By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The early-season play of linebackers Tyler Holmes of Massachusetts and Antoine Wilkinson of Missouri State, as well as safety Eugene Clifford of Tennessee State, have led to their joining the race for the 2010 Buck Buchanan Award, sponsored by Fathead.com.
The stellar 20-player Watch List will be pared to one winner of the Football Championship Subdivision's top individual honor for defensive players. The Buchanan Award is in its 16th season and will be presented at the national awards banquet on Thursday, Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas - the night before the national championship game.
Clifford, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior, has been a disruptive force in coverage this season. Through games of Oct. 2, he has intercepted three passes and broken up six more for nine passes defended. He also leads Tennessee State with 39 tackles. An All-Ohio Valley Conference first-team selection in 2009, Clifford was named to The Sports Network/Fathead.com Preseason All-American Third Team in July. He is living up to the honor.
Holmes, a 6-foot, 220-pound junior, doesn't have prototypical size for a linebacker, but his instincts and relentless style make him highly productive. He helped Massachusetts to big month of September, including a win over then- No. 4 William & Mary and a five-point loss at Michigan. He had a career-high 18 tackles against Towson. Overall, he has totaled 51 tackles, including eight for losses, intercepted three passes and forced two fumbles in five games. As a sophomore in 2009, Holmes was eighth in the FCS with 11 tackles per game and added four interceptions and a team-high nine passes defended.
Wilkinson, a senior, has the prototypical size for a linebacker at 6-2, 237 pounds, and like Holmes has played on a high level. A year ago, he collected 113 tackles to became the first Missouri Valley Football Conference player to hit the century mark since 2004. He was named the MVFC Newcomer of the Year and earned All-MVFC First Team honors. This season, he has used his speed to get in opposing backfields, registering three sacks and five tackles for losses among his 25 tackles in the Bears' first four games.
Joining Clifford, Holmes and Wilkinson on the Buchanan Award Watch List are defensive tackles Kenrick Ellis of Hampton and Martin Parker of Richmond; defensive ends Christian Clark of Sacramento State, Jabari Fletcher of Appalachian State and Malcolm Taylor of Alcorn State; linebackers Eric McBride of Richmond, J.C. Sherritt of Eastern Washington (last year's runner-up for the award), Bryce Smith of Samford, D.J. Smith of Appalachian State, Terence Thomas of Villanova and Jabara Williams of Stephen F. Austin; cornerbacks Jeremy Caldwell of Eastern Kentucky, Korey Lindsey of Southern Illinois, Trumaine Johnson of Montana and Justin Rogers of Richmond; and strong safeties Mark LeGree of Appalachian State and James Vercammen of Dayton.
Other preseason nominees were Grambling State defensive end Christian Anthony, Southern University free safety Jason House and Southern Illinois free safety Mike McElroy.
The Buchanan Award Watch List can undergo a second revision on Oct. 25. Ballots will be sent to a panel of nearly 200 sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries after the regular season on Nov. 22.
The Sports Network also presents the Walter Payton and Eddie Robinson awards which are sponsored by Fathead. The Payton Award honors the FCS player of the year and the Robinson Award honors the FCS coach of the year. Those two awards, like the Buchanan, will be presented at the national awards banquet.