Philadelphia, PA – They say good things come to those who wait.
For Southeastern Louisiana cornerback Robert Alford, James Madison linebacker Stephon Robertson, and defensive ends Caleb Schreibeis of Montana State and Brandon Thurmond of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, it's been constant leadership and a willingness to improve which have made their teams better.
Their ability to develop individually, while impacting teammates, has led to Alford, Robertson, Schreibeis and Thurmond joining the Buck Buchanan Award Watch List on Wednesday in the race for the 18th annual award which honors the outstanding defensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision.
This season's winner will join a list of Buchanan Award greats such as Dexter Coakley, Jared Allen, Rashean Mathis, Kroy Biermann and the 2011 recipient, New Hampshire linebacker Matt Evans, who is a nominee again trying to win for the second season in a row.
Alford, a 6-foot, 185-pound senior, might be one of the FCS' best lock-down cornerbacks. In 2011, as an All-Southland Conference second-team selection, he finished second and fourth in the conference with five interceptions and seven pass breakups, respectively.
This season, teams have learned not to throw to his side of the field. Alford has totaled 37 tackles, five tackles for loss, four interceptions and seven pass breakups. In Southeastern Louisiana's Week 4 victory over then-No. 17 McNeese State, Alford collected seven tackles, two pass breakups and one critical interception with 2:33 left to seal the 25-24 win. The senior also handles punt return duty for the Lions and has seven returns for 99 yards and one touchdown.
Robertson, a 5-11, 225-pound junior, is on track to earn a degree in justice studies, but his play on the field also deserves some justice. In his first year as a starter, as a redshirt freshman, he earned 2010 CAA Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. He's improved more as a junior, garnering All-America third-team and All-CAA first-team honors in the preseason. The defined leader of the Dukes' defense has recorded a team-high 92 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and five pass breakups in 10 games this season.
Even more impressive has been Robertson's durability. He has started all 33 games in his career and totaled an impressive 295 tackles during that span. As a result, JMU's defense has gradually turned into one of the top units in the CAA. In 10 games this season, the Dukes rank first in scoring (19 points per game), third in rushing (135 yards per game) and second in total defense (320 yards per game).
Schreibeis, a 6-3, 252-pound senior, stepped up nicely for an injury-laden Montana State defense earlier this season. As a team captain, he has emerged into the leader on the Bobcats' talented defensive line. In nine games, he ranks fifth on his team in tackles with 35 and is first in tackles for loss (13), sacks (11), quarterback hurries (seven) and forced fumbles (seven).
Schreibeis leads the FCS in forced fumbles and has contributed to MSU leading the Big Sky Conference in rush defense (89 yards per game), total defense (305 yards per game) and opponent third down conversion (26.8 percent). In every game he has played this season, the senior has had at least a half sack or better.
Thurmond, a 6-2, 260-pound senior, has flipped the switch in his final season at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, turning into one of the FCS' most productive and dangerous pass rushers. Just one year ago, he had 25 tackles, seven tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, one forced fumble and five quarterback hurries. In 10 games this season, he's improved in every category, with 56 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, 15.5 sacks, and seven quarterback hurries. He also has three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one blocked kick.
Thanks to the impact of Thurmond, and an improved UAPB defense, the Golden Lions rank first in the SWAC in allowing 16 points per game and second in total defense with 290 yards per contest. UAPB has clinched a berth in the SWAC Championship Game next month.
Other nominees on the Watch List are nose tackle Brent Russell of Georgia Southern; defensive ends Joseph LeBeau of Jackson State and Colton Underwood of Illinois State; linebackers Evans, Wes Dothard of Chattanooga, Jeremy Kimbrough of Appalachian State, Robert McCabe of Georgetown, Blake Peiffer of Southeast Missouri State, Tyler Starr of South Dakota and Jordan Tripp of Montana; cornerbacks Demetrius McCray of Appalachian State, B.W. Webb of William & Mary and Marcus Williams of 2011 FCS champion North Dakota State; and safeties Jaquiski Tartt of Samford, Cooper Taylor of Richmond and Darnell Taylor of Sam Houston State.
Bios of all 20 players can be found on the FCS Awards page at http://tinyurl.com/yhv6oh8.
The Buchanan Award will be voted on by a national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries following the regular season.
The Sports Network also presents the Walter Payton, Jerry Rice and Eddie Robinson awards. The Payton Award honors the outstanding player in the FCS, the Rice Award goes to the FCS freshman of the year and the Robinson Award honors the FCS coach of the year.
All four awards will be presented on Dec. 17 at the FCS Awards Banquet and Presentation in Philadelphia.