By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The race for the 2011 Walter Payton Award, sponsored by Fathead.com, kicked off Monday with The Sports Network's announcement that six returning finalists from last season headline a stellar 20-player Watch List for the Football Championship Subdivision's top individual honor.
The Payton Award will celebrate its 25th anniversary this season and be presented to the FCS' outstanding player at the national awards banquet Thursday night, Jan. 5 in Frisco, Texas.
This season's winner will join a list of Payton Award greats such as Steve McNair, John Friesz, Brian Westbrook, Tony Romo, Brian Finneran, Armanti Edwards and 2010 winner Jeremy Moses of Stephen F. Austin.
Appalachian State quarterback DeAndre Presley joined Moses at the national awards banquet as the third-place finalist and returns to the Watch List as a senior. Also returning, presumably headed to banner seasons again, are Colgate senior running back Nate Eachus, who was sixth; Montana State sophomore quarterback DeNarius McGhee, who was seventh; Jackson State senior quarterback Casey Therriault, who was ninth; Liberty senior quarterback Mike Brown, who was 11th; and Wofford junior fullback Eric Breitenstein, who was 19th.
Joining Eachus and Breitenstein in the backfield are senior running backs Jonathan Grimes of William & Mary, Mike Mayhew of North Carolina A&T and D.J. McNorton of North Dakota State, as well as junior Jamaine Cook of Youngstown State and sophomore Andrew Pierce of Delaware.
The Watch List also includes two wide receivers, Liberty senior Chris Summers and Eastern Washington junior Brandon Kaufman.
Among the returning finalists, Presley is coming off a junior season in which he threw for 2,631 yards and 21 touchdowns, and rushed for 1,039 yards and 13 touchdowns. Eachus led the FCS in carries (317) and rushing yards (1,871) and tied for the national high with 22 touchdowns. McGhee, who was the only freshman to be a Payton Award finalist last season, completed nearly 63 percent of his passes for 3,163 yards and 23 touchdowns with only six interceptions.
Therriault accounted for 41 touchdowns (31 passing, 10 rushing) and was third in the FCS in passing yards per game (312.4) and total offense (327.8 ypg). Brown led the FCS in total offense with 346.4 yards per game (2,956 passing, 854 rushing) and was seventh in passer efficiency (149.6). Breitenstein paced the FCS' No. 1-ranked rushing offense with a Wofford-record 1,639 yards and 22 touchdowns.
The Payton Award Watch List will undergo revision during the 2011 season. Ballots will be sent to a panel of about 200 sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries after the regular season on Nov. 21. Three finalists will be announced on Dec. 1 and invited to The Sports Network/Fathead FCS Awards Presentation.
The Sports Network also presents the Buck Buchanan, Jerry Rice and Eddie Robinson awards which are sponsored by Fathead.com. The Buchanan Award honors the FCS defensive player of the year, the new Rice Award goes to the FCS freshman of the year and the Robinson Award, which also is celebrating its 25th anniversary, honors the FCS coach of the year. Those three winners will join the top three Payton finalists at the national awards banquet.