His debut year, a national championship. The next year, the Walter Payton Award.
Those are the crowning glories for Eastern Washington University quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who capped a sensational two-year career for the Eagles by being selected as the winner of the Walter Payton Award given to the top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, the school announced Friday night.
Fathead.com sponsors the prestigious award, which was presented for the 25th time by The Sports Network at the annual FCS Awards Banquet on Friday evening (Jan. 6) in Frisco, Texas. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Mitchell edged out the other two finalists — Lehigh quarterback Chris Lum and Indiana State running back Shakir Bell — for the award.
Mitchell received 57 first-place votes and 453 total to win by a comfortable margin. Lum and Bell each finished with 219 votes, with Lum receiving 16 first-place votes and Bell getting 10.
“It’s an honor even to be mentioned in the final three,” said Mitchell, who becomes the fourth Eastern player in the last seven seasons to win either the Payton Award or the Buck Buchanan Award (top defensive player in FCS). “But to win the award is a huge accomplishment not only for me but for Eastern and our community.”
Eastern’s Erik Meyer won the Payton Award in 2005, and Greg Peach (2008) and J.C. Sherritt (2010) have previously won the Buck Buchanan Award presented to the top defensive player in FCS. A total of seven players from the Big Sky Conference have now won the Payton Award.
After playing two seasons at Southern Methodist University, Mitchell transferred to Eastern in January 2010 and led the Eagles to the NCAA Division I title his first season. The native of Katy, Texas, was selected as the Most Outstanding Player in EWU’s 20-19 come-from-behind victory over Delaware in the title game.
In 2011, Mitchell led the FCS in four categories, including passing yards (4,009) and touchdown passes (33) on his way to breaking four school records. He broke EWU’s record for single season passing yards with 4,009, which ranks 17th in FCS history and fifth in Big Sky Conference history.
“He really had an amazing career here,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “It’s a compliment to his work ethic and his ability to pick-up a new system. He had the talent and basically just evolved within our system and kept getting better. Even though our record wasn’t what we wanted, he kept finding a way to improve and get better every week all the way until the end of the season. That says a lot about his mentality, his competitiveness and his overall drive.”
“I want to thank my parents for everything they’ve done for me throughout my entire life, and my brothers who have always led me along the way and have been role models,” praised Mitchell. “And I appreciate all the coaches along the way, including Coach (June) Jones and Coach (Dan) Morrison at SMU for everything they taught me. Coach (Zak) Hill and Coach Baldwin have transformed me and turned me into the player I am today. Those people are the reason I won this award.”
Baldwin said he fully expects the strong-armed Mitchell – nicknamed the “Gunslinger” – to have the opportunity to play professional football for a long time.
“I expect him to be in a camp somewhere,” Baldwin said. “In my opinion, he’s too good a football player and too good a quarterback to not have at least the opportunity to make a team and play football at the next level.”
Mitchell was named to seven All-America teams this past season, earning first team honors on six of them. He was the top quarterback on teams selected by The Sports Network, American Football Coaches Association, Walter Camp, Associated Press, Phil Steele Publications and Beyond Sports College Network. Also, Mitchell earned third team honors from collegesportsmadness.com, with The College Sporting News Fabulous Fifty All-America team yet to be announced.
“To win all the national honors and win a national championship has been amazing to me and is something I’ll remember all my life,” Mitchell said. “I’ve created relationships with players and coaches on this team that will last a lifetime.”
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