PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (Sports Network) - The race for the 2010 Walter Payton Award, sponsored by Fathead.com, kicked off Monday with The Sports Network's announcement that seven finalists from last season are part of a stellar 20- player Watch List for the Football Championship Subdivision's top individual honor.
The Payton Award is in its 24th season and will be presented to the FCS national player of the year on Thursday, Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas - the night before the national championship game. The award will change hands this season after Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards (a 2010 draft choice of the Carolina Panthers) became the first two-time Payton winner in 2008 and '09.
The 2010 Watch List includes three players from the defending FCS champion Villanova Wildcats: senior wide receiver/kickoff returner Matt Szczur; senior quarterback Chris Whitney; and senior offensive tackle Ben Ijalana. Szczur was a write-in candidate on the 2009 ballot and finished 21st in the voting.
Stephen F. Austin senior quarterback Jeremy Moses was the highest vote-getter among the returning players, finishing in seventh place. The other returning finalists are Northern Arizona senior quarterback Michael Herrick, who was ninth; Weber State senior quarterback Cameron Higgins, who was 10th; Montana senior running back Chase Reynolds, who was 13th; Delaware senior quarterback Pat Devlin, who was 17th; and Elon senior quarterback Scott Riddle, who was 23rd as a write-in candidate.
The Watch List includes 11 quarterbacks. The other five are Prairie View A&M senior K.J. Black; Old Dominion sophomore Thomas DeMarco; South Carolina State senior Malcolm Long; Montana senior Andrew Selle; and Dayton senior Steve Valentino.
Other running backs are Samford senior Chris Evans, Eastern Washington junior Taiwan Jones, South Dakota State senior Kyle Minett, Appalachian State senior Devon Moore and William & Mary junior Jonathan Grimes. Southern Utah senior wide receiver Tysson Poots joins the Watch List as well.
Among the returning players to the Watch List, Moses is coming off a junior season in which he led the FCS in completions per game (29.6), touchdown passes (40) and total passing yards (4,124). Herrick threw for 3,356 yards, including 574 against Eastern Washington. Higgins, also a finalist in 2008, when he finished sixth, has thrown for 9,762 yards and 83 touchdowns during his career. Reynolds helped Montana reach the FCS championship game in each of the past two seasons, rushing for a combined 3,085 yards and 44 touchdowns. Devlin is part of a long line of outstanding quarterbacks at Delaware, and threw for 2,664 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.
Szczur, who was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the fifth round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft last month, was the MVP of the Wildcats' title win over Montana and finished the season with 2,239 all- purpose yards and 15 touchdowns. Riddle enters his senior season with Southern Conference career records for completions (894), pass attempts (1,374), passing yards (10,033) and touchdown passes (78).
The Payton Award Watch List can undergo revision during the 2010 season, when updated lists are announced on Oct. 4 and 25. Ballots will be sent to a panel of approximately 200 sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries after the regular season on Nov. 22. Three finalists will be announced on Dec. 1 and invited to The Sports Network/Fathead FCS Awards Presentation the night before the national championship game.
The Sports Network also presents the Buck Buchanan and Eddie Robinson awards which are sponsored by Fathead. The Buchanan Award honors the FCS defensive player of the year and the Robinson Award honors the FCS coach of the year. Those two winners will join the Payton finalists at the national awards banquet.