By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Frisco, TX (Sports Network) - As the injuries mounted for the Eastern Washington football team this season, Bo Levi Mitchell's production increased when most quarterbacks would have endured a decline.
Mitchell was all too happy to put the Eagles on his throwing shoulder and carry them.
Friday night, the senior was honored for his record-setting season with the 2011 Walter Payton Award, which goes to the outstanding player in the Football Championship Subdivision. The 25th annual award, the most prestigious in the division, is presented by The Sports Network and sponsored by Fathead.com.
Mitchell, who one year ago was named the most outstanding performer when Eastern Washington won the FCS championship game in Frisco, collected 57 first-place votes and 453 points from a national panel of 131 sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries. Lehigh quarterback Chris Lum and Indiana State running back Shakir Bell, who also were on hand at the FCS awards presentation, tied for second in the voting with 219 points each.
"He worked at (development) and we saw the growth -- he worked hard to develop his skills and was tireless at studying video in order to better understand and operate our offense," EWU head coach Beau Baldwin said of Mitchell, who transferred to the Big Sky Conference school from SMU following his sophomore year. "It culminated with his production this season and the way our team ended the year with six wins in our last seven games. I couldn't be more proud of what he accomplished here."
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Mitchell led the nation in passing yards (4,009) and touchdown passes (33) during the regular season. As Eastern Washington's offense suffered seven key injuries (including five that were season-ending), the Big Sky's offensive player of the year averaged 364.5 passing yards per game, which ranks ninth in FCS history. He completed 318-of-503 attempts (63.2 percent), with 13 interceptions. The Eagles finished with a 6-5 record.
"I'm blessed with more receivers around me that are so good," said Mitchell, who is the first-team quarterback on The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS All- America Team.
Mitchell, from Katy, Texas, is the second player from Eastern Washington to win the Payton Award -- quarterback Erik Meyer won in 2005 -- and the sixth winner from the Big Sky.
Lum, a 6-2, 205-pound senior, led Lehigh to a second straight unbeaten season in Patriot League play and was named the league's offensive player of the year. As the Mountain Hawks finished 10-1 in the regular season, Lum ranked third in the FCS in passing yards per game (348.6) and second in touchdown passes (31). He completed 297-of-443 attempts (67 percent) for 3,739 yards, with 15 interceptions.
Bell, a 5-foot-7, 185-pound sophomore, was the FCS rushing leader (1,670 yards, 151.8 per game) during the regular season. Named the Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Player of the Year, he scored 14 touchdowns and averaged 7.3 yards per carry. The Sycamores posted their second straight winning season with a 6-5 record.
In addition to Mitchell winning the Payton Award at the national awards presentation, New Hampshire junior linebacker Matt Evans captured the Buck Buchanan Award, which is given to the FCS' outstanding defensive player; Towson running back Terrance West won the inaugural Jerry Rice Award for FCS freshman of the year; and Towson's Rob Ambrose won the Eddie Robinson Award, which honors the FCS' coach of the year. The Sports Network presents and Fathead.com also sponsors those three awards.