After helping Eastern to the NCAA Division I title, quarterback-receiver combination receive numerous preseason accolades
The Eastern Washington University football team is providing plenty of reasons for fans to “watch” the defending NCAA Division I champions in action this coming season.
Two of them are Eagle senior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell and junior wide receiver Brandon Kaufman, who were named on Monday (July 11) as two of the 20 players on the “Watch List” for the 2011 Walter Payton Award given annually by The Sports Network to the top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
The Payton Award, sponsored by Fathead.com, will celebrate its 25th anniversary this season and be presented at The Sports Network National Awards Banquet on Jan. 5 in Frisco, Texas, on the eve of the NCAA Division I Championship Game. Last season, Eastern won the title in Frisco with a come-from-behind 20-19 victory over Delaware.
Mitchell and Kaufman hooked-up nine times for 120 yards and two touchdowns in the FCS Championship Game, including the game-winning TD with 2:47 left. Kaufman finished the 2010 season with 76 receptions for 1,214 yards and 15 scores, and all but one of his grabs (a non-scoring 11-yard completion) came from Mitchell.
Kaufman received All-America accolades on the College Sporting News “Sweet 63” All-America Team and on the Phil Steele Publications All-America fourth team, as well as earning first-team All-Big Sky Conference accolades. Kaufman, who had 23 receptions for 294 yards and a touchdown as a freshman in 2009, was selected as the NCAA Championship Subdivision Playoffs MVP by College Sporting News.
“Brandon has been an amazing player for us in a short time,” praised Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “He played as a freshman but didn’t catch a ton of balls. Playing in 2009 definitely helped give him experience to help him have success in 2010.”
Both Kaufman and Mitchell received Big Sky All-Academic accolades in 2010, and Mitchell was an All-Big Sky Conference honorable-mention selection. He then had a triumphant return to his home state when he passed for 302 yards and three touchdowns to earn Most Outstanding Player in the FCS Championship Game.
Mitchell transferred to Eastern from Southern Methodist in spring 2010, and quickly won the starting job. He completed 59 percent of his passes to finish with 3,496 yards, a school-record 37 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions as a junior.
“His consistency will improve because of the experience, as he understands the system better,” Baldwin said. “I’m absolutely excited about the type of season Bo can put together. He’s going to work hard to have his best season -- he knows it’s his senior season and it goes by quickly.”
Mitchell was 13-2 as a starter in 2010, and six times Eastern rallied for victories when trailing or tied in the fourth quarter. And most of the time, it was Mitchell who led the Eagles back from the depths of despair. In addition, Eastern was 3-0 in games when All-America running back Taiwan Jones did not play, and Mitchell had 11 touchdowns and 932 total passing yards in those games, with 11 touchdown drives of at least 63 yards.
“When there is an adverse situation and things aren’t right with the world, he just elevates his play,” praised Baldwin. “That could be at the end of the game, or at other times when the team or Bo struggled. Or, it was when we had to go into a game without our best offensive player like we faced against Weber State, Villanova and Delaware. In those types of situations, he knows he has to do a little bit more -- he can will himself to do that. That takes a lot of confidence and a lot of guts, and Bo has that. That makes him special besides having the physical gifts he has. It was encouraging to see the things he was able to do even without the security of being able to hand the ball to Taiwan 20 or so times.”
The Payton Award Watch List will undergo revision during the 2011 season. Ballots will be sent to a panel of about 200 sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries after the regular season on Nov. 21. Three finalists will be announced on Dec. 1 and invited to The Sports Network/Fathead FCS Awards Presentation.
The Sports Network also presents the Buck Buchanan, Jerry Rice and Eddie Robinson awards which are sponsored by Fathead.com. The Buchanan Award honors the FCS defensive player of the year, the new Rice Award goes to the FCS freshman of the year and the Robinson Award, which also is celebrating its 25th anniversary, honors the FCS coach of the year. Those three winners will join the top three Payton finalists at the national awards banquet.
Former Eagle Erik Meyer, who is now the starting quarterback for the Spokane Shock in the Arena Football League, won the Payton Award in 2005. Jesse Chatman (2001), Matt Nichols (2009) and Taiwan Jones (2010) all finished fourth in the voting for the prestigious award.
In addition, Eastern has won the Buchanan Award two of the last three years. Currently teammates for the Edmonton Eskimos in the Canadian Football League, Greg Peach (2009) and J.C. Sherritt (2010) won the award after record-breaking careers at Eastern.