Pittsburgh—The Maxwell Football Club recognized a pair of Pitt standouts as preseason candidates for the prestigious Maxwell and Bednarik awards today.
Senior running back Ray Graham (Elizabeth, N.J./Elizabeth) has been named to the watch list for the Maxwell Award, annually presented to the country's outstanding collegiate football player. Graham is one of 65 preseason candidates for the award, named after famed sportswriter Robert W. "Tiny" Maxwell.
Junior defensive lineman Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh, Pa./Penn Hills) was named to the 65-player watch list for the Bednarik Award. Presented to the nation's top defensive player, the award is named after Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik, who starred at the University of Pennsylvania and professionally with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Last fall, Graham was on a dazzling rushing pace comparable at Pitt only to the legendary Tony Dorsett (the 1976 recipient of the Maxwell Award) before a knee injury ended his season in late October. Through his first seven games, Graham was second nationally and first in the Big East in rushing yards per game (134.14 avg.). A knee injury early in the eighth game against Connecticut ended his year and he finished with 958 yards and nine TDs on 164 carries (5.8 avg.).
Despite the injury-shortened season, Graham was selected first team All-Big East by league coaches. He is eyeing a healthy return for August training camp.
Donald was just as potent on the defensive side of the ball. Playing every position on the defensive front last season, he compiled 47 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, 11 hurries and a forced fumble. Donald became only the fifth Pitt player since 1991 to compile 10 or more sacks in a season. He ranked seventh nationally in that category with an average of 0.85 per game. In addition to being named All-Big East, Donald was also honored on the FoxSportsNext.com All-America Team (second team).
The 2012 season marks the first for Paul Chryst as head coach at Pitt. Chryst comes to Pittsburgh following an accomplished eight-year tenure at the University of Wisconsin, where he was a two-time finalist for the Broyles Award, annually presented to college football's top assistant coach.
Widely recognized as one of the game's finest strategists, Chryst directed a Wisconsin offense last year that averaged a school-record 44.1 points per game en route to the Badgers' second consecutive Big Ten title and Rose Bowl berth.