Mississippi State’s middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney was named to the Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch list. This award is presented by the Charlotte Touchdown Club to the nation’s outstanding defensive player as selected by the Football Writers of America. Since all defensive positions are eligible there are 81 stars on the initial watch list. Five finalists will be named on November 20, all taken from the FWAA’s 26-man All-America team, with the trophy presented December 8.
McKinney is no stranger to watch-lists of course. Earlier in the week he was placed on the Chuck Bednarik Award radar, also presented to the player voted the nation’s leading defender from all positions. It is the second time junior McKinney has been targeted by the Bednarik, having made their 2013 watch list as just a sophomore and relatively new starter at middle linebacker.
He was also named to the Dick Butkus Award watch list last summer, which goes to the best linebacker in the land. The 2014 Butkus watch list is due out next Monday and McKinney is sure to be included after a team-best 71 tackles last season. In fact the larger challenge for McKinney in July won’t be making national lists; it will be getting just recognition among the SEC’s leading linebackers! So MSU fans will be watching next week’s SEC Media Days meeting when the press corps names their pre-season all-conference teams. He can even make his case directly if McKinney wishes since he will be one of the three Bulldogs representing State in Hoover next Tuesday morning.
There are 78 initial nominees for the Bednarik Award. Semifinalists are to be announced November 3; semifinalists on November 24; and the winner named December 11.
Mississippi State has another pair of repeat nominees for the major national awards. Center Dillon Day has been tabbed for a third year by the Rimington Trophy which goes to the top hiker in the country. The Rimington winner comes from a final list made up of All-American centers as named by the Walter Camp Foundation, the Sporting News, and the FWAA which are all announced earlier. A total of 64 centers are on this July listing.
Day, a senior, has started 33-straight games at center and is a leading candidate for preseason All-SEC center when the Media Days voting is tallied. So is the teammate he will snap the ball to on opening day. QB Dak Prescott is one of the top returning triggermen in the league for 2014 and is getting national notice now with nomination to the Maxwell Award. This one goes to the player regarded as best overall in college football, though it is biased entirely towards offensive players who run, thrown, and catch.
Prescott of course can do all three. Even without being a full-time starter last season and missing two games with injury he set the Mississippi State rushing record for a quarterback (829 yards) while passing for 1,940 yards and ten touchdowns…and catching two touchdown passes as well. There are 76 on the Maxwell watch list but few have Prescott’s resume, which will only grow faster now that he is the full-time Bulldog quarterback.
Like the Bednarik Award, the Maxwell winner will be presented December 11 at Walt Disney World with ‘cuts’ in the team made on November 3 and 24 to get the three finalists. Both lists are organized by the Maxwell Football Club of Philadelphia.
The teammate who tossed those touchdowns to Prescott is up for his own all-purpose award this year. WR Jameon Lewis makes his first watch list at State as a nominee for the Paul Hornung Award, given to the nation’s most versatile player. Lewis is exactly that having caught 64 passes for 923 yards and five scores last season; rushed for three more touchdowns and of course thrown three TDs total. For good measure Lewis returns punts and kickoffs.
There are 47 college standouts on the initial listing. This award is a little different in that football fans have a say in who receives it, with fan voting beginning in September. Information is available at www.paulhornungaward.com. The winner is named in late January in Louisville.
The other repeat-nominee on this Bulldog roster is TE Malcolm Johnson, making another appearance on the John Mackey Award which goes to the highest-regarded tight end. Johnson’s 2013 nomination came despite limited playing time due to injuries in 2012; playing all last season he caught 30 balls for 391 yards and two touchdowns and more is in store for his senior season. This winner is also presented on December 11 in Orlando as part of the College Football Awards Red Carpet Show.
Bulldog fans can expect more watch-list news in the coming days with further awards/trophy nominees to be announced. The Outland Trophy team was due out Thursday, and the Jim Thorpe Award (won in 2012 by Johnthan Banks) on Friday. Next Monday, it will be the Butkus and the Lombardi Award watch-lists released; the Biletnikoff Award on Tuesday, the Davey O’Brien Award on Wednesday; the Doak Walker on Thursday, and finally the Walter Camp Award on July 18.
Prescott is a good bet to read his name on some more of these watch-lists, as well as in next week’s SEC Media Days voting as he too will be representing State at the annual league press-fest. He and McKinney are joined by safety Jay Hughes and Coach Dan Mullen.
And the pace doesn’t slow for Prescott this pre-season as he attends the Manning Passing Academy with 41 other college quarterbacks. Five of them are SEC triggermen. The three-day event is at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. There Prescott will not only be working on his own skills but lending some expertise as a ‘coach’ in the camp.
Meanwhile a bunch of Bulldogs who aren’t up for any honors quite yet are getting up to college speed in advance of preseason. Two more members of the 2014 signing class were able to enroll and begin courses ahead of the second summer semester drop/add deadline. Junior college DL Will Coleman and high school WR Jamoral Graham are the newest pups on campus.
They join the other members of the February signing class who were cleared in time for the first semester, which ended last week. They were: S Brandon Bryant, OL Deion Calhoun, K Logan Cooke, S J.T. Gray, LB Gerri Green, DL Grant Harris, DT Braxton Hoyett, TE Darrion Hutcherson, WR Jesse Jackson, OL Elgton Jenkins, RB Dontavian Lee, CB Chris Rayford, QB Elijah Stayley, DT Cory Thomas, and RB Aeris Williams.
Finals for this semester are August 6-7, which will make things interesting or more likely intense for everyone whether new or old students. Because that is a week after preseason practice open at Mississippi State. In fact, the January enrollees QB Nick Fitzgerald and OL Jocquell Johnson will have gone through three rounds of final exams before ever pulling on a varsity jersey!
This leaves four February signees with uncertain, officially at least, status for 2014. State is listing all of them on the latest July roster so the standing of OL Ronald Cochran, LB Deshon Cooper, DB Lashard Durr, and OL Jordan Harris is not absolutely settled. However it is popularly understood Durr and Harris will go the junior college route and Cochran will attend a prep school. That is not at all official though. Cooper is reportedly close to being cleared for the fall semester and thus for pre-season practices.
With the 2014 season kicking off on August 30, players will ‘report’ for preseason on July 30…though all but a couple are already on campus anyway. The first practice is July 31. Mississippi State’s fall semester begins August 18.