The STATS Football Championship Subdivision Awards Banquet offered some of the best competitors in Division I-AA football the chance for some much-needed recognition Friday night.
Former Grambling State and Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams said it best while he presented one of the awards: "It's not so much where you go, as what you do wherever go."
Take away the big crowds, the bright camera lights and the lengthy press conferences. For these eight young players and one coach, it was all about the competition. And throughout the 2015 season, they all proved to be the best in the league at football.
"What I'm seeing here is a product of where I come from," Williams said, speaking to his days at Grambling. "I come from schools just this size. When you see some of things they've done, you've got to appreciate coming back here. It's a good feeling to come back and see the young guys."
Offensive Player of the Year: Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern WashingtonStatistically, Kupp was the best wide receiver in the FCS this season. The junior wideout led the FCS in five statistical categories in 2015– receptions (114), receptions per game (10.4), receiving yards (1,642), receiving yards per game (149.3) and touchdown receptions (19). Kupp even threw for two touchdowns and returned a punt for another score to push his total touchdowns for the season up to 22. In just three years Kupp has risen up the historical leaderboards. He already ranks second in FCS history for touchdown receptions (56), second in receiving yards (4,764) and fourth in receptions.
“This is a great game to play and it’s an honor to play it," Kupp said. "Everybody says football is always fun, but it’s not always fun. Waking up at 5 a.m. ... going to class then heading back to the office ... Putting in the hours of work watching film. It’s not always fun. But the friendships, the brothers, the mentors, make it all worth it."
Defensive Player of the Year: Tyrone Holmes, DE, MontanaHolmes was a fiend for the Grizzlies this season, racking up sacks and tackles. The senior lineman finished with a FCS-leading 14 sacks to go along with 77 total tackles. Cowser made his hits count, as he forced two fumbles on the season. Holmes made his presence felt in Montana's game against Northern Arizona, where the senior tallied 11 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks.
“I really didn’t think I was going win," Holmes said. "I’m extremely blessed that I chose the University of Montana. It was an amazing experience.”
Freshman of the Year: Case Cookus, QB, Northern ArizonaThe 6-foot-4 signal caller from Thousand Oaks, California, impressed many throughout the FCS with his accurate and potent play. Cookus ranked in the top-10 in four different statistical categories, including touchdowns (second with 37), passing efficiency (second with 184.8), yards per game (seventh with 283.4) and total passing yards (ninth with 3,117).
Cookus also avoided turnovers during his freshman season, tossing only three interceptions and losing only three fumbles.
"I'm excited that I was able to be recognized nationally," Cookus said. "I got that little chip on my shoulder coming out of high school -- not many people looked at me as a quarterback for their team, so it's something I can build on for the future."
Cookus helped lead Northern Arizona to 7-4 record in 2015, including a four-game win streak where he threw for 1,347 yards, 11 touchdowns and only one interception.
Coach of the Year: Bruce Barnum, Portland StateWhile the Vikings didn't make it out the second round of the FCS playoffs, Bruce Barnum led Portland State to a 9-3 record, including 3-0 against FBS opponents.
After being shut out by Washington State in the season opening, the Vikings scored 24-unanswered points to beat the Cougars, 24-14. Four weeks later, the Vikings put up 66 on North Texas in a huge road win over the Mean Green.
"I wanted to be a coach in the Big Sky Conference. And now I am," Barnum said. "It means a lot to me. And FCS football means a lot to me."
Doris & Eddie Robinson Scholar-Athlete Award: Dalton Screws, WR, Jacksonville StateScrews played on a Gamecocks team that scored almost at will throughout the 2015 season. Screws, a junior from local Anniston, Alabama, caught 33 passes for 374 yards and three touchdowns for Jacksonville State this season. His biggest game came against Eastern Illinois, where Screws caught four passes for 89 yards and one touchdown.