The Top VIII Award, the NCAA's highest undergraduate honor, recognizes outstanding achievement in athletics, scholarship and community service and is given each year to a total of eight student-athletes from Division I, II and III.
DeMeco Ryans, who recently joined 13 other Alabama graduates on the football field as the Crimson Tide beat Texas Tech 13-10 in the 70th annual Cotton Bowl Classic, was a unanimous All-America and All-SEC selection. He was Defensive MVP in the Cotton Bowl, was the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year and finished his Alabama career with 307 tackles, the fifth-best mark in Tide history.
Ryans was winner of the Lott Trophy, symbolic of the nation's top defensive player and based on personal character as well as performance on the field. He graduated, cum laude, in just seven semesters with a degree in Management and was a finalist for the Draddy Award, widely considered the "Academic Heisman". Ryans was also a finalist for the 2005 Butkus and Nagurski awards given to the best collegiate linebacker.
A four-time recipient of the Black Scholars Award, Ryans was named an Arthur Ashe Sports Scholar and was recipient of the Bryant Award, symbolic as the Athletic Department's top student-athlete.
Ryans was a 2005 Wuerffel Trophy Nominee, honoring the player who best combines academics and community service with on-field distinction, and a nominee for the ARA Sportsmanship Award, presented to a Division I football player who exemplifies sportsmanship both on and off the field.
He joins just two other Alabama football players to be selected to this prominent group, Randy Hall in 1975 and Steadman Shealy in 1980. Other winners from Alabama have been gymnasts Meredith Willard in 1998, Andree Pickens in 2003 and Kristin Sterner in 2004.
The NCAA Top VII program began in 1973 and went until 1985 honoring five student-athletes from all divisions across the NCAA. From 1986 until 1994, the award recognized six athletes and in 1995 was expanded to honor the top eight student-athletes.
The other 2006 Today's Top VIII winners are Samantha Arsenault, University of Georgia, swimming and diving; Sarah Dance, Truman State University, swimming and diving; Carter Hamill, Amherst College, outdoor track and field, indoor track and field, and cross country; Nicholas Hartigan, Brown University, football; Christine Sinclair, University of Portland, soccer; Richelle Simpson, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, gymnastics; and Jamie Southern, California State University, Fresno, softball.