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Linebacker Daiyan Henley lands on All-Pac-12 first team to headline Washington State’s haul of all-conference selections

Washington State linebacker Daiyan Henley poses for a photograph on Aug. 10. Henley was selected by the Los Angeles Chargers on Friday in the third round of the NFL draft.  (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – In his first and only season as a Pac-12 player, Daiyan Henley was one of the conference’s top performers.

Washington State’s senior outside linebacker landed on the All-Pac-12 first team when postseason awards were announced Tuesday. Henley was the only Cougar to capture first-team honors.

Edge rushers Brennan Jackson and Ron Stone Jr. earned second-team accolades and seven Cougars drew honorable mention nods. Henley also claimed a second-team spot as an all-purpose/special teams player.

Henley, who transferred to WSU this offseason out of Nevada, emerged quickly as a Pac-12 standout and set the pace throughout the year for a Cougars defense that was among the conference’s best.

He leads the team and ranks second in the Pac-12 with 106 tackles. Henley finished the regular season third in the conference with 12 tackles for loss. He added three forced fumbles – tied for a conference high – two fumble recoveries, four sacks and one interception.

The 6-foot-2, 232-pounder from Los Angeles is the first WSU linebacker to be named to the All-Pac-12 first team since Will Derting in 2003. Henley is the first player in program history to be tabbed a finalist for the Butkus Award, given annually to the best linebacker in the country. Projected to be taken in next year’s NFL draft, Henley has accepted an invitation to participate in the Senior Bowl all-star showcase, which will be held Feb. 4 in Mobile, Alabama.

A team captain and fifth-year Cougar, Jackson turned in his finest season, totaling 39 tackles, a team-high five sacks and 11 TFLs – fifth in the conference. He contributed two pass deflections, one forced fumble and led the Cougars with 38 quarterback pressures. Jackson picked up an all-conference honorable mention in each of the past two seasons.

Stone, who took home first-team All-Pac-12 honors last year, couldn’t replicate his 2021 season, but he still made enough of an impact to convince the voters – the conference’s coaches. The team captain and fifth-year Cougar totaled 31 tackles, four TFLs, two sacks, and tied for second in the Pac-12 with 11 QB hits.

Earning honorable mention recognition for WSU were quarterback Cameron Ward, running back Nakia Watson, return man Robert Ferrel, left tackle Jarrett Kingston, cornerback Chau Smith-Wade, nickel Armani Marsh and punter Nick Haberer. Honorable mention awards are presented to players who received at least three all-conference votes from Pac-12 coaches.

Ward, who joined WSU this offseason after two prolific passing seasons at Incarnate Word, threw for 3,094 yards and 23 touchdowns against eight interceptions, completing 64% of his attempts.

The sophomore didn’t throw an interception across the final five games of the season. Ward ranks sixth in the Pac-12 in passing yards per game and second with 298 completions. He added five rushing touchdowns and, excluding yards lost from sacks, totaled more than 300 yards on the ground.

Watson finished the regular season fifth in the conference with 12 touchdowns from scrimmage and 102.6 all-purpose yards per game. The junior missed two games in the middle of the season due to an injury, but had his four best games of the year after making his return to the field Nov. 5. Watson recorded 553 yards and eight TDs from scrimmage across WSU’s final four games of the season. He totaled 736 yards on the ground in his first season as WSU’s first-team tailback, and gained 290 yards in the receiving game. Watson posted 10 rushes of over 20 yards – third most in the Pac-12.

Ferrel transferred to WSU this offseason after playing alongside Ward for two seasons at Incarnate Word. After missing WSU’s first two games of the year with an injury, Ferrel took over punt-returning duties and broke into WSU’s first-team lineup on offense. The senior ranks second in the Pac-12 with 10.7 yards per return and had three returns of 20 or more yards. He was also WSU’s No. 2 receiver, logging 517 yards and four TDs on 46 catches.

Kingston did not allow a sack on 398 passing plays in nine games before suffering a season-ending injury Nov. 5 at Stanford. According to Pro Football Focus’ performance metrics, Kingston had the best overall grade among the Cougars’ offensive linemen and posted the No. 3 pass-blocking grade among the Pac-12’s offensive tackles.

Smith-Wade settled for an honorable mention nod in his first year as a starter. The sophomore was the fourth-ranked defensive back in the conference in both overall defensive grade and coverage grade, according to PFF. Smith-Wade tied for the conference lead with three forced fumbles. He picked off two passes, made a team-high eight PBUs, and posted 42 tackles and 2½ TFLs.

Marsh, a team captain and sixth-year Cougar from Spokane, finished his final regular season at WSU third on the team with 69 tackles, including three TFLs. He broke up five passes and had one interception. Marsh owns the sixth-highest overall grade and the No. 6 coverage grade for Pac-12 corners/nickels, per PFF.

Haberer, a sophomore from Australia, led the conference in fair catches (27), hang-time average (4.14 seconds) and ranks second in the conference with 19 punts pinned inside the 20-yard line. Heading into the postseason, Haberer sits third in the Pac-12 with an average of 41.9 yards per punt.

The Cougars (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12) conclude their 2022 season, their first full season under coach Jake Dickert, on Dec. 17 in the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl against Fresno State. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. from SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.

Washington’s Kalen DeBoer and Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith shared Pac-12 Coach of the Year award. The Huskies’ first-year coach, DeBoer led a major turnaround for the program, which compiled a 10-2 record after finishing 4-8 last year. The Beavers’ fifth-year coach, Smith guided OSU to nine wins during its best season in a decade

Offensive player of the year went to USC quarterback Caleb Williams, who is one of four finalists for the Heisman Trophy. Trojans defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu received defensive player of the year after leading the conference with 12½ sacks. Freshman of the year awards went to Oregon State running back Damien Martinez and Utah linebacker Lander Barton.

WSU strong safety Jaden Hicks was one of six nominees for Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. Hicks landed on College Football News’ freshman All-America third team on Tuesday.

He started 10 games and led all Pac-12 freshman defenders with 69 tackles – second among Cougars defenders. Hicks made one interception this season and recovered one fumble, which he returned for a touchdown against Stanford.