Philadelphia, Pa. — Each began the season leading his FCS team to an impressive victory over FBS competition.
And not one took his foot off the pedal.
Quarterbacks Vernon Adams of Eastern Washington and Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois and running back Terrance West of Towson were the best at what they do during the regular season. All three have been invited to the announcement of the 27th Walter Payton Award, bestowed on the outstanding player in the FCS and considered the Heisman Trophy of the former Division I-AA level.
The winner will be announced at The Sports Network’s FCS Awards Banquet and Presentation on Dec. 16 in Philadelphia. The winners of the Buck Buchanan Award (FCS outstanding defensive player), Jerry Rice Award (FCS freshman of the year) and Eddie Robinson Award (FCS coach of the year) also will be feted that night.
Awards voting is based on the regular season.
The talents of Adams, Garoppolo and West are undeniable, and the statistics of the three have been otherworldly. Beginning with Eastern Washington beating Oregon State, Eastern Illinois topping San Diego State and Towson stopping Connecticut in the opening week of the season, the Payton Award finalists have commanded center stage.
Following are short descriptions of Vernon Adams, Jimmy Garoppolo and Terrance West, and then the voting totals for fourth through 20th place for the 2013 Walter Payton Award.
VERNON ADAMS, EASTERN WASHINGTON, QUARTERBACK, SOPHOMORE
Eastern Washington’s rich tradition of quarterbacks feature Walter Payton Award winners in Erik Meyer and Bo Levi Mitchell, and a former finalist, Matt Nichols, who is the Big Sky Conference’s all-time passing yardage leader.
But, says Eagles head coach Beau Baldwin, “Vernon’s season this year is the best I’ve seen since I’ve been a college football coach.”
Adams’ season of leading the Eastern Washington offense has been breathtaking ever since he racked up 518 total yards and six total touchdowns in a season- opening win at nationally ranked Oregon State. The 6-foot, 190-pound redshirt sophomore from Pasadena, Calif., went on to become the offensive player of the year in the Big Sky.
Adams threw for six touchdowns against rival Montana, with three other games of five touchdowns, and he finished EWU’s 10-2 regular season with 4,059 passing yards and a conference-record 46 touchdown passes. With another 491 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, he led the FCS in total offensive yards per game (379.2) as well as pass efficiency rating (185.7).
“I’ve improved a lot,” he said. “Last year, I had three great receivers and all I had to do was throw it up to those guys and they were making me look real good, helping me get the freshman (honors). I was just running like a chicken with my head cut off. I was only 170 (pounds), I was just trying to run around. Now this year, I’m actually seeing defenses, I’m seeing coverages they’re starting to throw a lot more down for me. Coach (Beau) Baldwin and Coach (Zak) Hill, my quarterback coach, they’re doing a great job helping me watch a lot of film and helping me see what coverages defenses are in, just helping me altogether be a better quarterback.”
JIMMY GAROPPOLO, EASTERN ILLINOIS, QUARTERBACK, SENIOR
Depending on how you look at it, Garoppolo made it either hard or easy for Ohio Valley Conference voters to select their offensive player of the week throughout the season. They could have searched far and wide each week to try and find a winner other than the Eastern Illinois senior quarterback. Or they could have looked to the unstoppable force and accepted the obvious.
That Garoppolo really was great week after week after …
He was selected as the OVC’s weekly award winner an incredible seven times, tying the conference record. Now as the national honors continue to flow in, Garoppolo is hoping to join Tony Romo as a Walter Payton Award recipient from Eastern Illinois. The Dallas Cowboys star was named the outstanding player in the FCS in 2002.
“Jimmy has had the best season from a college quarterback that I have ever seen, with the exception of maybe Robert Griffin when he won the Heisman at Baylor,” said EIU coach Dino Babers, in his second season since arriving from Baylor. “He is the engine that makes us go.”
Garoppolo has collected numerous season and career records both at EIU and in the OVC. In the regular season, Eastern Illinois forged an 11-1 record, didn’t lose to an FCS school and won a second straight outright conference title while the 6-foot-3, 222-pound NFL prospect out of Arlington Heights, Ill., directed the nation’s most potent offense.
He ranked first in the FCS in passing yards (4,489), passing yards per game (374.1) and touchdown passes (48), second in total offense (377.9 yards per game) and points responsible for (25.8 per game), third in passing efficiency (170.6), and fourth in completions per game (26.7). He threw for seven touchdowns against Illinois State and six against both Northern Illinois and UT Martin. He had only eight interceptions in 12 games.
TERRANCE WEST, TOWSON, RUNNING BACK, JUNIOR
West’s hometown is Baltimore, and he’s a junior attending Towson University.
But he lives in an opponent’s end zone. Any and all of them.
To put the star running back’s dominance in perspective, consider that he scored a national-high 31 touchdowns during the regular season. That was more touchdowns than 30 different FCS teams.
West, who received the inaugural Jerry Rice Award two years ago as the FCS national freshman of the year, has raced into contention this season for the Walter Payton Award, previously won at Towson by Dave Meggett in 1988. The powerful 5-foot-11, 223-pound West not only paced the FCS in scoring during the regular season, but his 1,875 rushing yards led the nation as well.
Opposing defenses may load up for West, yet he still dominates opponents when he gets the ball. He scored at least one touchdown in every game, including a career-best five against Delaware State. The CAA Football Offensive Player of the Year averaged 6.2 yards on a workhorse 301 carries, topping the 100-yard mark 10 times for a 10-2 squad.
“Ask me to play, I’ll play,” West said. “Ask me to run, I’ll run. Ask me to pass, I’ll pass. Ask me to catch, I’ll catch. Ask me to block, I’ll block. It’s not what you ask of me, it’s what I ask of myself. There isn’t an ‘I’ in team and there isn’t an ‘I’ in Terrance West. I couldn’t have done anything without my teammates, my coaches and God.”
West enters the FCS playoffs with 75 touchdowns in 33 career games. Former Villanova star Brian Westbrook, the 2001 Payton Award winner, could see his FCS career scoring records - 89 TDs and 544 points - fall to West in the next year.