Thirteen UC Davis football players were accorded All-Big Sky Conference honors on Tuesday, with running back Gabe Manzanares being named league Newcomer of the Year and defensive end Nick King taking a second-team bow.
Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams was named Offensive Player of the Year, Cal Poly defensive tackle Sullivan Grosz joined Montana State defensive end Brad Daly as co-Defensive Players of the Year and Eastern Washington receiver Cooper Kupp was honored as Freshman of the Year.
Manzanares rushed for 1,285 yards and caught 27 passes for 385 yards. He scored 11 touchdowns and rushed for 100 or more yards in seven of his final eight games (including five in a row to end the season). He also was named to the Big Sky third team.
So what does the honor mean to the City College of San Francisco junior transfer?
“It means a lot,” Manzanares told The Enterprise. “I’m really excited about it, but it speaks to the whole running back group. We worked hard throughout the summer and season. This award goes to all of us, the running backs, the fullback. I’m glad I got it but it represents all of us.”
Manzanares went on to praise first-year UCD head coach Ron Gould and running backs mentor Bryan Wright for “creating the right mindset” among the runners.
“(They) have been awesome,” the St. Ignatius High grad continued. “From Day 1 (they) challenged the running backs and continued to raise the bar … and didn’t let us back off.”
King, a senior from Mill Valley, was the Aggies’ third-leading tackler (61) and recorded eight sacks — two in Saturday’s 34-7 drubbing of Sacramento State.
“When you watch film there are certain guys that stand out,” Gould said. “(King does because of his) motor, tenacity and passion.”
The other UCD players noted by the league’s 13 coaches included third-team members kicker Brady Stuart and cornerback Jonathan Perkins.
“To have those guys be recognized speaks volumes about the respect they have (around the conference),” Gould said. “Certain teams won’t throw at Jonathan Perkins. Certain teams won’t run at Nick King. That’s the respect.”
Receiving honorable mentions were the Aggies’ top tackler (with 84), safety Charles Boyett (as a return specialist), wide receiver Tom Hemmingsen (64 catches for 640 yards and four touchdowns), offensive tackle Ian Joseph, center Jay Luchetti, tight end Taylor Sloat, fullback Dalton Turay, linebacker Steven Pitts (second on the Aggies with 71 tackles), cornerback Shamawn Wright and punter Colby Wadman.
“I’ve very pleased that these guys are receiving recognition for all of their hard work and dedication,” Gould added. “You always feel like there are a few guys that could have been higher, but that just means we have to do better next year.”
Juniors Manzanares, Boyett, Joseph, Turay, Luchetti and Pitts will return, along with sophomores Wright and Stuart and freshman Wadman.
UCD finished 5-7 overall and 5-3 in Big Sky — good for a fourth-place league tie with Cal Poly, Montana State and playoff-bound Southern Utah.
The fact that only one Aggie made the first two teams speaks volumes about the depth of talent in the Big Sky. In addition to SUU (a squad UCD beat on the road, 21-3), Montana, Northern Arizona and conference champ Eastern Washington have made the Football Championship Subdivision postseason.
Adams and Kupp helped the Eagles to a 10-2 overall record while going 8-0 in the Big Sky.
Sophomore Adams led the nation in pass efficiency (185.7) and total offense (379.2 ypg) while throwing for 4,059 yards and 46 touchdowns (a league record).
Kupp’s 18 TD catches are tops in the land. He caught 77 balls for 1,378 yards (an FCS record for freshmen).
Notes: UCD also held its annual football banquet on Sunday evening at the ARC Ballroom on campus. Ten awards were presented and the team’s 16 seniors were recognized. Manzanares won the the Jerry Norris Award for most valuable and most inspirational player as well as the Outstanding Offensive Player award. King was named Outstanding Defensive Player and senior Ryan O’Holleran was selected Special Teams Player of the Year. Wadman earned the Mike Wise Award as the Aggies’ outstanding freshman, defensive back Earnest Sayles III and Sloat each received the Aggie Pride Awards and Perkins received the Bob Oliver Award as the team’s unsung hero. Luchetti and defensive tackle Anthony Kaspar each earned Most Improved Player accolades, while offensive lineman Julian Bertero and defensive back Darryl Graham were named winners of the George Belenis Award as outstanding redshirts. Senior quarterback Randy Wright, only the second Aggie signal-caller to pass for more than 8,000 career yards and have 8,000 yards of total offense, received the Coaches Award.