One might expect the No. 1-ranked Football Championship Subdivision team in the country to collect a good share of the hardware when its league hands out its annual postseason awards.
And Eastern Washington University, which sits atop both The Sports Network/Fathead.com Top-25 and the FCS Coaches Poll this week, did just that Tuesday afternoon when the Big Sky Conference named Eagles senior linebacker J.C. Sherritt its defensive player of the year and his teammate, junior running back Taiwan Jones, it co-offensive player of the year.
It was the third time since 1997 that EWU has been honored with both awards in the same year. Quarterback Harry Leons and defensive tackle Chris Scott claimed those awards in 1997, and quarterback Erik Meyer and linebacker Joey Cwik did the same in 2005.
In addition, five other Eagles earned first-team All-Big Sky honors.
Sophomore wideout Brandon Kaufman and junior center Chris Powers were selected to the first-team offensive unit, while junior tackle Renard Williams, junior safety Matt Johnson and junior special teams coverage specialist Darriell Beaumont were named to the first-team defense.
Twelve other Eastern players received either second-team or honorable-mention recognition, giving the Eagles a total of 19 on this year’s BSC honor roll.
But the biggest awards went to Sherritt and Jones, who were both unanimous first-team picks.
Sherritt, a 5-foot-10, 220-pounder from Pullman and the runner-up in last year’s voting for the Buck Buchanan award, finished second in the Big Sky in tackles this fall with 125, including 2 1/2 sacks and 10 tackles for losses. He also intercepted three passes, broke up seven, forced two fumbles and recovered one.
Jones, a 6-1, 200-pounder, who shared the offensive POY award with Montana State’s redshirt freshman quarterback BSC newcomer of the year Denarius McGhee, rushed for 1,344 yards and 11 touchdowns during the regular season. He averaged 7.6 yards per carry and 134 yards per game, which ranks No. 4, nationally.
Jones, who also ranks second in all-purpose yards with an average of 195.1 per game, is the first running back to claim the offensive POY award since EWU’s Jesse Chatman in 2001.
“They worked hard for those two honors,” Eagles head coach Beau Baldwin said of Sherritt and Jones. “Individual honors are in direct relationship to your team’s success and the players around them.
“Even though they honored J.C. and Taiwan as players of the year, they would be the first to say that, in a way, those are still team honors.
“Everybody is excited for those two players.”
Eastern, which shared this year’s Big Sky title with Montana State, received an at-large berth in the upcoming FCS playoffs and will open play at home on Dec. 4 with a second-round game against Southeast Missouri State.