PHILADELPHIA -- Heads up, Tony Romo, there is another Eastern Illinois quarterback coming to the NFL.
And Jimmy Garoppolo is bringing his Walter Payton Award with him.
Monday night, Garoppolo became the second Payton Award winner from Eastern Illinois, an Ohio Valley Conference school, following in Romo's footsteps by outdistancing Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams and Towson running back Terrance West in the voting for FCS outstanding player honors.A 6-foot-3, 222-pound senior and perhaps the leading offensive candidate from the FCS for the 2014 NFL Draft, Garoppolo gained just more than half of the first-place votes -- 74 of 147 -- and 576 points from a national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries. Adams was second with 446 points and West third with 370.
Garoppolo was spectacular during the regular season when Eastern Illinois went 11-1, won a second consecutive outright OVC championship and was ranked No. 2 in the nation, losing only to FBS member Northern Illinois by four points.
He ranked first in the FCS in passing yards (4,489), passing yards per game (374.1) and touchdown passes (48), second in total offense (377.9 yards per game) and points responsible for (25.8 per game), third in passing efficiency (170.6), and fourth in completions per game (26.7).
An easy choice for OVC offensive player of the year, Garoppolo threw for seven touchdowns against Illinois State and six against both Northern Illinois and UT Martin. He even caught a touchdown against Jacksonville State
Garoppolo, a native of Arlington Heights, Ill., continued to build on his many Eastern Illinois and OVC records throughout the FCS playoffs this month. He finished the Panthers' 12-2 season completing 375 of 568 pass attempts (66 percent) for 5,050 yards and 53 touchdowns with only nine interceptions.
"Jimmy has had the best season from a college quarterback that I have ever seen, with the exception of maybe Robert Griffin when he won the Heisman at Baylor," said EIU coach Dino Babers, in his second season since arriving from Baylor. "He is the engine that makes us go.
"I'm happy for Jimmy, his family and his teammates for all the success he has had on the field this season and these types of awards are rightly deserved."
Romo, the Dallas Cowboys' star signal caller, won the Payton Award in 2002.
Adams, a 6-foot, 190-pound redshirt sophomore from Pasadena, Calif., finished EWU's 10-2 regular season with 4,059 passing yards and a conference-record 46 touchdown passes. With another 491 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, the Big Sky Conference offensive player of the year led the FCS in total offensive yards per game (379.2) as well as passing efficiency rating (185.7).
Adams has taken Eastern Washington to two FCS playoff wins and into the national semifinals. Overall, he is 291-for-444 for 4,600 yards and 53 touchdowns with 14 interceptions. He's raised his rushing yards to 540.
West, a 5-11, 223-pound junior from Baltimore, led the FCS in rushing yards (1,875) and scoring (31 touchdowns) during Towson's 10-2 regular season. The CAA Football offensive player of the year averaged 6.2 yards on a workhorse 301 carries.
Towson has won two playoff games and West will next square off with Adams in the national semifinals. After rushing for a playoff-record 354 yards against Eastern Illinois in the quarterfinals, West's amazing season totals are 364 carries for 2,295 yards as well as 39 total touchdowns, which ties the FCS single-season record.
The three Payton Award finalists were feted at The Sports Network's FCS Awards Banquet and Presentation along with the winners of the Buck Buchanan Award (Montana State defensive end Brad Daly, FCS outstanding defensive player), Jerry Rice Award (Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp, FCS freshman of the year) and Eddie Robinson Award (North Dakota State's Craig Bohl, FCS coach of the year).
Jarrett Payton, son of the late Walter Payton, who enjoyed his Hall of Fame career with the Chicago Bears, presented the 27th Payton Award at the national banquet.