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Eastern’s Cooper Kupp top freshman in FCS

EWU’s Cooper Kupp made up for lost time. (Tyler Tjomsland)
EWU’s Cooper Kupp made up for lost time. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Perhaps Cooper Kupp was just making up for lost time.

After going almost two years without playing a game, the Eastern Washington wide receiver burst onto the scene this year with a performance that almost guaranteed the inevitable Monday night: Kupp was named the top freshman in the Football Championship Subdivision by the most lopsided vote in the three-year history of the Jerry Rice Award.

Kupp took 80 first-place votes to just 16 for the runner-up, running back Marcus Cox of Appalachian State, and outpolled Cox 557 to 259 in total points from a national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries.

Those are big numbers for sure, and the product of bigger ones on the field. Going into Saturday’s FCS semifinal game against Towson, Kupp has 85 catches for 1,567 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also has touchdown catches in 14 straight games, a record not just for freshmen, but for all FCS receivers.

“To win this award, it’s special, and it takes a lot of work for a lot of years,” Eastern coach Beau Baldwin said Monday night. “He spent a whole redshirt year getting better, and not just in the fall.

“He’s a guy with tremendous talent, but he maximizes it to a level that is different from any freshman I have seen.”

Kupp’s award was announced Monday morning by The Sports Network, which sponsors the event. While the Eagles prepared for Saturday’s game, Kupp’s parents, Craig and Karin, were in Philadelphia to receive the award at a banquet Monday night.

Meanwhile, Eagles coaches and fans gathered at Northern Quest Casino in Airway Heights for Baldwin’s weekly radio show and to await word on the Walter Payton Award.

Eagles quarterback Vernon Adams – one of three finalists for the Payton, emblematic of the top player in FCS – finished second behind Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Towson running back Terrance West finished third.

Neither Eagles player was available for comment Monday night. Kupp, Adams and safety Allen Brown were briefly in attendance at Northern Quest, but left hurriedly because Brown had a family emergency.

“Many people get caught up in the big-play aspect,” Baldwin said of Adams on Monday night, “but he understands defenses, he thinks quickly and he changes protections and that takes work.”

Through 14 games, Adams has completed 291 of 444 passes (65.5 percent) for 4,600 yards, 53 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Garoppolo, a senior, is 375 of 568 (66 percent) for 5,050 yards, 53 TDs and nine picks after the Panthers were eliminated by Towson.

In that game, the third finalist, Towson running back West, ran for 354 yards and five touchdowns to boost his season total to 2,295 yards and 38 touchdowns. However, voting for all awards was completed at the end of the regular season.

Garoppolo gained just over half of the first-place votes – 74 of 147 – and 576 points. Adams was second with 446 points and West third with 370.

The Payton Award was won previously by Eastern players Erik Meyer in 2005 and Bo Levi Mitchell in 2011.

Baldwin finished sixth in voting for the Eddie Robinson Award, given to the top coach in FCS. North Dakota State Craig Bohl won for the second straight year.