Defensive tackle Hercules Mata’afa and offensive guard Cody O’Connell headlined the list of Washington State players who were selected to the Pac-12’s all-conference teams Tuesday morning.
Of the nine Cougars recognized, Mata’afa and O’Connell were the only ones named to the first team. Safety Jalen Thompson, offensive tackle Cole Madison and kicker Erik Powell were recognized on the second team while offensive tackle Andre Dillard, quarterback Luke Falk, running back Jamal Morrow and linebacker Frankie Luvu all drew honorable mention.
Mata’afa was thought to be in the running for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, but the conference’s coaches came to a consensus that Washington nose tackle Vita Vea was more deserving. After a 41-14 loss to the Huskies in the Apple Cup, Cougars coach Mike Leach called Vea “the best player on (UW)” and someone who’s “more disruptive than he gets statistics for.”
Stanford’s David Shaw won Pac-12 Coach of the Year, Cardinal running back Bryce Love was named Offensive Player of the Year, Arizona running back J.J. Taylor and Stanford offensive lineman Walker Little shared Offensive Newcomer of the Year while Arizona linebacker Colin Schooler earned the league’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year award.
Mata’afa and O’Connell have five all-conference awards between them and Mata’afa, a junior from Hawaii, becomes the first WSU defensive lineman to earn first team honors since Mkristo Bruce in 2006. Mata’afa was honorable mention as a freshman in 2015 and was named to the second team as a sophomore. He leads the Pac-12 in sacks (9.5) and tackles-for-loss (21.5) and was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Week after making eight tackles, including five TFLs, three sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in the game against Utah.
O’Connell was a unanimous All-American in 2016 who earned honorable mention from the Pac-12 as a redshirt junior. The 6-8, 354-pound native of Wenatchee was also an Outland Trophy finalist last season and started all 12 games for the Cougars at left guard.
A senior from Burien, Washington, Madison has been named honorable mention each of the last three seasons and will make his team-best 47th career start when the Cougars play Michigan State in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 28. Madison has earned WSU’s Bone Award – given weekly to the best offensive lineman – four times and on Monday, he accepted an invitation to the Reese’s Senior Bowl, an all-star game for upperclassmen that will take place in late January.
Thompson was the top defensive back for a WSU team that allowed just 167.2 passing yards per game this season – good enough for eighth in the country. The sophomore from Downey, California, recorded a team-high 69 tackles and four interceptions while tying for the team lead with three fumble recoveries. Thompson’s first career all-league honor comes one year after he was named a True Freshman All-American by ESPN.
Powell was perhaps the most improved WSU player this season and earns second team All-Pac-12 honors five years after his mentor, Andrew Furney, was recognized. The Vancouver, Washington, native went 19-of-23 on field goals this season – one of those was blocked – after connecting on just 9-of-15 as a junior. Powell earned three Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week honors and was responsible for 101 points – third-most in the conference. He made three kicks longer than 50 yards and nailed the game-winning 32-yarder in a victory over then No. 5 USC.
The third WSU offensive lineman recognized is Dillard, a redshirt junior who will make his 29th career start in the Holiday Bowl and has started every game each of the last two seasons. The Woodinville, Washington, native earned the Bone Award twice this season after wins over Nevada and USC.
Falk, the one-time walk-on from Logan, Utah, earns All-Pac-12 honors for the third time in his career after being named to the first team in 2015 and the second team in 2016. WSU’s fourth-year starter has broken every major Pac-12 career passing record, including passing yards (14,486), passing touchdowns (119), total offense (14,086), plays (2,306), completions (1,404), attempts (2,055) and 300-yard games (30). He also owns the WSU record for wins by a quarterback with 27. This season, Falk led the Pac-12 with 30 touchdown passes and racked up 3,593 passing yards while earning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors twice.
Luvu, a senior from Pago Pago, American Samoa, became the Cougars’ full-time starter at Rush linebacker this season and blossomed in the role, finishing with 6.5 sacks (ninth in Pac-12) and 10.5 TFLs (12th). Luvu recovered two fumbles and sealed the win over No. 18 Stanford with the first interception of his career.
For the second straight season, Morrow earns honorable mention after pacing the Cougars on the ground with 552 rushing yards. The versatile senior registered 1,070 all-purpose yards – the third time in four years he’s gone over 1,000. Morrow tied for the team lead with nine total touchdowns and was fourth with 56 receptions. The Menifee, California, native will finish his career in the top-10 all-time at WSU in total receptions, touchdowns, all-purpose yards and with the school record for running back catches.