By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (Sports Network) - Appalachian State may have lost two-time Walter Payton Award winner Armanti Edwards, but it boasts a national-best seven players on The Sports Network/Fathead.com Football Championship Subdivision Preseason All-America Team, led by senior linebacker D.J. Smith and senior safety Mark LeGree on the first team.
Defending FCS champion Villanova has the most players on the first team with three - senior wide receiver Matt Szczur, senior offensive tackle Ben Ijalana and senior linebacker Terence Thomas.
Smith, LeGree, Szczur and Ijalana were voted to the All-America first team at the end of the 2009 regular season by a national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries. Other 2009 first-team selections appearing on this year's preseason first team are Eastern Washington senior linebacker J.C. Sherritt, Grambling State senior defensive end Christian Anthony, Liberty sophomore place-kicker Matt Bevins and Arkansas-Pine Bluff junior kickoff returner Mareo Howard.
Szczur and Ijalana are two of 20 players on the Walter Payton Award Watch List of nominees for FCS player of the year. Sherritt, Anthony, LeGree and Smith are four of the 20 players on the Buck Buchanan Award Watch List of nominees for FCS defensive player of the year. The FCS' two biggest player awards, plus the Eddie Robinson Award which honors the national coach of the year, are presented by The Sports Network and sponsored by Fathead.com.
The Big Sky Conference dominates the offensive backfield of the Preseason All- America First Team. The quarterback is Northern Arizona senior Michael Herrick and the running backs are Montana senior Chase Reynolds and Eastern Washington junior Taiwan Jones. Herrick's 3,356 passing yards were the fifth-highest total in the FCS last season. Reynolds rushed for 1,502 yards and 22 touchdowns and helped lead Montana to its second straight appearance in the FCS championship game, while Jones averaged 7.5 yards per carry and was second in the FCS in all-purpose yards per game (195.4).
Furman junior Tersoo Uhaa is the fullback, while seniors Jason Caldwell of Fordham and Tysson Poots of Southern Utah are the wide receivers, and senior Stephen Skelton is the tight end. Poots and Caldwell ranked Nos. 2 and 3 in the FCS in receiving yards per game at 120.1 and 113.8, respectively. Poots also finished No. 2 nationally in receptions per game (9.4) and points per game (10.0).
Joining Ijalana at tackle is South Carolina State senior Johnny Culbreath, while Missouri State senior David Arkin and Texas State junior D.J. Hall are the guards, and South Dakota State senior Ryan McKnight is the center.
Defensively, Anthony is joined at defensive end by Sacramento State senior Christian Clark. The defensive tackles are seniors Kenrick Ellis of Hampton and Martin Parker of Richmond. Stephen F. Austin senior Jabara Williams joins Sherritt, Smith and Thomas on the linebacking corps. The cornerbacks are Southern Illinois senior Korey Lindsey and Montana junior Trumaine Johnson, and LeGree is joined at safety by Dayton senior James Vercammen.
Joining Bevins (No. 3 nationally in points per game at 9.7) and Howard (No. 1 nationally in kickoff return average at 31.0) on special teams are Old Dominion sophomore punter Jonathan Plisco and Grambling State senior punt returner Kiare Thompson. Plisco's 44.8-yard average on 62 punts led the FCS.
Appalachian State is replacing Edwards, its four-year starting quarterback, but the returning talent on the team is vast. In addition to LeGree and Smith, the Mountaineers' national-leading total of Preseason All-America selections consists of senior running back Devon Moore, junior wide receiver Brian Quick, junior tight end Ben Jorden and senior defensive end Jabari Fletcher, who made the second team, and junior defensive end Lanston Tanyi, who made the third team.
Southern Illinois is second with five selections: Lindsey on the first team; junior fullback John Goode and junior tackle David Pickard on the second team; and senior safety Mike McElroy and senior place-kicker Kyle Dougherty on the third team.
In all, 87 players were selected to the Preseason All-America Team. The Southern Conference leads all leagues with 15 selections, followed by the Big Sky Conference with 12, including a national-best six on the first team. The Missouri Valley Football Conference has 11 overall selections and the Colonial Athletic Association has 10. Next are the Southland Conference with seven and the Southwestern Athletic Conference with six.
The Sports Network/Fathead.com All-America Team will be announced on Dec. 22. In addition to the Payton, Buchanan and Robinson awards, TSN and Fathead.com team up for the FCS's most widely recognized weekly Top 25 poll and weekly awards honoring the nation's top offensive player, defensive player and special teams player. The Sports Network will present its 24th annual FCS Awards Presentation, sponsored by Fathead.com, on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011 in Frisco, Texas - the night before the FCS Championship Game.