Frisco, Texas – Jan. 19, 2017 – The stars came out in full force on the eve of the FCS national title game as football legends like Jerry Rice presented the subdivision’s annual honors – including Jarrett Payton, the son of Walter, giving away the illustrious STATS FCS Walter Payton Award to Sam Houston State quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe – at the STATS FCS Awards Banquet.
The event marked the 30th anniversary of the Payton Award, known as the Heisman Trophy of the FCS, as well as the 30th year of the Eddie Robinson Award for the FCS’ coach of the year, also taken home by a Bearkat – K.C. Keeler. Grambling alum and Super Bowl XXII MVP Doug Williams stood in for his former mentor in handing the hardware to the Sam Houston State coach, who led his team to an undefeated (11-0) regular season.
Briscoe set an FCS single-season record with 57 touchdown passes and was the subdivision’s regular-season leader in passing yards (4,096) and passing rating (187.0) while sitting out the fourth quarter of seven games as his Bearkats often overwhelmed the competition. Briscoe beat out Eastern Washington’s dynamic duo of Cooper Kupp – last year’s Payton winner who added another 1,700 yards and 17 TDs to bolster his case as the FCS’ best wide receiver of all time – and Gage Gubrud, who exploded onto the scene in his first year as a starter with an FCS-record 5,160 passing yards by the time the postseason ended.
The STATS FCS Buck Buchanan Award, presented by two-time Buchanan winner and former Dallas Cowboys All-Pro linebacker Dexter Coakley, was won by Northern Illinois’ Karter Schult. The defensive end led Division I with 17 sacks and tied for second with a school-record 24 tackles for loss. Sam Houston State was denied the major awards trifecta with Bearkats defensive end P.J. Hall coming in second, while Missouri State linebacker Dylan Cole came in third.
In the first award of the night handed out, Rice gave away his eponymous honor, reflecting the FCS’ top freshman, to Duquesne running back A.J. Hines. Hines ran for a frosh-high 1,291 yards and 13 scores to lead the Dukes to an 8-3 mark.
The STATS FCS Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete Award went to Eastern Kentucky quarterback Tyler Swafford. Swafford, who holds a 4.0 GPA, was recently named a George J. Mitchell Scholar, a prestigious honor that will see him spend the next year working on a postgraduate degree in Dublin. He plans to pursue a career as an international human rights attorney. Quentin Burrell – the great-grandson of Eddie and Doris Robinson, a former Notre Dame defensive back and current Grambling assistant – presented the award.
The banquet, which had over 150 people in attendance, was hosted by Gary Reasons, the former New York Giants linebacker and Northwestern State alum who is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
STATS took over the presentation of the Payton, Robinson, Buchanan and Rice awards this year, inheriting them from Mickey Charles, the former CEO of The Sports Network. Charles was honored with a lifetime achievement award for his three decades of work bringing attention to the FCS.