National Honors Go To Three From CAA Football
FRISCO, Texas (January 6, 2012) -- Three of the four 2011 NCAA FCS National Award winners hale from CAA Football and were recognized at The Sports Network National Award Banquet Friday.
Towson head coach Rob Ambrose was named the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year. The Tigers' Terrance West was awarded the Inaugural Jerry Rice Freshman of the Year honor, while New Hampshire's Matt Evans was named the Buck Buchanan National Defensive Player of the Year.
Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year -- Rob Ambrose, Towson
Before the season started, Towson was picked to finish last in CAA Football.
However, the Tigers turned the standings upside down this season, putting together a 9-3 record, winning an outright CAA title and hosting a game in the second round of the FCS playoffs.
Having guided his team to new heights, Towson coach Rob Ambrose was honored as the 2011 Eddie Robinson Award recipient, given annually to the FCS Coach of the Year. The Sports Network presents and Fathead.com sponsors the award.
Ambrose is the 25th recipient of the award, which is named for legendary Grambling State head coach Eddie Robinson, the second- winningest coach in Division I history with 408 victories.
Now in his third season as a head coach, it was rocky at first for Ambrose, a Towson alumnus, as his teams struggled to 2-9 and 1-10 finishes in his first two seasons.
"You have to get to a point where you can actually discuss winning, and it took two years before that could even be a conversation," Ambrose said. "The first time I walked out on the field against a CAA team and looked at my guys versus another CAA team, we looked like a JV team, and I'm thinking 'My gosh, this is terrible.'"
This season, winning was finally part of the discussion, as the Tigers went 5-2 against teams ranked in The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25 and reeled off three different three-game winning streaks. Towson hadn't had a three-game winning streak since 2006.
Ambrose appeared on 110 of the 132 ballots and received 59 first-place votes, edging out Sam Houston State's Willie Fritz.
Ambrose is the fourth coach from the CAA (formerly the Atlantic 10 and Yankee Conference) to win the Eddie Robinson Award, and the first since James Madison coach Mickey Matthews was honored in 2008.
Inaugural Jerry Rice National Freshman of the Year -- Terrance West, Towson
It was a season that almost wasn't for Towson freshman running back Terrance West, as he nearly redshirted and sat out the first game of the season.
But, after his redshirt was lifted, teams couldn't keep the 5-foot-11, 222-pound freshman out of the end zone. West rushed for 27 touchdowns in the regular season, ranking No. 1 in the FCS.
West was honored with the inaugural Jerry Rice Award, which is awarded to the outstanding freshman in the FCS. The Sports Network presents and Fathead.com sponsors the award.
"It feels very good to be going to the Jerry Rice Award (presentation)," West said.
A Baltimore native, West didn't earn a scholarship until halfway through his superb season and before that the talented freshman struggled to even find a place to play, at times nearly going to Clemson, Maryland and Morgan State.
"We got him in the door and all he wanted was an opportunity," Towson coach Rob Ambrose said. "He wasn't on scholarship, he was here all spring and most of this semester not on scholarship. I told him, 'I'm going to give you the same deal I give everybody else, you'll get what you earn.'"
West made his season debut the second week of the season and rushed for two touchdowns in a win against Villanova. It was the first of nine multi- touchdown games for West (he finished with 29 total scores after a playoff loss to Lehigh).
Setting the Towson record for touchdown runs in a season, West had three four-touchdown games and helped the Tigers to a CAA Football title, the first in program history.
The Jerry Rice Award is named after the NFL Hall of Famer, who had an All-America career at Mississippi Valley State.
West was a runaway winner of the award, receiving 89 of the 132 first- place votes, 74 more than Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who finished second in the balloting.
Buck Buchanan National Defensive Player of the Year -- Matt Evans, New Hampshire
New Hampshire junior linebacker Matt Evans kept busy throughout the entire regular season, leading the Football Championship Subdivision with 154 tackles and 88 solo stops.
Evans was rewarded for all his stops as he was named the 2011 Buck Buchanan Award winner, which honors the outstanding defensive player in the FCS, is presented by The Sports Network and sponsored by Fathead.com.
"It was really something I didn't expect," Evans said. "It's a huge honor to be a part of that prestigious group."
The second player from CAA Football to win the award, Evans appeared on 113 of the 132 ballots and received 45 first-place votes, edging out Northern Iowa senior linebacker L.J. Fort.
Before the season, Evans never set his sights on individual awards.
"I just try, and want to be, the best player I can be," he said. "If I play well and get those honors, that is just added incentive. Obviously, it means more to me for the team to have a better season."
In addition to leading the nation in total tackles and solo stops, Evans posted double-digit tackles in 10 of New Hampshire's 11 regular-season games. He also snagged a pair of interceptions (one for a touchdown), forced three fumbles and registered six tackles for loss.
"Matt is one of those kids who is a very instinctive football player," New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell said. "He's not a huge linebacker, he weighs about 215, 220 pounds soaking wet. He's got great speed, he's got great athleticism and he tackles very well. But, the thing that Matty does is he understands how people are attacking. He also knows how to get there, and gets around blocks."
The instincts that Evans, who is officially listed at 6 feet, 227 pounds, showed this season, have been refined since he started playing football at a young age in Hanover, Mass.
Those instincts received an upgrade the past three seasons, as the Wildcats defense went head-to-head in practice with one of the best offenses in the nation.
"Our offense is definitely one of the best in the country," Evans said. "It's always been that way, at least since I got here. But, it's helped with the change on defense, we've gotten much better since I've been here."You can share your CAA football thoughts, ideas and photos with us now at facebook.com/CAAFootball. CAA Football is blogging at caafootballblog.com...be sure to checkout the official blog of CAA Football to find all sorts of information that might not be at CAAFootball.com. CAA Football is also on Twitter...Fans from all 11 schools can get up-to-date information by following the league at twitter.com/The_CAAFootball. The league also encourages fans to visit us on YouTube: youtube.com/CAAFootball. Logon now and subscribe to see the latest video productions from CAA Football.