes for 2,816 yards and 16 touchdowns.
1996, Archie Amerson, RB, Northern Arizona -- Amerson became the fifth Big Sky player in a 10-year span to win the Payton Award, but was the first-ever non-quarterback from the conference to be selected. The senior rushed for a league-leading 2,079 yards and 25 touchdowns in 1996, leading the Lumberjacks to a 9-3 record and their first-ever FCS playoff appearance. The running back went over the 200-yard plateau six times during the season, and set a FCS record with seven touchdowns in a 59-45 win over Weber State. Amerson's 2,429 all-purpose yards set a FCS record, and is still in the single-season Top 10. In his two-year NAU career, Amerson rushed for 3,196 yards and scored 228 points. Amerson enjoyed a successful, eight-year career in the Canadian Football League with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. As a slotback, Amerson caught 436 passes for 6,298 yards and 37 receiving touchdowns and rushed for an additional 1,654 yards with eight scores in his career. He amassed over 9,000 all-purpose yards in the CFL.
1995, Dave Dickenson, QB, Montana -- Dickenson became the fourth Big Sky quarterback to win the Payton Award in its nine-year history, and was the second Payton winner to lead his team to a FCS national championship. The senior threw for a nation-leading 4,176 yards and 38 touchdowns, with the former mark still ranking atop Big Sky Conference annals. The Grizzlies defeated Marshall, 22-20, to win their first-ever FCS title. For his career, Dickenson tossed for 11,080 yards and 96 scores, and ranks in the Top 5 in FCS history in career passing efficiency (166.3). The Great Falls, MT native enjoyed a successful 11-year professional career in Canada, starring for the Calgary Stampeders and B.C. Lions of the CFL. Dickinson played in 140 CFL regular-season games and 14 additional post-season contests. He holds CFL records for highest single-season completion percentage (73.98 in 2005), highest quarterback rating in a single season (118.8 in 2005) and all-time highest completion percentage (67.5). Named the CFL's Most Outstanding Player in 2000 and Grey Cup MVP in 2006. Spent 2001-02 on the rosters of the NFL's San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions before returning to the CFL. Dickinson, who retired from football in February, 2009, is currenty an offensive assistant coach with Calgary.
1994, Steve McNair, QB, Alcorn State University -- Perhaps the most storied Payton winner to date, McNair set the college football world alight during the 1994 season. The Mt. Olive, MS native completed 356 of 612 passes for 5,377 yards and 47 touchdown passes, and led Alcorn State to a SWAC title and NCAA FCS playoff berth. McNair graduated with 14,496 career passing yards, 119 touchdowns and 16,283 career yards of total offense. Besides winning the Payton Award, McNair finished third in balloting for the Heisman Trophy, behind Colorado's Rashaan Salaam and Penn State's Ki-Jana Carter. Drafted third overall by the NFL's Houston Oilers in 1995, "Air McNair," as he was called during his collegiate days due to his passing prowess, had a successful professional career with the Oilers/ Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens. In his 13-year NFL career, McNair passed for over 31,000 yards and 174 touchdowns, completing over 60-percent of his passes. He was a three-time Pro Bowl player (2000, 2003, 2005) and played in Super Bowl XXXIV with the Titans. He tragically passed away July 4, 2009.
1993, Doug Nussmeier, QB, University of Idaho -- Nussmeier became the third Big Sky Conference quarterback to claim the Payton Award, and the second from the University of Idaho. The southpaw threw for 2,960 yards and 33 touchdown passes in 1993, leading the Vandals to the NCAA FCS semifinals. Nussmeier's 175.2 passing efficiency during the 1993 season still ranks atop Idaho annals. The Lake Oswego, OR native's career passing mark of 12,054 yards is among the top 10 in FCS history. Nussmeier was selected in the fourth round of the 1994 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints, and played for the Saints, Indianapolis Colts, and CFL British Columbia Lions during his pro career. Following his playing days, Nussmeier served as quarterback coach for the BC Lions and Ottawa Renegades of the CFL, before moving on to Michigan State University as an assistant coach. For two seasons, Nussmeier was the quarterbacks coach with the NFL St. Louis Rams (2006-07) before moving on to Fresno State University as offensive coordinator. Nussmeier is currently the quarterbacks coach at the University of Washington.
1992, Michael Payton, QB, Marshall University -- Payton was the first-ever Southern Conference player to win the Walter Payton Award, and was also the first-ever Payton winner to claim a FCS championship the same year. Payton threw for 3,610 yards and 31 TDs for the Thundering Herd, winning SoCon Player of the Year honors for the second straight season. Among the quarterback's prime targets was current NFL standout Troy Brown, who was on the receiving end of 101 completions, 1,654 yards, and 16 touchdowns in 1992. Payton's top accomplishment, however, was leading the Herd to their first-ever national title, defeating Youngstown State, 31-28, in the 1992 championship game. For his career, Payton threw for 8,900 yards and 66 touchdowns and still holds the FCS record for most yards passing in a half when he threw for 383 yards in the first half of a game versus VMI in 1991. Payton went on to play professionally with the Florida Bobcats of the Arena Football League.
1991, Jamie Martin, QB, Weber State -- Martin was the second quarterback and Big Sky player to bring home the Payton Award, and was also the first player to claim the honor during his junior season. The signal-caller threw for 4,125 yards and 37 touchdowns during the 1991 campaign, leading the Wildcats to an 8-4 mark and a berth in the FCS playoffs. Martin's 643-yard, four-touchdown effort in a 60-41 win over Idaho State helped seal the Payton, and the single-game yardage total still stands as a FCS record. Martin's career total offense mark of 12,287 yards ranks fifth in FCS history. Martin played 16 seasons in the NFL with L.A./St. Louis Rams, Washington Redskins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, New York Jets, New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers.
1990, Walter Dean, RB, Grambling State -- Dean was the first player from the Southwestern Athletic Conference to win the Payton Award, bringing the trophy home to the league of former Jackson State standout Walter Payton himself. Dean's FCS-best 1,401 rushing yards in 1990 were the most ever by a Grambling senior, and his 17 touchdowns gave the tailback a two-year total of 35. Dean led the Tigers to an 8-3 record during the 1990 campaign, including a 25-13 victory over Southern in the storied Bayou Classic. The standout rusher compiled 3,328 yards and 41 touchdowns for his career, marks that still rank among the best in Grambling's storied history. Following his magical collegiate career, Dean was selected by the Green Bay Packers in the sixth round of the NFL Draft and played one season professionally.
1989, John Friesz, QB, University of Idaho -- The first quarterback to claim the Payton Award, Friesz threw for 4,041 yards and 31 touchdowns in leading his Vandals to the 1989 Big Sky title and a berth in the FCS playoffs. The Idaho native threw for an incredible 367.4 yards per game, went over the 300-yard mark 10 straight times, and at one stretch completed 173 consecutive passes without an interception. The signal-caller's 10,187 career passing yards still rank in the NCAA Top 15, and his 305.6 career per game average is the best mark in school history. Friesz was selected in the sixth round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers, and enjoyed an 11-year pro career with the Chargers, Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks, and New England Patriots. For his career in the NFL, Friesz threw for 8,699 yards and 45 touchdowns. In 2006, Friesz was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and had his number 17 jersey retired by the University of Idaho.
1988, Dave Meggett, RB, Towson -- Meggett scored four touchdowns in Towson's 45-34 season-opening win over Northeastern and never looked back, piling up 1,612 all-purpose yards en route to the 1988 Payton Award. The Tigers' 5-5 record was their first-ever .500 mark at the FCS level. In just two seasons at Towson following his transfer from Morgan State (where he was a defensive back), the multi-talented Meggett rushed for 1,658 yards, had 788 receiving yards, amassed 957 return yards, and scored 30 touchdowns in only 18 games. The All-American's 189.1 per game all-purpose average still ranks in the FCS career Top 10. Meggett was a fifth round draft choice of the NFL New York Giants in 1989, and played 10 pro seasons with the Giants, New England Patriots, and New York Jets. During his career, Meggett was a two-time Pro Bowl selection (1989, 1996) and scored eight special teams touchdowns. Meggett ranks second in NFL history with 3,708 punt return yards. Meggett gained 14,005 all-purpose yards and scored 29 touchdowns.
1987, Kenny Gamble, RB, Colgate -- Gamble concluded an outstanding collegiate career by rushing for 1,411 yards and 11 touchdowns in 1987, and was the inaugural recipient of the Walter Payton Award. Gamble led the Red Raiders to a 7-4 season, a mark that included losses to FBS opponents Duke and Syracuse. For his career, the tailback bolted for 5,220 yards and 55 touchdowns, rushing for more than 200 yards in a game six times and more than 100 yards 29 times during his tenure. The 55 touchdowns were an all-time FCS best, and Gamble's 342 career points still rank in the division's Top 10. Gamble was selected in the 10th round of the 1988 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs, and played parts of three seasons with the Chiefs. In August of 2002, the three-time All-American was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
2008, Greg Peach, DE, Eastern Washington -- Eastern Washington defensive end Greg Peach was named the 14th winner of the Buck Buchanan Award. Peach led FCS in sacks (1.64 per game, 18 total for 103 yards in losses) and tackles for loss (2.05 per game, 22.5 total, 133 yards) in 2008, recording six multi-sack games and 72 tackles along the way. The campaign included an eye-opening four-sack effort against perennial FCS stalwart Montana on Oct. 11. Peach was just one sack away from the Big Sky Conference single-season record, owned by Montana's Andy Petak with 19, and finished fifth-best in FCS history. He is second in the Big Sky and fourth in FCS for career sacks with 35.5, finishing just three sacks behind Jared Allen of Idaho State, the 2003 Buchanan Award winner and now an NFL standout. Peach also owns school standards for single-season and career sacks, as well as tackles for loss marks for a season and a career. Peach won by the largest margin in Buchanan Award history, earning 39 first-place votes and 313 points to finish 107 points ahead of runner-up Jovan Belcher, a defensive end from Maine. Belcher had 15 first-place votes and 206 points, while Appalachian State safety Mark LeGree placed third with 183 points. Peach is currently in his first season with the CFL Edmonton Eskimos.
2007, Kroy Biermann, DE, Montana -- Montana defensive end Kroy Biermann was named the 13th winner of the Buck Buchanan Award. Biermann finished second nationally with 16 sacks, and was 24th with 18.5 tackles for loss. He had 70 total tackles, 34 solo stops, five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, two blocked kicks and one pass break-up. The Hardin, MT native finished his career with 33 sacks, 46 tackles for loss, nine forced fumbles, and seven fumble recoveries for a team that went 43-10 and won a share of four consecutive Big Sky titles during his time with the program. Biermann received 35 first-place votes and 305 points to edge Appalachian State free safety Corey Lynch by five points in the closest Buchanan Award voting in history. Lynch also received 35 first-place votes out of the 105 ballots cast by a panel of sports information directors and selected media. McNeese State defensive end Bryan Smith was third in the voting with 205 points. Biermann was drafted by Atlanta in the fifth round (154th pick overall) of the 2008 NFL Draft and is currently in his second season with the Falcons.
2006, Kyle Shotwell, LB, Cal Poly -- The 6-1, 235-pound Shotwell led the nation in tackles for a loss with 21, and made plays all over the field for a defense that was once again one of the nation's best. He finished the season with 122 total tackles, 21 tackles for loss, seven sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery, while leading a unit that ranked in the top ten nationally in total and scoring defense and pressured opposing quarterbacks with 37 sacks. Shotwell, who finished his career at Cal Poly with 392 stops, was named Great West Defensive Player of the Year in 2006. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2007 by the NFL Oakland Raiders, Shotwell spent most of that season on the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad and then on the Indianapolis Colts playoff roster. Shotwell spent part of the 2008 season on the practice squads of Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Kansas City. He is currently a defensive assistant coach at Cal Poly, working with the linebackers.
2005, Chris Gocong, DE, Cal Poly -- A 6-foot-2, 265-pound senior, Gocong paced a Cal Poly defense that led the nation with 55 sacks. Gocong led all FCS players in sacks with 19, and filled up the stat sheet with 24 tackles for a loss, 79 total tackles, 14 quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Gocong played well in big games for a Cal Poly defense that spearheaded the team's 8-3 record and first-ever playoff berth. Gocong was drafted by the NFL Philadelphia Eagles in the third round (71st overall pick) of the 2006 draft and became a starter in 2007 after missing the '06 season due to injury. Gocong is now in his third season with the Eagles.
2004, Jordan Beck, LB, Cal Poly -- Beck filled the stat sheet to lead the Mustangs to a 9-2 record and the inaugural Great West title. He finished the season with 135 tackles, 18.5 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, four interceptions and nine pass breakups, and returned two of his interceptions for touchdowns. Beck made his presence felt late in the season with 21 tackles and 2.5 stops for a loss against Eastern Washington, 14 tackles and two stops for a loss against Northern Colorado and 11 tackles and two sacks in a win against Sacramento State. Cal Poly just missed the playoffs with a 9-2 record, but finished with a place in the top 25 and won the Great West with a 4-1 mark. Beck became the first member of the Cal Poly football program to win a major award. He was selected in the third round (90th overall pick) of the 2005 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons. Beck played two years with the Falcons and one season with the Denver Broncos.
2003, Jared Allen, DE, Idaho State -- Allen became the first Big Sky player to win the Buchanan, and first Idaho State player to win a major FCS award. He finished with 102 tackles, 17.5 sacks, 28 tackles for a loss and six forced fumbles for the 8-4 Bengals. Allen got better as the season went on and terrorized opponents in conference play. He had a four-sack game against Eastern Washington and 3.5 sack outing against Montana. Allen ended up with an amazing 15.5 sacks in Idaho State's seven conference games, and tallied 24 tackles for a loss in his last eight contests. Allen recovered three fumbles and had nine pass deflections. He even managed to catch a three-yard touchdown pass in an upset of Cal Poly. Allen was selected in the fourth round (126th overall pick) of the 2004 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. Played four seasons with Kansas City, earning Pro Bowl honors in 2007 with 15 1/2 sacks. Currently on the roster of the Minnesota Vikings, Allen earned Pro Bowl honors in 2008 after recording 14 1/2 sacks.
2002, Rashean Mathis, FS, Bethune-Cookman -- Mathis recorded 14 interceptions during the 2002 regular season, shattering the previous FCS single-season mark of 12 picks, set by Princeton's Dean Cain in 1987. With 445 interception return yards on the season, Mathis surpassed the previous record of 280, established by Murray State's William Hampton in 1995. The Jacksonville, FL native led Bethune-Cookman to an 11-1 record, helping the school to its first outright Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title since 1984 and first FCS playoff berth in school history. Mathis was selected in the second round (39th overall pick) of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars and has been a regular at defensive back in his first six seasons. Mathis earned Pro Bowl honors in 2006 and has 25 career interceptions.
2001, Derrick Lloyd, LB, James Madison -- Lloyd became the first-ever Atlantic 10 player to claim the Buchanan, and was also the first to hail from a losing team. Lloyd was the bright spot in an otherwise disappointing 2-9 season for James Madison, ending the year with 157 tackles, 94 solo stops, 19 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, and 5 fumble recoveries. Lloyd had nine double-digit tackle performances during the season, including a 23-tackle outing against nationally-ranked Rhode Island. The Coffeyville Community College transfer led a defense that ranked first in the Atlantic 10 and 11th in the nation in pass defense, surrendering just 149 yards per game in one of the nation's highest-octane throwing leagues. Despite playing just three years for the Dukes, Lloyd finished his career with 320 tackles, good for 10th on the JMU all-time list.
2000, Edgerton Hartwell, LB, Western Illinois -- The second Western Illinois linebacker in three years to win the Buchanan, Hartwell led the Leathernecks to an outright Gateway Football Conference title and berth in the 2000 playoffs. The senior led the nation with 169 tackles, including double-digit tackle performances in each of his 11 games. The Wisconsin transfer and two-time Gateway Defensive Player of the Year finished his WIU career with a school record 512 stops, including 308 solo tackles, and had at least 10 stops in 31 of his 37 career games at the Macomb, IL school. Western's season ended with a loss to Lehigh in the opening round of the FCS Playoffs. A fourth round NFL draft choice (126th overall) in 2001 by Baltimore, Hartwell went on to play professionally with the Ravens for four seasons, three of which was as a starter and two years with the Atlanta Falcons. His most productive season was in 2002, as he recorded 142 tackles, with 103 solo stops. Hartwell has spent the past two seasons as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders off-season rosters.
1999, Al Lucas, DT, Troy State -- Lucas became the first defensive tackle to claim the Buchanan, and was also the first Southland Conference player to win a major FCS Award. The Macon, GA native totaled 126 tackles and 20 tackles for loss, leading the Trojans to an 11-2 record and a berth in the national quarterfinals. The senior's tackle for loss figure led all of FCS, and Troy finished with the 13th-rated total defense in the division. Also a short-yardage threat in the running game, Lucas scored 10 career rushing touchdowns, including three in the Trojans' 1999 postseason run. After defeating James Madison in the first playoff round, TSU's season ended with a loss to Florida A&M. Lucas was originally signed as a free agent by the NFL Pittsburgh Steelers, and was also active with the Carolina Panthers. Lucas died after suffering a spinal cord injury while playing for the Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena Football League on April 10, 2005. He was 26
1998, James Milton, LB, Western Illinois -- Milton became the first-ever Gateway Football Conference player to win a major FCS Award, after leading WIU to a league title and playoff appearance on the strength of his play. The linebacker posted 176 tackles along with 22 tackles-for-loss, six pass breakups, and two interceptions as the 9-2 Leathernecks led the nation in fewest points allowed (9.37) and earned a spot in the postseason. WIU defeated Montana (52-9) and Florida A&M (24-21) in the playoffs before falling to Georgia Southern in the national semifinals. In his two-year career, the Garden City Community College transfer totaled 316 tackles. Milton went on to attend professional training camps with the Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, and CFL Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
1997, Chris McNeil, DE, North Carolina A&T -- McNeil became the first defensive end to win the Buchanan, and was also the first player from a MEAC school to win a major FCS honor. The North Carolina State transfer wreaked havoc on opposing defenses, finishing the 1997 campaign with 49 tackles and 21 sacks in leading the Aggies to a 7-4 season. McNeil spearheaded a unit that gave up just 109.4 rushing yards per contest, the second-lowest figure in the MEAC that season. The Thomasville, NC native was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Week five times during his Aggie career. In just 15 career games at A&T, McNeil posted an incredible 31.5 sacks, including 10.5 in just four games in 1996. McNeil went on to play professionally for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL.
1996, Dexter Coakley, LB, Appalachian State
-- Coakley followed up his Buchanan Award performance of 1995 with another timeless display, registering a career-high 166 stops for the 7-4 Mountaineers. Included in the campaign were three games of 20 tackles or more, including one against I-A Wake Forest. Coakley graduated with a school-record 645 tackles in his four-year career, with his seven 20-tackle games also ranking first in Appalachian annals. The Mt. Pleasant, SC native also stands as the only two-time winner of the Buck Buchanan Award, as well as the only individual to win two straight. Drafted in the third round of the 1997 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys, Coakley enjoyed a productive, 10-year pro career with the Cowboys and St. Louis Rams, earning NFL Pro Bowl honors in 1999, 2001, 2003.
1995, Dexter Coakley, LB, Appalachian State -- Coakley was the recipient of the inaugural Buchanan Award following a legendary junior season. The Mt. Pleasant, SC native totaled 165 tackles on the year, including 98 solo stops, as ASU posted a perfect 11-0 regular season and won an outright Southern Conference title. The Mountaineers rode their defense to a number of close wins, including a 10-3 triumph against normally high-powered Marshall, the eventual national runner-up. Coakley posted 21 tackles against the Thundering Herd. Following a win over James Madison in the opening playoff round, the ASU season ended in 27-17 loss to Stephen F. Austin.