Nov. 28, 2009

By Judd Spicer
Special to

DULUTH, Minn. - Many, if not most, of the nation’s nearly 150 Sports Information Directors in Division II football have already cast their respective votes for the Harlon Hill Trophy prior to Sunday’s deadline.  However, for the six of nine finalists playing in Saturday’s four DII quarterfinal contests, history has proven that deep postseason runs behoove a player’s chances of being named the top player in the country. 

The award’s namesake Hill was a sturdy wideout for run-oriented Florence State Teachers College (now University of North Alabama) from 1950-54.  His ensuing professional career with the Chicago Bears (and later the Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions) earned early decoration, with Hill named NFL Rookie of the Year in 1954 and winner of the Jim Thorpe Trophy recognizing the NFL’s most valuable player in 1955.  Hill was also named All-Pro for three consecutive seasons between 1954-56.

Of the nine 2009 finalists named on Nov. 19, two played in Duluth on Saturday – Grand Valley State University quarterback Brad Iciek and University of Minnesota-Duluth running back Isaac Odim.

Iciek’s GVSU Lakers battled in Duluth Saturday, opposing Odim’s defending national champion Bulldogs.  The game was a rematch of last year’s national quarterfinal, won in Allendale, Mich. by UMD, 19-13 in two overtimes. 

The Bulldog bite was not to be repeated this year.

In Grand Valley’s 24-10 victory Saturday, it was Iciek who did more to corral last-minute votes.  Now a three-time finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy, Iciek completed 14-of-20 passes for 225 yards and two scores.  The performance redeemed his outing of last season when he threw three picks in the Lakers’ loss.

While Odim had topped the 100-yard mark in all 12 of Duluth’s previous games this year, the junior back managed just 67 yards on 18 carries Saturday against the Lakers’ 6th-ranked rush defense.  In last year’s upset of Grand Valley, he had rumbled for 130 ground yards and a score.

Of the 23 previous winners since the trophy’s inception in 1986, a notable 74 percent of the award winner’s respective teams made the national quarterfinal round (17 of 23 teams).  Extending the season further to the national semifinal were nine of the winner’s teams, while six of the Hill winner’s clubs advanced to the championship game.  On just five occasions in the Hill’s history has the winner’s team concurrently captured the DII National Championship.  Those instances occurred in the following years:  1986 (Jeff Bentrim, North Dakota State), 1990 (Chris Simdorn, North Dakota State), 1991 (Ronnie West, Pittsburgh State), 1995 (Ronald McKinnon, University of North Alabama), and 2002 (Curt Anes, Grand Valley State).