FRISCO, Texas – After being “completely surprised” by his second-place finish is last year’s voting for the Buck Buchanan Award, Eastern Washington’s J.C. Sherritt was equally shocked to learn he had won this year’s award, which is give annually to the Football Championship Subdivision’s top defensive player.
But only because of the scare thrown into him by his head coach Beau Baldwin.
It turns out Baldwin learned about Sherritt winning the award about a month ago, shortly after his No. 1-ranked Eagles – who will face Delaware for the NCAA Division I Championship at 4 p.m. today at Pizza Hut Park – earned an at-large berth in the FCS playoffs.
“He pulled a pretty good prank on me,” said Sherritt, a senior linebacker and two-time All-American, who broke EWU’s career tackles record earlier this year. “He called me into his office and had me convinced I might be suspended for our playoff game because of an illegal tackle.
“He told me (NCAA officials) were about to review some tapes and take possible action that could get me suspended. But then he let me know I had won the Buchanan, and it went from a pretty big low to a pretty big high.”
Sherritt, a 5-foot-10, 220-pounder from Pullman, formally received his award at Thursday night’s Sports Network FCS Awards Banquet at which Stephen F. Austin quarterback Jeremy Moses was also honored with the Walter Payton Award as the top offensive player in the FCS, and Southeast Missouri State’s Tony Samuel was given the Eddie Robinson Award as the top coach.
“It’s just a great honor,” said Sherritt, who averaged 11.4 tackles per game this season, while also registering three sacks, picking off three passes, forcing two fumbles and recovering another. “But what makes it even more special is to be down here with my teammates to accept it.
“To be able to so that and play for a national championship, too … I mean, you just can’t ask for more than that.”
Sherritt is the only Buchanan winner to play in the title game in the same season.
Baldwin called Sherritt highly deserving of the award, adding he is one of the most inspirational leaders he has coached.
“It’s so good to see a guy who is not only the best football player in the country – and that’s what he is – but also such a great leader, win this award.
“As good a football player as J.C. is, he’s even a better person and teammate. In all my years of coaching and just being around people, I’ve never met anyone more inspiring – especially when things are going bad and there’s adversity.
“Anyone can lead when things are going good, but J.C – whether it’s after a loss, like we had against Montana State, or when you’re facing in-game adversity, which we’ve had a ton of this year being behind late – has a special knack or getting guys back up and refocused.”
Sherritt, who led all FCS defenders in tackles last fall with 170, has had a hand in 158 this year, moving past Greg Belzer (399) and into the No. 1 spot on Eastern all-time list with 414.
The Eagles’ last Buchanan Award winner was defensive lineman Greg Peach, who was honored in 2008.