November 22, 2016
This college-football season has been underwhelming for most of the teams in our state, with close losses, injuries, mistakes and countless other struggles.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t players who are worthy of recognition, and we now know the http://msfame.com/news-updates/2016-c-spire-conerly-finalists-announced/">10 finalists for the 2016 C Spire Conerly Trophy.
Every four-year college and university nominates one player for this award. This year, the Conerly Trophy will be awarded to its 21st recipient. The ceremony will take place at the Clarksdale Country Club instead of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum as it has in the past.
Here are the finalists in the order that I think they will finish.
Hunter McEachern is the freshman quarterback for Belhaven University and nominee for the Conerly. Despite being in his first season, he served as the team captain for the 2-8 Blazers, and he set a school record for passing attempts with 76, completions with 48 and touchdowns with six. He threw for 3,722 yards on 337 completions with 31 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.
Mississippi Valley State University quarterback Austin Bray is the 1-10 Delta Devils’ pick for the award. He passed for 1,462 yards after completing 129 passes out of 239 attempts and finished the season with eight touchdowns and 11 interceptions, as MVSU struggled nearly every week on offense. He also rushed for 163 yards with four touchdowns.
Millsaps College went with defense for its Conerly nominee. Defensive lineman Alex Foust finished his senior season with 42 total tackles. He was a three-year starter for the Majors and finished second the Southern Athletic Association in tackles for a loss with 15.5 this season. He also finished second in the conference in sacks with 9.5 for the Majors, who ended the season with a 3-7 record.
Jackson State University named highly touted defensive lineman Javancy Jones for the Conerly. The senior missed time this season due to an injury and his mother’s illness, but he was still a force on the field when he was healthy.
Jones led the 3-8 Tigers with 17.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks, and he saw action at tight end, as he caught two passes with one ending in a touchdown. He was also JSU’s finalist for the Conerly last season.
Mississippi College also nominated a familiar name for the Conerly, as well, with wide receiver and kick returner Marcel Newsom tapped as the Choctaws' finalist for a second consecutive year.
He finished this season with 57 catches for 853 yards and five touchdowns for the 3-7 Choctaws, leading the Gulf South Conference in all-purpose yards with 180.6 per game and receiving yards with 94.8 yards per game.
Alcorn State went with linebacker Darian Anderson, who led the 5-5 Braves in tackles with 80 total.
He tops the Southwestern Athletic Conference in sacks with 10 and is one of the finalists for the Buck Buchanan Award, which the best defensive player at the FCS level receives. He will lead the Braves into their third straight SWAC Championship Game on Dec. 3.
The University of Mississippi named four-year starting tight end Evan Engram as its nominee for the Conerly. He has enjoyed a standout season, catching 65 yards for 926 yards and eight touchdowns. He is also a finalist for the Mackey Award, which the nation’s best tight end receives. He has at least one more game to play in his career for the 5-6 Rebels, who play against Mississippi State University in the Egg Bowl on Saturday, Nov. 26.
MSU honored senior wide-out Fred Ross as a Conerly finalist. The 4-7 Bulldogs suffered some tough losses, but Ross helped first-year starter Nick Fitzgerald get used to life as a SEC quarterback. Ross leads the SEC in touchdown catches with 11 and has caught 67 passes for 835 yards. His college career will end with the Egg Bowl.
Delta State University nominated running back Chris Robinson, the nation’s leading scorer at the Division II level. He put the 4-6 Statesmen on his back, rushing for 976 yards on 186 carries with 19 rushing touchdowns. He didn’t have to come off the field on passing downs and caught 37 passes for 551 yards and five touchdowns. He tied a DSU and Gulf South Conference record for touchdowns in a game with six against the University of West Florida.
Junior running back Ito Smith has been one of the most consistent players this season for the University of Southern Mississippi. He has posted his second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season, pulling in 1,194 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns for the 5-6 Golden Eagles. Smith also hauled in 38 passes for 390 yards and a touchdown. USM can reach bowl eligibility with a win this Friday against Louisiana Tech University.
The Conerly Trophy Ceremony will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 29, with a reception 5:30 p.m. and the dinner and trophy presentation at 6:30 p.m.. For ticket information, contact the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum at 1-800-280-FAME (3263), 601-982-8264 or [email protected].