Our 2014 Football Awards

Dec. 23 -- UCLA didn't release its football banquet awards this year, so why not do our own?

Since UCLA hasn’t released the award winners from this year’s team banquet, we decided to assign our own (eliminating quite a few in the process, because too many awards dilutes the whole thing, don't you think?)

Most Outstanding Scout Team Player – Offense: WR Jordan Lasley
Most Outstanding Scout Team Player – Defense: DT Ainuu Taua

As Jim Mora has talked about this week, Jordan Lasley has been really impressive on the Scout team this year. He packed on probably ten pounds, really filling out his lean frame, and he’s maintained his considerable speed and explosiveness. During USC week, he did a very good job of mimicking Nelson Agholor on the scout team. Taua has started to work on his body, and he showed off a good motor on the scout team, often having to mimic the opposing team’s best defensive lineman.

Most Improved Player – Offense: Jordan Payton
Most Improved Player – Defense: Eddie Vanderdoes

Eddie Vanderdoes
Obviously, it isn’t a situation where the most improved player went from being a scrub to being fairly good; both Vanderdoes and Payton were more than solid last year, but each improved a great deal between last year and this. If you’ll remember, before the start of the season, we weren’t even sure who would be the No. 1 receiver in place of Shaquelle Evans. Payton answered that question before the first game of the season was over. He showed better explosion, better speed, and improved route-running while maintaining his very good hands, strength, and blocking. Vanderdoes, who still hasn’t had a completely healthy offseason at UCLA, hit his stride by the fourth or fifth game of the year and quickly became one of the few most valuable players on the defense. And the exciting this is that, while a guy like Payton may be nearing his ceiling, Vanderdoes still wasn’t in fantastic shape to start the year, what with his injuries and all, so there’s reason to think his upside is still plenty high.

Rookie of the Year – Offense: Mossi Johnson
Rookie of the Year – Defense: Jaleel Wadood

Alright, we’ll fess up: we’re complete Mossi Johnson honks. Tracy’s been a big fan since he saw him at the B2G Camp in spring of his senior year and I thought he’d be a significant part of the receiver rotation after the first couple of days of spring ball. Despite not really playing much through the first half of the season, Johnson still earns our vote here for the playmaking ability he showed throughout the second half of the year, particularly in stints replacing Thomas Duarte and Devin Fuller. As he grows and develops, he could be a special player at UCLA. Wadood, for being a freshman playing a critical position, had a great first year. Despite size being one of the primary concerns with him heading into the season, he showed such physicality and tackling ability that it quickly became a non-issue. His natural feel for the game is really advanced for a true freshman, and his future is considerably bright.

Outstanding Special Teams Player: Ishmael Adams

Ishmael Adams
Despite having a quiet final few games, Adams showed off explosive return ability through the early parts of the year, and actually forced teams to start kicking away from him at about the halfway point of the year, and many of those kicks ended up shorter than they would have been otherwise. So, even when he wasn’t touching the ball, he was helping the field position battle through the mere threat of his ability. That’s pretty cool.

Most Outstanding Player – Offense: Paul Perkins
Most Outstanding Player – Defense: Eric Kendricks

We have to hand this one to Perkins, the regular season rushing leader in the Pac-12. No player (even including our defensive pick) was more consistent, with Perkins averaging six yards per carry, and it felt almost literally like six yards every carry. He showed that uncanny knack for making something out of nothing when the offensive line wasn’t blocking well, and showed vast improvement in all the secondary running back qualities – balance, vision, strength – to the point that it more than made up for his lack of real top end speed. Kendricks, of course, was our pick for the defense. This was the first really healthy year Kendricks has had since his redshirt freshman season, and he made the most of it, looking quicker sideline to sideline than he ever has. He showed really underrated coverage skills (underrated only because the freakish Myles Jack lines up next to him) and won the friggin’ Butkus Award. There’s not much more you can ask.

Most Outstanding Senior – Offense: Brett Hundley
Most Outstanding Senior – Defense: Kendricks

Since Brett Hundley was an academic senior, we’ll fudge and throw him in here. Whatever our critiques of Hundley at times, it’s a simple fact that he’s the best quarterback UCLA has had since 1998, and easily the biggest personnel reason that UCLA has had this resurgence over the last three years. If you factor in his value over replacement player (essentially, how much more did he win than his backup would have), he’s almost certainly the most valuable player on the team. No matter what you think about Josh Rosen’s ability (and we think a great deal!), replacing Hundley is going to be an incredibly difficult task. Also, Kendricks wins this one too, because he’s a monster.

The Apollo Hester Award for Slow Start, Fast Finish – Offense: Conor McDermott
The Apollo Hester Award for Slow Start, Fast Finish – Defense: Fabian Moreau

Conor McDermott
For reference on the award name, here you go. If we were handing out an award for most valuable offensive lineman, McDermott would win that too, which is interesting, since the dude didn’t even start until the California game. McDermott spent the early part of the year nursing his shoulder back to full health after undergoing surgery last season, and really didn’t look like he’d be a factor this year, even as late as the Texas game or so. Then, naturally, he came in and looked not only like the best tackle on the team, but possibly the best pro OL prospect. It’s not like we didn’t talk about him potentially being that good in fall camp 2013, but to have it happen so soon was pretty incredible. Moreau, by anyone’s admission, had a pretty miserable start to 2014, struggling to make plays on the ball despite having pretty decent coverage most of the time. He didn’t look anywhere near as aggressive as he looked all throughout spring and fall camp, when many (including us) were touting him as a potential NFL prospect. Through the last four or five games, he was much, much better, and began to play more aggressively, frequently pressing receivers at the line of scrimmage. He and McDermott both will be ones to watch next season, since they have so much to build on from their play over the last half of the year.

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