Jul 12, 2010, 6:43 PM EDT
After logging its second-straight National Championship in 2009, CAA Football is ready for more accolades in 2010 as preseason honors are being handed out in full. First on the list of preseason awards is The 2010 Sports Networks Walter Payton Award, sponsored by Fathead.com. The Payton Award race kicked off Monday as seven finalists from last season were announced as are part of a 20-player Watch List for the Football Championship Subdivision’s top individual honor.
The Payton Award is in its 24th season and will be presented to the FCS National Player of the Year on Thursday, Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas – the night before the national championship game.
Reigning National Champion Villanova boasts three on the Watch List including seniors Ben Ijalana, Matt Szczur and Chris Whitney. Szczur finished 21st in the Payton balloting last season, while Ijalana has already been named to the 2010 Outland Trophy Watch list. Delaware senior Pat Devlin, who was 17th in the 2009 award voting, is also part of the 2010 Watch List while William and Mary’s junior Jonathan Grimes is a newcomer to the preseason list.
CAA Football logged five standouts on the preseason list, equalling the Big Sky’s total of five which is the most from any of the 13 FCS conferences honored.
Old Dominion, which will begin CAA Football league play in 2011, also received preseason recognition as the Monarchs’ sophomore Thomas DeMarco was named to the Watch List.
Below are abbreviated bios for each of CAA Football’s five 2010 Walter Payton Award Watch List honorees.
Pat Devlin — Delaware — QB — Senior
Devlin was a Walter Payton Award finalist in 2009, finishing 17th in the voting. He has established himself in a long line of outstanding Delaware quarterbacks, joining such players as Scott Brunner, Jeff Komlo, Rich Gannon, Andy Hall and Joe Flacco. In his first season after transferring to Delaware from Penn State, Devlin started all 11 games and completed 220-of-344 passes (64 percent) for 2,664 yards and 16 touchdowns against nine interceptions. His 242.2 passing yards per game led CAA Football. In a season-ending loss to FCS champion Villanova, Devlin enjoyed his finest statistical performance, completing a school-record 42 passes out of 58 attempts for 407 yards, which ranks sixth for a single-game performance in Delaware history. He is strong, accurate as a passer and has a quick release, and is expected to be one of the first quarterbacks taken in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Jonathan Grimes — William and Mary — RB — Junior
Grimes causes fits for defenses because he can both rush and catch the football effectively. As a sophomore in 2009, he led CAA Football with 1,294 yards (92.4 per game) and caught 46 passes. He scored 10 total touchdowns, ranked second in CAA Football and 13th nationally in all-purpose yards per game (145.9), and was named to the all-conference first team. His all-around skills helped William & Mary to reach the FCS semifinals, where they lost at eventual national champion Villanova, 14-13. Grimes broke onto the national scene with a dynamic freshman campaign in 2008, when he led CAA Football and ranked 12th nationally with 162 all-purpose yards per game, a school record. He also established a W&M freshman rushing record with 929 yards on 164 carries. Not exceptionally fast, he reads his blocks and makes sharps cuts to find open space.
Ben Ijalana — Villanova — OL — Senior
If it seems like The Sports Network First Team All-America has been around a long time, consider that he has started all 39 games of his career at Villanova. Don’t be surprised this season if some defensive linemen call in sick on the day they have to face Ijalana. The left tackle for the defending FCS champions, he is considered the top offensive lineman in the entire division. Last season, he helped pave the way for the Wildcats to rank fourth nationally in rushing yards per game (240.3). Head Coach Andy Talley lauds his protégé for his all-around style. Big Ben is agile and quick for his size as well as strong and consistent. Ijalana was named to the CAA Football First Team in each of the past two seasons. He should be one of the first FCS players to be selected in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Matt Szczur — Villanova — WR — Senior
Szczur (pronounced Caesar) is one of the most explosive, and feared, players in the FCS. He capped his junior season as The Sports Network First Team All-America all-purpose player by earning Most Valuable Player honors in Villanova’s 23-21 win over Montana in the National Championship game. He rushed for a career-high 159 yards (while leading the Wildcat-style offense) as well as two touchdowns, and had 270 all-purpose yards. For the season, the speedy Szczur totaled 2,239 all-purpose yards – 610 on receptions, 813 on carries and 816 on kickoff returns – and 15 touchdowns. He was the only player in Division I (FBS or FCS) to register a touchdown as a receiver, rusher, passer and kick returner. He has totaled 4,345 all-purpose yards in his career. A versatile baseball standout, he was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the fifth round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (160th overall pick).
Chris Whitney — Villanova — QB — Senior
It says a lot when a player is named the CAA Football First Team quarterback. And Whitney’s season in 2009 speaks volumes about his talent. Villanova finished with a 14-1 record and won the FCS Championship as he rushed for a team-high 987 yards as well as six touchdowns, and completed 159-of-247 passes (64.4 percent) for 1,936 yards, 18 touchdowns and five interceptions. In a season-opening win over bowl-bound Temple, Whitney was 24-for-35 for 278 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He rushed for at least 100 yards four times, including in the FCS Championship game against Montana. For his career, Whitney has completed 65 percent of his passes for 33 touchdowns against 13 interceptions. Whitney, a CAA All-Academic selection in 2008 and ‘09, is an intense competitor who thrives on physical play. He has a 25-5 record as Villanova’s starting quarterback, with each loss coming against a Top 15-ranked opponent.
The Payton Award Watch List will undergo revisions over the 2010 season as updates are scheduled to be released Oct. 4 and 25. Ballots will be sent to a panel of approximately 200 sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries after the regular season on Nov. 22. Three finalists will be announced on Dec. 1 and invited to The Sports Network/Fathead FCS Awards Presentation the night before the national championship game. Be sure to checkout The Sports Network’s Walter Payton Award website as it tracks week-by-week performances and more…sportsnetwork.com
The Sports Network also presents the Buck Buchanan and Eddie Robinson awards which are sponsored by Fathead. The Buchanan Award honors the FCS Defensive Player of the Year and the Robinson Award honors the FCS Coach of the Year. Those two winners will join the Payton finalists at the national awards banquet.
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