First off, hats off to this team, #1-85, for fighting hard all season long. Now, let’s get to some hardware:
Most Valuable Player: Wilton Speight
2375 yards, 62.5%, 17 touchdowns, 6 interceptions
Speight meant a lot to this team. He was a leader, a calm presence, somebody who put in a lot of work and performed - at his peak - like an All-American. He probably wasn’t our best player over the course of the full year, but he did mean a lot to the team’s success.
Offensive Player Of The Year: Amara Darboh
826 yards, 7 touchdowns, 15.9 yards a catch, 59.1% catch rate
Thank goodness for Darboh. Jehu Chesson was kind of a no-show, which left Darboh doing much of the heavy lifting.
Defensive Player Of The Year: Jabrill Peppers
72 tackles, 21 TFL’s, 4.0 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble
I typed out a whole thing for Jourdan Lewis. There’s a great case to be made for him. His return after missing the first three games of the season gave this defense a huge boost, and once Jeremy Clark went down with an injury he was a pivotal presence on the outside. He’s not a wrong pick here.
But Jabrill was the true brainchild in this Don Brown defense, moving from place to place on any given play and serving as both the shield and the spear, attacking and containing offenses in every situation. Jourdan, at least, could be avoided. Jabrill was in on every play.
Freshman Of The Year: Chris Evans
652 total yards, 7.1 yards per carry, 3 touchdowns
Hats off to Ben Bredeson and Rashan Gary, who had a much harder task working on the line of scrimmage. But Evans was and deserves to be the star: electric with the ball in his hands, solid decision-making in tough situations, and good at sneaking out of the backfield to catch the ball as well. He didn’t see the field much in pass pro situations, so that will need a little work. But a terrific start for a guy who didn’t even enroll early.
Lineman Of The Year: Chris Wormley
39 tackles, 12 TFL’s, 6.0 sacks
I know linemen tend to get overlooked. But Wormley had some games where he was a force of nature. Capable of playing inside or out, even able to run down plays from the back side, he was a phenomenal part of this defense.
12th Man Of The Year: Khalid Hill
144 total yards, 12 touchdowns, 1.6 yards per carry
Reserves don’t really function in football like they do in basketball or baseball, but among players who didn’t regularly start, I’ve got to give a tip of the hat to Khalid Hill, who was a chain-mover that the offense couldn’t really do without. He converted 23 first downs on 39 opportunities, and had a power success rate of 78.9%.
Assistant Coach Of The Year: Don Brown
12.5 points per game, 252.7 yards per game, #1 defense in S&P+
I’m quickly becoming a huge fan of Mike Zordich, who is somewhat forgotten about but did a fabulous job converting Channing Stribling and Jeremy Clark into near-Jourdan Lewis weapons - while also getting solid minutes out of Brandon Watson and Lavert Hill late in the season.
But, we’ll save that for another day. We’ll also have to set aside the great work that Tim Drevno did with the offensive line and some great special teams coaching from Chris Partridge and Jay Harbaugh.
Ultimately, this was a season of success because of Don Brown and his defense; we were finally competitive against an Ohio State spread offense, and we shut out teams even when the offense couldn’t move the ball. It was a stand-out coaching performance even on a staff with some of the best coaches in the country. Well done.