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Craig Haley | FCS Executive Director | July 15, 2015

STATS FCS Defensive Player of the Year Watch List

FCS 7-15

PHILADELPHIA -- As offenses continue to get faster in college football, two of the best defensive equalizers are sacks and tackles for loss.

Both can devastate an offensive drive.

The ability to get into opponents' backfields is evident across the STATS FCS Defensive Player of the Year Watch List, announced Wednesday. The 22-member group is not for the feint of heart -- especially unsuspecting quarterbacks and running backs -- as it features many of the nation's most aggressive pass rushers and disruptive players.

Seven finalists for 2014 national defensive player of the year honors returned to the preseason list: defensive ends James Cowser of Southern Utah and Jonathan Woodard of Central Arkansas; South Carolina State defensive tackle Javon Hargrave; Gardner-Webb nose guard O.J. Mau; linebackers Don Cherry of Villanova and Connor Underwood of Indiana State; and safety Donald Payne of Stetson.

Also named to the preseason watch list were defensive ends P.J. Hall of Sam Houston State, Victor Ochi of Stony Brook, Derek Rivers of Youngstown State and Chima Uzowihe of Liberty; Jacksonville State defensive tackle Devaunte Sigler; linebackers Kourtney Berry of Alabama State, Cory Magwood of Furman, Deon King of Norfolk State, Pat Meehan of Illinois State, James Rentz of Sacred Heart, Luke Rhodes of William & Mary and Darnell Sankey of Sacramento State; and cornerbacks Casey DeAndrade of New Hampshire, Jermaine Hough of Jacksonville State and Harlan Miller of Southeastern Louisiana.

The breakdown by position: nine linebackers, six defensive ends, three cornerbacks, two defensive tackles, one nose guard and one safety. CAA Football had the most nominees with four.

But the numbers also add up with sacks and tackles for loss. And they keep adding, for that matter.

Nobody had a more impressive day getting into an opponent's backfield last season than Hargrave, who set the FCS single-game record with a six-sack performance. The South Carolina State All-American went on to tie for the second-most sacks in the FCS with 16 last season while also totaling 23.5 tackles for loss.

Speaking of tackles for loss, no player averaged more per game than Cowser, who racked up 29 in 12 games.

But standout totals were everywhere, including with the likes of Cherry (21.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks), who finished second in the voting to last year's national defensive player of the year, former North Dakota State defensive end Kyle Emanuel; Underwood (25 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks); Hall (24 tackles for loss, 12 sacks); Rentz (19 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks); Woodard (18.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks); Rivers (17 tackles for loss, 14 sacks); Mau (20.5 tackles for loss); Ochi (16.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks); Payne (19 tackles loss); and King (18 tackles for loss).

The STATS FCS Defensive Player of the Year Watch List can undergo revision during the 2015 season. A national panel of over 150 sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries will vote on the winner following the regular season.

Also this season, STATS will honor the outstanding offensive player in the FCS, a freshman player of the year and a coach of the year with season-ending awards.

2015 STATS FCS Defensive Player of the Year Award Watch List

Kourtney Berry -- No. 32

Alabama State Hornets
Linebacker -- Junior
6-feet, 215 pounds
Hometown: Merrillville, Indiana

* Was named to the All-Southwestern Athletic Conference first team as both a freshman and sophomore. Also was the SWAC's newcomer of the year in 2013 and a third-team All-American in 2014.
* Sideline-to-sideline tackler who has had as many as 20 stops in a game. His 128 tackles in 2014 led the conference and his 105 in 2013 were the second-most.
* Uses his quickness to get around blockers and into opposing backfields. Combined for 25 tackles for loss in his first two seasons.
* Born on New Year's Day in 1994, Berry is a cousin to his first head coach at Alabama State, Reggie Barlow.

Don Cherry -- No. 44

Villanova Wildcats
Linebacker -- Senior
6-1, 221
Hometown: Trumbull, Connecticut

* A prototypical linebacker, Cherry plays with an intelligent, instinctive style. He utilizes excellent speed to get to the ball and is physical.
* First-team All-American finished second in the voting for the 2014 national defensive player of the year award. Had an impressive stat line with 134 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, five forced fumbles, four pass breakups and one interception in 14 games.
* Helped the Wildcats reach the FCS national quarterfinals, where he tied his career high with 16 tackles against Sam Houston State.
* Cherry blossomed as a sophomore in 2013, finishing one tackle shy of 100.

James Cowser -- No. 53

Southern Utah Thunderbirds
Defensive End -- Graduate Student
6-4, 258
Hometown: Fruit Heights, Utah

* Disruptive pass rusher is strong enough to push through offensive linemen and quick enough to go around them. Teammates rally around his relentless style of play.
* Totaled 29 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks in his junior season, giving him totals of 61.5 and 29.5, respectively, through three seasons.
* Made the All-American second team and All-Big Sky Conference first team in 2014.
* Helped Southern Utah record its first FCS playoff bid in 2013 while earning All-Big Sky second-team honors.
* An honors student off the field, Cowser redshirted in 2009 and then served an LDS Church mission during the 2010 and '11 seasons.

Casey DeAndrade -- No. 28

New Hampshire Wildcats
Cornerback -- Junior
5-11, 214
Hometown: East Bridgewater, Massachusetts

* Uses athleticism, instincts and a disciplined style effectively as a cover corner.
* Has great speed to attack the ball in the air. He had an immediate impact as a freshman in 2013 with 23 pass breakups, including three interceptions. His 1.6 passes defended per game ranked second nationally.
* Helped New Hampshire achieve both a No. 1 ranking and a second consecutive appearance in the FCS national semifinals in 2014, finishing with 69 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries, one interception and 12 pass breakups.
* The All-CAA Football first-team selection is known for his long blond hair. DeAndrade first grew it out in a bet with his brother Justin.

P.J. Hall -- No. 92

Sam Houston State Bearkats
Defensive End -- Sophomore
6-1, 270
Hometown: Seguin, Texas

* Hall is often double-teamed, but the physical pass rusher uses his strength to get to ball carriers.
* He debuted in 2014 as arguably the best freshman defensive player in the FCS, earning All-Southland Conference first team and All-American third-team honors.
* Led the Southland in tackles for loss (24). Also racked up 93 tackles, 12 sacks, eight pass breakups and four forced fumbles, and was outstanding on special teams, blocking an FCS-high five kicks.
* Finished third in the voting for the 2014 national freshman of the year award and helped Sam Houston State reach the FCS semifinals.

Javon Hargrave -- No. 97

South Carolina State Bulldogs
Defensive Tackle -- Junior
6-3, 311
Hometown: Salisbury, North Carolina

* One of the more dominating interior pass rushers in the FCS. Light on his feet, the former basketball player works hard to shed double-teams and get into opposing backfields.
* Set an FCS single-game record with six sacks in a win against Bethune-Cookman on Oct. 25, 2014.
* Went on to collect 23.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks as a junior and earn a first-team spot on FCS All-America team.
* Helped South Carolina State to a share of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title as both a sophomore and junior.

Jermaine Hough -- No. 2

Jacksonville State Gamecocks
Cornerback -- Senior
5-10, 180
Hometown: Lovejoy, Georgia

* Energetic with the athleticism to get to the ball, Hough usually comes up big when he's paired against an opposing team's No. 1 wide receiver.
* A knee injury halted Hough's junior season in 2014 after nine games, but he had done enough already to make the Ohio Valley Conference first team and the FCS All-America third team.
* Finished second in the conference with four interceptions and was in on 36 tackles for an unbeaten conference championship squad.
* As a sophomore in 2013, Hough helped Jacksonville State to its best run in the FCS playoffs, reaching the national quarterfinals with a pair of victories.

Deon King -- No. 53

Norfolk State Spartans
Linebacker -- Senior
6-1, 220
Hometown: Reston, Virginia

* Since early in his Norfolk State career, King has had a knack for making plays in an opponent's backfield. He combines good speed with strong instincts and a high motor to make plays all over the field, whether against the run or in defending the pass.
* The athletic King racked up 106 tackles in making the 2014 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference first team.
* Completed his junior season with 41.5 tackles for loss and 19 sacks in his career.
* Previously a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker, he will shift to inside linebacker in new coach Latrell Scott's 3-4 defense.

Cory Magwood -- No. 46

Furman Paladins
Linebacker -- Senior
6-2, 228
Hometown: Varnville, South Carolina

* Led the Southern Conference in tackles (123) and solo tackles (73) as a junior despite missing the season finale with an ankle injury.
* Ranked sixth in the FCS in tackles per game (11.2). Added 3.5 tackles for loss in his standout season.
* Excellent in pass coverage and will lower his shoulder to make tackles in the run game.
* Moved between linebacker and nickel back for Furman's 2013 squad, which earned a share of the conference title and qualified for the FCS playoffs. Recorded a career-high 18 tackles against Gardner-Webb from middle linebacker.

O.J. Mau -- No. 91

Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs
Nose Guard -- Senior
6-2, 308
Hometown: Masefau, American Samoa

* Having been recruited as a defensive end, Mau brings terrific quickness to the nose guard position. Despite growing into a larger frame, he ran a 5.1-second time in the 40-yard dash in April.
* Known for his ability to get into backfields from the middle, he had 20.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and 13 quarterback pressures through his first three seasons.
* Was a finalist for the 2014 FCS defensive player of the year award.
* Already a two-time All-Big South Conference first-team selection. As a sophomore, he helped Gardner-Webb rank fifth in the FCS in total defense.

Pat Meehan -- No. 33

Illinois State Redbirds Linebacker -- Senior
6-1, 225
Hometown: Frankfort, Illinois

* Led Illinois State in tackles as both a sophomore (82) and junior (115).
* Gritty middle linebacker is physical in the run game and a playmaker from the center of the Redbirds' defense.
* He finished his junior campaign, when the Redbirds earned a share of the Missouri Valley Football Conference title, with 12 tackles against North Dakota State in the FCS national championship game.
* Named to the 2014 All-Missouri Valley first team.

Harlan Miller -- No. 1

Southeastern Louisiana Lions
Cornerback -- Senior
6-1, 180
Hometown: Kentwood, Louisiana

* Tall cornerback broke out as a sophomore in 2013, earning All-Southland first-team honors, as Southeastern Louisiana won an outright conference title and reached the FCS quarterfinals.
* Was injured during his junior season (missing three games), but Miller still displayed terrific coverage skills to repeat on the All-Southland first team for the conference co-champs.
* A pure athlete, he served as a punt returner earlier in his career.
* Comes from a Southeastern Louisiana secondary that has produced standouts Robert Alford and Todd Washington in recent seasons.

Victor Ochi -- No. 91

Stony Brook Seawolves
Defensive End -- Senior
6-2, 250
Hometown: Valley Stream, New York

* First-team All-CAA Football standout plays with discipline. Gets into opposing backfields and wraps up ball carriers with an aggressive, fierce style of play.
* Set career highs in 2014 in tackles (57), tackles for loss (16.5), sacks (11) and forced fumbles (two).
* Helped Stony Brook finish 2014 season with the No. 3 ranking in the FCS in total defense (273.3 ypg), third-down conversion percentage defense (27.6) and red zone defense (60.7), and a No. 4 mark in scoring defense (15.3 ppg).
* Racked up 34 tackles for loss in his first three seasons -- just seven off Stony Brook's career record.

Donald Payne -- No. 7

Stetson Hatters
Strong Safety -- Junior
6-0, 215
Hometown: Fayetteville, Georgia

* Athletic playmaker works sideline to sideline to fill the stat sheet in every way. He's dangerous on rushes from the edge or with dropping into pass coverage.
* A hard worker with superb instincts and a nose for the ball, his sophomore season totals included a national-high 185 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, four interceptions, eight pass breakups, six quarterback hurries, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.
* Has been named to the All-Pioneer Football League first team in each of his first two seasons and made the FCS All-America first team in 2014.
* Was named the national freshman of the week after his first career game in 2013 and went on to finish seventh in the postseason voting for FCS freshman of the year.

James Rentz -- No. 44

Sacred Heart Pioneers
Linebacker -- Junior
6-1, 230
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida

* Sacred Heart defensive coordinator Dave Wissman lauds Rentz for his ability to be coached as well as his playmaking skills.
* Reacts well at the snap of the ball and has power and speed in and around the box.
* Had a three-game stretch in 2014 with eight sacks and 10 tackles for loss, finishing the season with 19 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks while earning All-Northeast Conference first-team honors.
* Helped the Pioneers earn the NEC's automatic bid to the FCS playoffs in 2013 and '14.

Derek Rivers -- No. 11

Youngstown State Penguins
Defensive End -- Junior
6-5, 240
Hometown: Kinston, North Carolina

* Just realizing the surface of his potential after posting a breakout sophomore season.
* Studies the game to combine an intelligent style with his growing size.
* Has developed into a top pass rusher, collecting 14 sacks and 11 quarterback hurries in 2014. Also had 50 tackles and 17 tackles for loss.
* Became the first Youngstown State defensive lineman to earn All-Missouri Valley Football Conference first-team honors since 2009.
* New Penguins' coaching staff plans to move him around the defensive line and even drop him back into pass coverage.

Luke Rhodes -- No. 50

William & Mary Tribe
Linebacker -- Senior
6-2, 242
Hometown: Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania

* Prototypical football player who looks the part. He's a middle linebacker who boasts excellent instincts on the field.
* Will pursue the ball with a physical style and get into passing lanes.
* The only FCS player named to the 2015 Butkus Award Watch List for linebackers in all college football.
* Started in each of his first three seasons and totaled 263 tackles, including a team-high 93 as a junior in 2014.
* First-team All-CAA Football selection as both a sophomore and junior after making the third team as a redshirt freshman.

Darnell Sankey -- No. 44

Sacramento State Hornets
Linebacker -- Senior
6-2, 250
Hometown: San Jose, California

* A former basketball player, Sankey didn't begin to play football until his junior year of high school. Plays with an aggressive but composed style, with outstanding athleticism.
* Was a 2014 FCS defensive player of the year nominee whose junior season ended after nine games because of a knee injury. Still voted to the All-Big Sky Conference second team.
* Finished with 99 tackles, just seven off the team high despite playing in three fewer games than the leader.
* Sacramento State will use Sankey at fullback on short-yardage plays, and he draws those skills to read the holes and shoot the gaps as a linebacker.

Devaunte Sigler -- No. 8

Jacksonville State Gamecocks
Defensive Tackle -- Senior
6-5, 292
Hometown: Mobile, Alabama

* Auburn transfer was named the Ohio Valley Conference's 2014 defensive player of the year in his first season with Jacksonville State, which finished undefeated in conference games. Also made the FCS All-America third team.
* Both big and athletic, he serves as the Gamecocks' stopper up front, with the size to create penetration.
* Led JSU defensive linemen with 37 tackles, nine tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks. Also had an interception, two passes broken up, two forced fumbles and a blocked kick.
* Played two seasons at Auburn, originally as a defensive end.

Connor Underwood -- No. 55

Indiana State Sycamores
Linebacker -- Senior
6-3, 240
Hometown: Washington, Illinois

* Relentless pass rusher owns the Indiana State record for sacks in a career heading into his final year of eligibility.
* Underwood uses his speed and technique to reach quarterbacks. He will line up at linebacker, move up to the down position on the defensive line and come from both sides to mix up the looks.
* Made the All-Missouri Valley Football Conference first team as both a sophomore and junior. Was a 2014 finalist for FCS defensive player of the year and a first-team All-American, setting the school's single-season records in tackles for loss (25) and sacks (13.5).
* His brother Colton was a two-time finalist from Illinois State for FCS defensive player of the year honors.

Chima Uzowihe -- No. 52

Liberty Flames
Defensive End -- Senior
6-2, 250
Hometown: Houston

* Smart both on and off the field, Uzowihe has an understanding of what opposing offenses are trying to do. His play helps raise his fellow Liberty defensive linemen.
* Known for blocking Coastal Carolina's short game-ending field goal attempt on the final day of the 2014 regular season, which preserved a 15-14 win and gave Liberty a share of the Big South Conference title and its first FCS playoff bid.
* Finished his second consecutive season on the All-Big South first team with 42 tackles, a conference-high 14 tackles for loss, eight sacks and three forced fumbles.
* Part of a Flames D-line that was named the Big South Defensive Player of the Week following a 2014 shutout against Norfolk State.

Jonathan Woodard -- No. 90

Central Arkansas Bears
Defensive End -- Senior
6-6, 271
Hometown: Brentwood, Tennessee

* Takes advantage of his great size, wing span and quickness to overpower opposing offensive linemen. He's also adept at knocking the ball from ball carriers.
* Fierce competitor has been named to the All-Southland Conference first team in each of his first three seasons. Also captured the conference's freshman of the year award in 2012 and the defensive player of the year award in 2014.
* Despite being slowed by a hamstring injury early in his junior season, Woodard was still among the Southland's best in tackles for loss (18.5) and sacks (10). Enters his senior season with 41 tackles for loss and 25 sacks over his career.
* Physical tools make Woodard an attractive NFL candidate in 2016.

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