football-fcs flag

Stan Becton | NCAA.com | December 20, 2021

Jerry Rice Award: Complete history of the FCS freshman honor

North Dakota State's football dynasty

The Jerry Rice Award is given each year to the most outstanding freshman player in FCS football. Jackson State quarterback Shedeur Sanders received the 2021 award.

Here's everything you need to know about the annual honor, presented by Stats Perform FCS.

MORE: Walter Payton Award history Buck Buchanan Award history

FCS Jerry Rice Award: What is it and who is it named after?

The Jerry Rice Award debuted in 2011 to honor the most outstanding freshman player in the Football Championship Subdivision.

A national panel of more than 40 sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers, and other dignitaries vote on the award's winner, based on players' regular-season performances. Voting is conducted before the start of the FCS playoffs.

The Jerry Rice Award is one of five national awards announced by STATS FCS:

  • Walter Payton Award (FCS offensive player of the year)
  • Buck Buchanan Award (FCS defensive player of the year)
  • Jerry Rice Award (FCS freshman of the year)
  • Eddie Robinson Award (FCS coach of the year)
  • Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete of the Year

The freshman player of the year award's namesake, Jerry Rice, was an NFL legend with the San Francisco 49ers, also playing for three other teams. Rice earned 13 NFL Pro Bowl trips, 10 first-team All-Pros, three Super Bowls, and a Super Bowl MVP amongst other accolades. The 1985 first-round pick began his journey at FCS program Mississippi Valley State from 1981-1984. 

Rice, an All-American wide receiver, measured in at 6’2’’ and 200 pounds. He earned All-American accolades twice, setting records for receptions, yards, and touchdowns. Rice is a member of both the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio and the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, Georgia.

Fordham Athletics Chase Edmonds Jerry Rice Award Fordham running back Chase Edmonds won the 2014 Jerry Rice Award

FCS Jerry Rice Award: When is the winner announced?

The Jerry Rice Award winner is revealed annually after the conclusion of the FCS regular season. The 2021 recipient was announced Monday, Dec. 13, 2021. 

All five STATS FCS national honors are celebrated at the STATS FCS Awards Banquet and Presentation, though the Jerry Rice, Eddie Robinson, and Doris Robinson winners are all announced ahead of time. The Payton and Buchanan award winners are revealed for the first time as part of the ceremony.

FCS HISTORY: The 9 all-time winningest FCS programs | 7 of the most unbreakable FCS records

The first Jerry Rice Award watch list is released in the preseason by STATS FCS. The list has updates periodically throughout the regular season, culminating in the announcement of finalists.

FCS Jerry Rice Award: Complete history of past recipients

Jackson State quarterback Shedeur Sanders is the 11th recipient of the Jerry Rice Award. Sanders completed 248 of 361 passes for a completion percentage of 68.7 percent. He passed for 2,971 yards, 28 touchdowns and only five interceptions, which had him at a 160.5 passer efficiency rating -- that ranked him fifth in FCS. He also led Jackson State to its first Southwestern Athletic Conference championship since 2007. 

RELATED: Here are the top-five plays from Shedeur Sanders' freshman year

Quarterbacks and running backs have accounted for a position-best five winners since the award debuted in 2011. One wide receiver and one linebacker have also been honored. No school has multiple winners.

Other notable past honorees include eventual NFL stars Cooper Kupp (Eastern Washington, 2013), Chase Edmonds (Fordham, 2014) and Trey Lance (2019). See the full list below.

FCS CHAMPIONSHIP: How the FCS playoffs work | Schools with most titles | Full championship history

FCS Jerry Rice Award winners (2011-2021):

YEAR WINNER, SCHOOL POSITION
2021 Shedeur Sanders, Jackson State  Quarterback 
2020 Cameron Ward, UIW Quarterback
2019 Trey Lance, North Dakota State Quarterback
2018 Josh Davis, Weber State Running Back
2017 Bryson Armstrong, Kennesaw State Linebacker
2016 A.J. Hines, Duquesne Running Back
2015 Case Cookus, Northern Arizona Quarterback
2014 Chase Edmonds, Fordham Running Back
2013 Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington Wide Receiver
2012 John Robertson, Villanova Quarterback
2011 Terrance West, Towson Running Back

FCS football: We picked the top-5 players all-time for Eastern Washington football

Eastern Washington football has a storied history filled with accolades, including the 2010 FCS national championship and an FCS-leading seven major national award winners. With such success from the Eagle program, here's a look at the top individual players in Eastern Washington history.
READ MORE

FCS football: We picked the top-5 players all-time for North Dakota State football

The North Dakota State football dynasty has had nine FCS championships since 2011 and has seen a multitude of great players wear the green and gold. With all of the team success, here’s a look at the top individual players in Bison history.
READ MORE

NFL playoff rosters: Colleges for every DI football player

With talent coming from across the country, here's a look at where the current players on 2021 NFL playoff teams got their collegiate starts.
READ MORE

Subscribe To Email Updates

Enter your information to receive emails about offers, promotions from NCAA.com and our partners