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Wayne Cavadi | NCAA.com | September 5, 2019

The DII football players that could win the 2019 Harlon Hill Trophy

A deflection TD catch like you've never seen in DII Championship game

Quarterback Jayru Campbell will lead his Ferris State Bulldogs against Findlay on opening night Thursday in hopes of getting his team back to McKinney, Texas, for the DII football championship game Dec. 21.

Campbell will also be looking to defend his Harlon Hill Trophy. 

OPENING WEEKEND: The complete guide to Thursday and Saturday's DII football action

The Harlon Hill Trophy is the DII football Heisman, named after the North Alabama great who went on to win the 1954 NFL Rookie of the Year and 1955 NFL Player of the Year Award. The first trophy was presented to Jeff Bentrim at North Dakota State in 1986, and Campbell is looking to become the fifth DII football player to win the award in consecutive seasons. Chadron State’s Danny Woodhead, the most notable player to do so, did it in 2006-07.

Who are the contenders for the 2019 Harlon Hill Award, you ask? Let’s take an early look at some players we expect to see when the nominations are announced later this year.

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Quarterbacks

Jayru Campbell, QB, Ferris State

What doesn’t Campbell do well? Last year he threw for 2,931 yards with 27 touchdowns and just six interceptions while also leading the Bulldogs in rushing with 1,490 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground. Campbell’s two top targets from 2018 — receivers Sy Barnett and Dion Earls — are back.

Kyle Saddler, QB, Augustana (SD)

Saddler led the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in yards per game and touchdowns with a monster sophomore season. He finished with 3,423 yards, 30 touchdowns and 311.18 yards per game. With some of his top targets back and another year of experience, Saddler may be a dark horse right now but should be in contention come November.

Rogan Wells, QB, Valdosta State

Wells leads the reigning national champions in their first title defense since the 2012 season. Wells seemed to get better and better as the season progressed and capped it with a record-setting performance in the DII football championship game. He threw for 349 yards and five touchdowns, ran for 39 more, and even caught a 25-yard touchdown pass. Wells is set up nicely for a run at the Harlon Hill.

Others to watch: 

  • Tyson Bagent, Shepherd: Had to replace a Rams’ legend in Connor Jessop and was sensational as a freshman eclipsing 3,000 yards with 29 touchdowns. 
  • Brycen Mussina, Shippensburg: Another arm with a big DII football debut, Mussina won the PSAC East freshman of the year honors leading the conference with 3,376 yards and 32 touchdowns. 
  • Bryce Witt, Chowan: Witt is as exciting as they come, a true dual-threat under center. He totaled 37 touchdowns through the air and on the ground and should only improve as a junior.

Running backs

Cameron Mayberry, RB, Colorado School of Mines

Mayberry is a beast in an offense that loves to accumulate yards and touchdowns. Simply put, Mayberry has always been good and this year he should be even better. Mayberry rushed for over 1,500 yards as a sophomore and topped it with 1,615 yards and 23 touchdowns as a junior. 

Jaleel McLaughlin, RB, Notre Dame (OH) 

McLaughlin set the DII football freshman rushing record with 2,421 yards and we boldly predicted he’ll set the DII single-season record in 2019 right here at NCAA.com. His offensive line is back and stacked with All-American caliber talent, as is most of the offense. It will be hard to hone in on one of the Falcons many weapons, which should propel his name up the charts.

Gabriel Watson, RB, Sioux Falls

Watson transferred into Sioux Falls last season, and after one year has made the Cougars a conference contender in 2019. The reigning NSIC player of the year rushed for 1,957 yards with a DII-best 26 touchdowns in his Sioux Falls debut. Expect him to get a healthy dose of the rock and come near 2,000 yards once again in 2019.

Others to watch: 

  • Nate Gunn, Minnesota State: Gunn has 3,205 yards rushing with 34 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He’s poised for a huge DII finale.  
  • Al McKellar, Indianapolis: He’s been as steady as the come for the Greyhounds through his first two seasons and is ready for another jump in his junior campaign. 
  • Taybus Taylor, Virginia Union: Taylor bust out last year for the Panthers with over 1,500 yards and 21 touchdowns. 
  • Antonio Wimbush, Carson-Newman: Wimbush came back from an injury-shortened 2017 with a vengeance, rushing for a South Atlantic Conference-best 1,206 yards. Now with a whole healthy season under his belt, he should be even better. 

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Receivers

Peter Anderson, WR, Colorado Mesa

There’s a changing at the guard at quarterback, but Anderson proved reliable in 2018 that it shouldn’t matter. Anderson broke out as a junior in 2018 with 1,344 yards and 11 touchdowns highlighted by an eight-game run of games with at least 100 yards. 

Erik Henneman, TE, Lindenwood

No tight end has ever won the Harlon Hill Award, but Henneman has as good a shot as any. He led Lindenwood in receiving yards and all DII tight ends with nine touchdowns. Add in that second-year quarterback Cade Brister should only improve and his favorite target is poised for a huge year. 

Craig Rucker, WR, Mars Hill

Mars Hill hasn’t had a winning season since 2015, so some of its players don’t get the recognition they deserve. Rucker is an absolute stud, reeling in 1,234 yards receiving with 13 touchdowns while rushing for three more. A wide receiver hasn’t won the award since 1991, but Rucker should certainly grab some attention.

Others to watch: 

  • Juwan Johnson, Midwestern State: Johnson loses Layton Rabb but is still a viable target coming off a 1,215 yard season that saw him finish in the top 10 of all DII football receivers.
  • Zimari Manning, Tarleton State: Manning is a bit of a dark horse after leading the Lone Star Conference with 12 touchdowns last season. Having his same quarterback from 2018 should see his yardage marks crack 1,000. 
  • Marvelle Ross, Notre Dame (OH): Ross went from 395 yards receiving in 2017 to 1,203 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. He clearly has chemistry with quarterback Chris Brimm. 
  • Shane Zylstra, Minnesota State: Zylstra has improved tremendously in each of his three seasons with the Mavericks. He is poised for a huge senior campaign. 

Defense

Defenders simply don’t have much luck winning the Harlon Hill, the last being North Alabama’s linebacker Ronald McKinnon in 1995. Here’s one at each defensive position that could change that trend.

Sha’haun Williams, DL, Notre Dame (OH): Williams is a special talent, who led DII with 20 sacks last season, one of the best marks in the history of DII football. He should be unleashed on opposing quarterbacks at will this season. 

Kyle Rosenbrock, LB, CSU-Pueblo: Rosenbrock could lead the RMAC in tackles and is very able at every facet of the game, getting six sacks, two interceptions, and recovering four fumbles last season. 

Lamont McPhatter, DB, California (Pa): McPhatter is a perennial interception machine with five apiece in his last two seasons. He’s one of the best all-around defenders the PSAC has to offer and should be on every quarterback’s radar.

Others to watch: Chris Garrett, DL, Concordia-St. Paul; Daryus Skinner, FS, Winston-Salem State; Delon Stephenson, DB/LB, Ferris State; Dondrea Tillman, DL, Indiana (Pa).

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