PHILADELPHIA - The value of experience and intangibles can't be understated within a successful football team.
But there's even more to be said for good old fashioned talent.
North Dakota State is one win shy of capturing an unprecedented fourth consecutive FCS national title because of the way it blends all of the factors together. Senior defensive end Kyle Emanuel, the 2014 Buck Buchanan Award winner, led the way Tuesday as the Bison placed a national-high six players on The Sports Network FCS All-America Team.
Bison junior left tackle Joe Haeg joined Emanuel on the first team, while senior running back John Crockett, senior safety Colten Heagle and junior punter Ben LeCompte were named to the second team, and junior fullback Andrew Bonnet to the third team. No other program had more than four players on the three All-America teams, which were comprised of 104 players spread across 64 programs and all 13 FCS conferences.
Like Emanuel, the national defensive player of the year, the other players to win major FCS awards earned All-American honors. Villanova junior quarterback John Robertson (Walter Payton Award, outstanding player) and South Dakota State senior running back Zach Zenner (Mickey Charles Award, outstanding FCS student-athlete) were named to the first team, and Fordham freshman running back Chase Edmonds (Jerry Rice Award, freshman of the year) made the second team.
Zenner's spot on the first team was his third straight, and it follows his third consecutive season of rushing for more than 2,000 yards, which had never been done previously on the Division I level. He had 2,019 rushing yards and 26 total touchdowns this season.
Eastern Washington sophomore wide receiver Cooper Kupp, Southern Illinois senior tight end MyCole Pruitt and Eastern Illinois senior offensive lineman Collin Seibert made the first team for a second consecutive season. Senior safety Jaquiski Tartt of Samford also landed on the first team for a second time, having previously earned the honor in 2012.
During the regular season, the 6-foot-3, 251-pound Emanuel tied for the FCS high in sacks and ranked second in tackles for loss. He now has 93 tackles, 19.5 sacks and 31 tackles for loss for the 14-1 Bison heading into the national championship game against Illinois State on Jan. 10. Emanuel is part of a North Dakota State senior class that will try to finish with more FCS titles than losses in their career as they have an incredible 57-3 record over the last four seasons.
"I've been extremely blessed to be put in a great situation at North Dakota State," Emanuel said, "whether it's my teammates, my coaches or just friends and people that I've met at North Dakota State. It really is a special place."
Haeg is the other first-team All-American from the Missouri Valley Football Conference co-champion Bison, anchoring an offensive line that set up Crockett for a record-setting season in the backfield.
Villanova reached the national quarterfinals as Robertson added to his 2012 Jerry Rice Award with the 2014 Payton. CAA Football's top offensive player surpassed 1,000 rushing yards for the third time and threw for a career-high 2,846 yards to average 301.8 total yards per game and account for 46 total touchdowns (35 passing, 11 rushing).
"Being around this team," Robertson said, "I've never been around a team with so much passion. And they made me the best player that I could be. They showed me so much support."
Other offensive players on the All-America first team were: running backs Marshaun Coprich of Illinois State and Gus Johnson of Stephen F. Austin; fullback Seth Fisher of Richmond; wide receivers DeAndre Carter of Sacramento State and R.J. Harris of New Hampshire; offensive linemen Mason Halter of Fordham, Chad Hamilton of Coastal Carolina and Max Holcombe of Jacksonville State; and all-purpose player David Johnson of Northern Iowa.
Among the defensive standouts, there were defensive linemen Javon Hargrave of South Carolina State, Davis Tull of Chattanooga and Zack Wagenmann of Montana; linebackers Quinn Backus of Coastal Carolina, Don Cherry of Villanova, Nick Dzubnar of Cal Poly and Connor Underwood of Indiana State; and defensive backs Jacob Hagen of Liberty, Donald Payne of Stetson and Christian Ricard of Stony Brook.
The first-team specialists were Liberty's John Lunsford (place-kicker), Portland State's Kyle Loomis (punter), Murray State's Pokey Harris (kick returner), South Carolina State's Antonio Hamilton (punt returner) and Illinois State's Chris Highland (long snapper).
The first team included the FCS leaders in rushing yards (Coprich, 2,168), passing efficiency and points responsible for (Robertson, 181.3 and 280), receiving yards (Harris, 1,551); tackles per game (Payne, 14.5), punting average (Loomis, 46.0) and punt return average (Hamilton, 25.6).
The Missouri Valley Conference had both the most All-Americans (18) and first-team selections (eight). The Big Sky (12), CAA (12), Ohio Valley (11) and Southland (10) also reached double figures in All-American selections.