IRVING, Texas (Nov. 1, 2017) – The National Football Foundation (NFF) & College Hall of Fame announced today the finalists for the 2017 William V. Campbell Trophy®, presented by Fidelity Investments®. The trophy recognizes an individual as the absolute best football scholar-athlete in the nation.
The 13 finalists will each receive an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship as a member of the NFF National Scholar-Athlete Class, presented by Fidelity Investments. The finalists will travel to New York City for the 60th NFF Annual Awards Dinner on Dec. 5, where their accomplishments will be highlighted in front of one of the most powerful audiences in all of sports. At the event, one member of the class will be declared the winner of the 28th William V. Campbell Trophy® and have his postgraduate scholarship increased to $25,000. The event, which will take place at the New York Hilton Midtown, will be live streamed on ESPN3, starting at 8:30 p.m. ET.
Selected from a nationwide pool of 181 exceptional semifinalists from among all NCAA divisions and the NAIA, the 13 finalists are:
|Sam Benger||RB||Carnegie Mellon (Pa.)||3.67||Business Administration|
|Braxton Berrios||WR||Miami (Fla.)||3.96||Finance & Entrepreneurship|
|Mason Hampton||C||Boise State||3.97||Accounting|
|Micah Kiser||LB||Virginia||3.42||Foreign Affairs|
|Justin Lea||OL||Jacksonville State||3.92||Emergency MGMT & Geography|
|Brad Lundblade||C||Oklahoma State||3.88||Marketing|
|Marcus Martin||DE||Slippery Rock (Pa.)||3.56||Safety Management|
|Chandon Sullivan||DB||Georgia State||3.84||Journalism|
|Blaise Taylor||CB||Arkansas State||3.84||Business Administration|
|Marlon Walls||S||Stephen F. Austin||4.00||Engineering Physics|
|Chris Weber||LB||Nebraska||3.96||Nutrition Science|
|Jake Wieneke||WR||South Dakota State||3.63||Physical/Teacher Education|
“We are extremely proud to announce the finalists for this year’s Campbell Trophy®, who make up the National Scholar-Athlete Class,” said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell. “These young men have an unrelenting commitment to excellence in all aspects of their lives, and they represent all that is right in college football. They serve as living examples that Football Matters®, and we are excited to honor their hard work and accomplishments with postgraduate scholarships.”
The recipient of the Campbell Trophy® will also be honored at the NFF Board of Directors meeting and at a reception hosted by its official home, the New York Athletic Club, on Wednesday, Dec. 6. He will then fly to Atlanta to be recognized during The Home Depot College Football Awards on ESPN at the College Football Hall of Fame on Dec. 7. Finally, as part of the NFF’s partnership with the College Football Playoff (CFP), the Campbell Trophy® winner will return to Atlanta to be recognized on the field during the CFP National Championship on Jan. 8, 2018.
The trophy is named in honor of the late Bill Campbell, the former chairman of Intuit, a former player and head coach at Columbia University, and the 2004 recipient of the NFF’s Gold Medal. The award comes with a 25-pound bronze trophy and a $7,000 increase in postgraduate funds for a total scholarship of $25,000. A total distribution of $241,000 in scholarships will be awarded Dec. 5, pushing the program’s all-time distributions to more than $11.3 million.
“The NFF Awards Committee did an excellent job in selecting this year’s National Scholar-Athletes,” said NFF Chairman Archie Manning, whose sons Peyton (Campbell Trophy® winner) and Eli were NFF National Scholar-Athletes in 1997 and 2003, respectively. “Selected from an impressive group of semifinalists, they should be extremely proud of their accomplishments, as they have undoubtedly distinguished themselves as some of the best student-athletes in the country. Each of these men is also a leader in his respective community, and we know that they have only begun to reach their potential.”
The NFF National Scholar-Athlete program, launched in 1959, became the first initiative in history to award scholar-athletes postgraduate scholarships for their combined athletic, academic and leadership abilities. Including the 2017 recipients, the NFF has honored 841 individuals with National Scholar-Athlete Awards. The honorees have used the financial support to earn more than 150 medical degrees, 100 law degrees, 80 MBAs and 43 PhDs. Continuing their excellence on the field, more than 200 recipients have played in the NFL with an average career of six seasons or double the length of a typical NFL player. Past recipients also include 13 Rhodes Scholars.
The members of this year’s class find themselves among some of the most elite student-athletes in the history of the game, including NFL standout Drew Brees (Purdue); actor Mark Harmon (UCLA); Robert Morris University President Chris Howard (Air Force); NCAA Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Oliver Luck (West Virginia); NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins (Illinois) and Leland Melvin (Richmond); recently retired chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters Tournament, Billy Payne (Georgia); famed NFL quarterback Steve Young (BYU); and 35 College Football Hall of Famers, including 2017 electee Peyton Manning (Tennessee). Click here for a database of all the past NFF National Scholar-Athletes.
In 2011, the NFF and Fidelity launched a multi-year initiative between the two organizations to celebrate the scholar-athlete ideal and a joint commitment to higher education. As part of the initiative, Fidelity became the first presenting sponsor ever in the history of the NFF National Scholar-Athlete Awards program. In 2014, Fidelity expanded its support, becoming the presenting sponsor of The William V. Campbell Trophy®.
Fidelity’s support also includes the NFF Faculty Salutes, which recognize the contributions of the faculty athletics representatives at each of the institutions with an NFF National Scholar-Athlete. As part of the initiative and with full support from the 1A FARs, the NFF presents each of the faculty representatives with a plaque and a $5,000 check from Fidelity Investments, which is used to support the academic support services for student-athletes at each school. Since the program’s inception in 2011, Fidelity has committed $505,000 (including $65,000 this year) and recognized 101 FARs.
2017 NFF Campbell Trophy® Finalists Highlights
- 3.76 Average GPA
- 11 Captains
- 9 Academic All-America selections (Benger, Hampton, Jackson, Kiser, Lea, Lundblade, Martin, Walls, Wieneke)
- 12 Academic All-Conference athletes
- 5 All-America picks (Benger, Kiser, Lea, Martin, Wieneke)
- 9 All-Conference selections
- 3 players who have already graduated (Kiser, Lea, Taylor), including one who has already earned a master’s degree (Taylor)
- 7 players on track to graduate this December (Berrios, Hampton, Jackson, Lundblade, Martin, Walls, Wieneke)
- 1 player with a perfect 4.0 GPA (Walls)
- 1 player already accepted to medical school (Weber)
- 6 school record holders (Benger, Jackson, Martin, Sullivan, Taylor, Wieneke)
- 4 members of ranked teams (Berrios, Lea, Lundblade, Wieneke)
- 7 Offensive Players (Benger, Berrios, Hampton, Jackson, Lea, Lundblade, Wieneke)
- 6 Defensive Players (Kiser, Martin, Sullivan, Taylor, Walls, Weber)
Nominated by their schools, which are limited to one nominee each, candidates must be a senior or graduate student in their final year of eligibility, have a GPA of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 scale, have outstanding football ability as a first team player or significant contributor and have demonstrated strong leadership and citizenship. The 181 semifinalists for the award were announced on Sept. 27, and the class is selected each year by the NFF Awards Committee, which is comprised of a nationally recognized group of media, College Football Hall of Famers and athletics administrators.
In addition to the presentation of the NFF National Scholar-Athlete Awards and The William V. Campbell Trophy®, the 60th NFF Annual Awards Dinner will include the induction of the 2017 College Football Hall of Fame Class and the presentation of several major awards.
Bios for the 2017 Campbell Trophy® Finalists and
NFF National Scholar-Athlete Class,
presented by Fidelity Investments
(In alphabetical order – All stats as of Nov. 1, 2017)
Sam Benger, RB – Carnegie Mellon University (Pa.)
Business Administration – 3.67 GPA
Head Coach: Rich Lackner | Athletics Director: Josh Centor
Faculty Athletics Representative: Susan Polansky
An All-American on and off the field, Sam Benger’s remarkable accomplishments rank him among the most decorated student-athletes in Carnegie Mellon history. The Hingham, Mass., native becomes the Tartans’ fourth NFF National Scholar-Athlete.
A two-time Academic All-American, Benger earned First Team honors in 2016 and Second Team laurels in 2015. A five-time member of the Dean’s List, he has twice been named to the PAC Academic Honor Roll, the UAA President’s Scholar-Athlete Team and the Academic All-UAA team. Maintaining an impressive 3.67 GPA in business administration, he previously interned at Deloitte and is expected to graduate in May 2018.
So far this season, Benger has rushed 140 times for 864 yards and nine touchdowns while adding 15 receptions for 111 yards and two touchdowns. He earned PAC Offensive Player of the Week honors after rushing for 204 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Thiel (Pa.) on Oct. 21. The game marked Benger’s eighth 200-yard game of his career, and his 58 career rushing touchdowns are one shy of the school record.
A two-time First Team All-American, Benger garnered back-to-back PAC Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2016 and 2015. CMU’s all-time leading rusher with 5,197 yards, he also boasts seven other school records, including single-season marks for rushing yards and touchdowns and single-game rushing yards. In 2015, the three-time All-PAC and All-UAA selection led all of Division III with 2,092 rushing yards and 190.2 yards per game. The impressive feat made Benger just the 21st player in Division III history to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark in a single season.
An avid volunteer, Benger has visited with transplant patients at Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital and helped to renovate a dilapidated school as part of Impact Day. A type 1 diabetic, he serves as a mentor for juvenile diabetics in the Pittsburgh area and volunteers for the Special Olympics at CMU. Benger also regularly interacts with a special needs child as a team leader for CMU’s Team IMPACT, and he organized a student “Shark Tank”-style competition aimed at developing solutions to Pittsburgh’s social issues.
Braxton Berrios, WR – University of Miami (Fla.)
Finance & Entrepreneurship – 3.96 GPA
Head Coach: Mark Richt | Athletics Director: Blake James
Faculty Athletics Representative: Marvin Dawkins
Boasting a nearly perfect 3.96 GPA, Braxton Berrios is the leading receiver for undefeated and Top 10-ranked Miami. His impressive resume earned his spot as the Hurricanes’ fourth NFF National Scholar-Athlete.
A two-time Academic All-District and Academic All-ACC selection, Berrios is on pace to graduate in December as a double major in finance and entrepreneurship. The 2015-16 Miami Scholar-Athlete of the Year also received the football team’s 2016 Mariutto Family Scholar-Athlete Award. A Dean’s List member every semester of his college career, Berrios earned President’s List honors three times and was named to the Provost’s Honor Roll seven times.
Berrios has 32 receptions this season for a team-high 415 yards and six touchdowns, and his 16.3 punt return average is the best in the ACC. He earned ACC Receiver of the Week honors after his multi-touchdown performance against rival Florida State on Oct. 7, which snapped Miami’s seven-game losing streak to the Seminoles.
Berrios has been a force on the field for the Hurricanes, playing wide receiver and returning punts. He has helped the Hurricanes reach three consecutive bowl games, including a win over West Virginia in the 2016 Russell Athletic Bowl in which he had 64 receiving yards and a touchdown. As a junior, Berrios finished 11th nationally in punt return average (11.3 yards) and was awarded the 2016 University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame Unsung Hero Award.
Off the field, Berrios is a two-time participant in the football team’s annual bone marrow drive. The Raleigh, N.C., native has visited Holtz Children’s Hospital and took part in the Hurricanes’ hospital visit during the 2015 Sun Bowl.
Mason Hampton, C – Boise State University
Accounting – 3.97 GPA
Head Coach: Bryan Harsin | Athletics Director: Curt Apsey
Faculty Athletics Representative: Roger Munger
The starting center for Boise State’s formidable offense, Mason Hampton’s commitment to athletics and academics has helped him earn his place as the Broncos’ first NFF National Scholar-Athlete.
Holding an impressive 3.97 GPA in accounting, Hampton became just the fifth Boise State football player to earn First Team Academic All-America honors in 2016. The three-time Academic All-Mountain West selection and Mountain West Scholar-Athlete Award recipient is on pace to graduate this December.
This season, Hampton has helped the Broncos gain 361.5 yards per game while going 6-2 (4-0 in conference). On Oct. 14, he helped Boise State upset then-No. 19 San Diego State on the road.
An Honorable Mention All-Mountain West honoree as a junior, he stepped into the starting center’s role for the Broncos in 2016 and started all 11 games in which he appeared. Last season, the Meridian, Idaho, native anchored a Bronco line that paved the way for the Mountain West’s top offense at 472.8 yards per game and blocked for Doak Walker semifinalist Jeremy McNichols, who rushed for 1,709 yards, the sixth-most in the FBS. Hampton and the rest of the Boise State offensive line were semifinalists for the 2016 Joe Moore Award while blocking for the 15th-best passing offense in the FBS. He was also a part of three consecutive bowl games, including wins in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl and 2015 Poinsettia Bowl.
Active in the community, Hampton has served as an Optimist Youth Football volunteer at multiple events and participates in Thanksgiving meal service each year through the Boise Rescue Mission. He also visits with patients from St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital and guides them on tours through Boise State facilities.
Justin Jackson, RB – Northwestern University
Economics – 3.23 GPA
Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald | Athletics Director: Jim Phillips
Faculty Athletics Representative: Robert Gundlach
Northwestern’s all-time leading rusher with 4,773 yards, Justin Jackson has matched that effort with success in the classroom and in the community. The team captain becomes the fifth NFF National Scholar-Athlete in Wildcats history.
A 2016 Second Team Academic All-American and First Team Academic All-District selection, Jackson maintains a 3.23 GPA in economics with a minor in French. The Carol Stream, Ill., native is a two-time Academic All-Big Ten pick, and he anticipates on graduating this December.
This season, Jackson has rushed 150 times for 644 yards and seven touchdowns while adding 33 catches for 218 yards. He had a season-high 171 yards against Maryland on Oct. 14, which helped him surpass the Wildcats’ career record. Jackson played a big part in Northwestern’s upset of then-ranked Michigan State on Oct. 28, completing his first career pass attempt for a touchdown and rushing for a score in overtime. He is now just the fifth running back in Big Ten history to reach 1,000 career rushing attempts.
A three-time All-Big Ten running back, Jackson earned First Team honors in 2016, Second Team laurels in 2015 and Honorable Mention accolades as a freshman. Ranking in the top 10 for multiple Northwestern records, he claims the top spot with 5,573 career all-purpose yards and sits second with 37 career rushing touchdowns. The first player in Wildcat history to rush more than 1,000 yards in three seasons, Jackson’s career mark of 4,773 currently ranks eighth in the Big Ten record books. He earned MVP honors in the 2016 New Era Pinstripe Bowl after rushing for a career-high 224 yards and setting a school bowl record with three rushing touchdowns to lead the Wildcats to the victory. Jackson led the Big Ten in 2016 with 117.2 rushing yards per game for a total of 1,524, and he has surpassed the 100-yard mark in 23 games during his standout career.
Making an impact in the community, Jackson is an executive member of the E.N.G.A.G.E. program, and he helped develop the Northwestern University Department of Athletics and Recreation’s inclusion statement and athlete alliance. He also participated in Student-Athlete Advisory Committee field days, youth football clinics and Misericordia candy days while making multiple visits to area schools, cancer centers and children’s hospitals.
Micah Kiser, LB – University of Virginia
Foreign Affairs – 3.42 GPA
Head Coach: Bronco Mendenhall | Athletics Director: Craig Littlepage
Faculty Athletics Representative: Carolyn Callahan
Micah Kiser personifies the student-athlete ideal, having already earned his degree while claiming All-America accolades as one of the top defensive players in the nation. The two-year team captain becomes Virginia’s fifth NFF National Scholar-Athlete.
A 2016 Second Team Academic All-American, Kiser graduated with a bachelor’s degree in foreign affairs in May 2017 while boasting a 3.42 GPA. The First Team Academic All-District selection is currently working toward his master’s in higher education. A Baltimore native, Kiser is a two-time Academic All-ACC selection and a three-time ACC Academic Honor Roll member.
A semifinalist for the 2017 Butkus Award, Kiser has recorded 79 tackles so far this season, and his 9.9 tackles per game place him second in the ACC, behind only teammate Quin Blanding, and tied for 12th in the nation. He leads Virginia and all ACC linebackers with five sacks and is tied for the team lead with seven tackles for loss in 2017. Earlier this season, Kiser was named the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week, Lott IMPACT Trophy Player of the Week and ACC Linebacker of the Week after his game against Connecticut when he recorded 15 tackles, two sacks and recovered one fumble at Virginia’s own goal line.
A Second Team All-American in 2016, Kiser was named a First Team All-ACC linebacker in 2015 and 2016. Only the sixth player since 1976 to lead the ACC in tackles per game in consecutive seasons, he recorded 9.8 as a sophomore and 11.2 as a junior, which ranked fourth in the nation. The two-time Touchdown Club of Richmond Linebacker of the Year currently sits 10th all-time in Cavaliers history with 19 career sacks, and he has recorded 345 total tackles while reaching double-digits in 18 games.
Kiser has had a profound impact on the community during his time at Virginia. Following the riots in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this year, he was solely responsible for uniting the football team and initiating the idea of taking a team photo of the team locked arm-in-arm. When asked about it, Kiser said, “I always say if the world was like a football team, we would be better off. A collection of people from all over the country from different backgrounds…if we can show what we can do together, then that’s a beacon of light for the community and an example for other people to follow.” His other activities include volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club, mentoring elementary school students and visiting sick children at area hospitals.
Justin Lea, OL – Jacksonville State University
Emergency Management & Geography – 3.92 GPA
Head Coach: John Grass | Athletics Director: Greg Seitz
Faculty Athletics Representative: Maureen Newton
Described as “a man of character” by head coach John Grass, Justin Lea graduated in 3.5 years with a double major while anchoring Jacksonville State’s dominant offensive line. The Henagar, Ala., native deservedly becomes the Gamecocks’ first-ever NFF National Scholar-Athlete.
A 2016 Second Team Academic All-American and two-time Academic All-District selection, Lea graduated in December 2016 with a remarkable 3.92 GPA while majoring in both emergency management and geography. Currently studying public administration in graduate school, he is a three-time recipient of the Ohio Valley Conference Academic Medal of Honor, and he was named to the OVC Commissioner’s Honor Roll in each of his four seasons.
This season, Lea leads an offense that is first in the OVC in scoring with 28.8 points per game and total offense with 371.4 yards per game. The No. 3 Gamecocks boast a 7-1 record (5-0 in conference) and have surpassed 350 yards in six of their eight games in 2017.
Named an All-American by HERO Sports in 2016, Lea has started every game of his career since his freshman year and has appeared at every position on the offensive line. The two-time all-conference selection has led an offense that has posted three consecutive seasons of more than 5,000 total yards, including a school-record 7,613 in 2015. Behind Lea’s blocking, Jacksonville State has surpassed 600 yards in eight games and finished fourth in the FCS in total offense in both 2015 and 2014. Guiding the Gamecocks to an appearance in the 2015 FCS National Championship game, he also helped the team to the second round of the playoffs as a junior and freshman. A Freshman All-American in 2014, Lea earned Second Team All-OVC honors that season en route to being named the conference’s Freshman of the Year.
Receiving practical training in his degree field, Lea volunteered for six months with the Talladega County Emergency Management Agency and worked alongside fire departments and other first responders in the Emergency Operation Center at a Talladega NASCAR race in 2015 to develop a training curriculum. On campus, he was a teacher’s assistant in Jacksonville State’s physical and earth sciences department and served as a student lab instructor. Lea also participated in food drives and led the football team’s service efforts at a home for adults with special needs.
Brad Lundblade, C – Oklahoma State University
Marketing – 3.88 GPA
Head Coach: Mike Gundy | Athletics Director: Mike Holder
Faculty Athletics Representative: Stephen Clarke
Anchoring Oklahoma State’s high-powered offense that is among the top three in the nation, Brad Lundblade has proven to be just as effective of a leader in the classroom and the community. The Southlake, Texas, native becomes the Cowboys’ fifth NFF National Scholar-Athlete.
Maintaining an impressive 3.88 GPA in marketing, Lundblade was a 2016 First Team Academic All-American and a two-time Academic All-District selection. A two-time First Team Academic All-Big 12 honorees, he earned special recognition in 2015 for maintaining a perfect 4.0 GPA. The NFF Oklahoma Chapter’s 2016 Collegiate Scholar-Athlete of the Year is expected to graduate in December 2017 and pursue an MBA. Lundblade is a six-time member of the OSU President’s Honor Roll, a three-time OSU Dean’s Honor Roll pick and a three-time OSU Academic Award recipient.
This season, Lundblade has blocked for an Oklahoma State offense that has gained 569.3 yards per game, which ranks third in the FBS. The No. 10 Cowboys are second in the FBS with 370.6 passing yards per game and are fourth with 44.5 points per game. Lundblade has helped protect quarterback Mason Rudolph, who leads the FBS with 2,866 passing yards.
A former walk-on, Lundblade earned a scholarship prior to the 2015 season and started every game of his sophomore and junior seasons. Over those two seasons, Oklahoma State averaged 39.1 points per game and 487 yards of total offense per game while ranking in the top 20 nationally in scoring and top 10 in passing both years. In 2016, Lundblade paved the way for one of only two trios in the nation to include a 4,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard receiver and 1,000-yard rusher. He has led the Cowboys to back-to-back 10-win seasons and three consecutive bowl games, including wins in the 2015 Cactus Bowl and the 2016 Alamo Bowl.
Having numerous interests off the field, Lundblade serves on the NCAA Autonomy Governance Committee as one of only three student-athlete representatives from the Big 12. A speaker at Fellowship of Christian Athlete events, he also leads weekly bible studies, serves as a guest speaker and visits local police officers as a member of Athletes in Action. The recipient of Oklahoma State football’s 2016 Vernon Grant Award for outstanding spirit, enthusiasm and leadership, Lundblade makes visits to hospitals and local elementary schools.
Marcus Martin, DE – Slippery Rock University (Pa.)
Safety Management – 3.56 GPA
Head Coach: Shawn Lutz | Athletics Director: Paul Lueken
Faculty Athletics Representative: Joanne Leight
Arguably one of the most decorated players in Division II history, Marcus Martin is the all-time NCAA record holder for career sacks among all divisions of play. Tackling academia with the same rigor, he becomes the first NFF National Scholar-Athlete in Slippery Rock annals.
On pace to graduate this December with a 3.56 GPA in safety management and a minor in business administration, Martin twice earned Academic All-America honors, garnering First Team accolades last season. A two-time First Team Academic All-District selection, he has received the Division II ADA Academic Achievement Award each year of his career. A native of West Mifflin, Pa., Martin is a four-time PSAC Scholar-Athlete and a five-time member of the Slippery Rock Dean’s List.
Martin entered his senior season already owning PSAC and school records for career sacks (54.5) and tackles for loss (90.5), and he hasn’t lost any steam in 2017. He currently leads the nation with 24.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks, and he is the only active player listed in the top 10 of both career categories in Division II history. Martin had one of the best games of his career against Clarion (Pa.) on Oct. 28, breaking Slippery Rock single-game records for sacks and tackles for loss on the way to becoming the new NCAA record holder in career sacks. He finished that game with 4.5 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a 74-yard fumble return for a touchdown, which marked his first career score.
Martin made an immediate impact at Slippery Rock, garnering Third Team All-America accolades as a freshman en route to being named the Don Hansen Football Gazette National Freshman of the Year. He followed up his rookie campaign with consecutive First Team All-America performances, including consensus honors as a junior. A two-time PSAC West Defensive Player of the Year and three-time First Team All-PSAC selection, the team captain led The Rock to back-to-back conference titles and Division II playoff appearances, reaching the quarterfinals in 2015. Martin holds the top two single-season sack performances in school history and was a three-time finalist for the Chris Harris Award as the small college defensive player of the year.
Martin has participated in the Read Across America program with local elementary schools the last three years and has helped at youth football camps on campus and in surrounding areas. He also volunteers each summer at the Boys and Girls Club in his hometown.
Chandon Sullivan, DB – Georgia State University
Journalism – 3.84 GPA
Head Coach: Shawn Elliott | Athletics Director: Charlie Cobb
Faculty Athletics Representative: George Pierce
Georgia State’s all-time career leader in interceptions, Chandon Sullivan is equally impressive for his academic pursuits. Described by head coach Shawn Elliott as “the perfect example of a student-athlete,” Sullivan has parlayed his success on and off the field into becoming the Panthers’ first-ever NFF National Scholar-Athlete.
Boasting a 3.84 GPA in journalism, Sullivan is a two-time First Team Academic All-District selection and a three-time member of the Sun Belt Conference Commissioner’s List. On pace to graduate in May 2018, he is a five-time Dean’s List honoree and has been named to the Georgia State Athletic Director’s Honor Roll. In 2015, he was named a Sun Belt Student-Athlete of the Week among all conference sports.
This season, Sullivan is tied for the team lead with four pass breakups and recorded a team-best 10 tackles in a win over Louisiana-Monroe. The Winder, Ga., native has posted 24 tackles during his senior campaign and is helping the Panthers stay on pace to become bowl-eligible for just the second time in program history.
A two-time All-Sun Belt defensive back, the team captain is Georgia State’s career leader with six interceptions and 23 passes defended. In 2016, Sullivan registered three interceptions, including one versus Wisconsin that led to a drive where GSU took the lead on the No. 9 Badgers. With the three-year letterman as the leader in the secondary, the Panthers were the only FBS team that didn’t allow an offensive play longer than 50 yards last season.
Sullivan is a stalwart in the community, participating in numerous activities in Atlanta and surrounding areas. A regular speaker at local elementary schools and the Warren Boys and Girls Club, he also reads to children and teaches them about living a healthy lifestyle. Sullivan assisted with a clinic for the Gresham Park Youth Football Association and helped with a clean-up project at Belvedere Community Garden, which feeds families in need.
Blaise Taylor, CB – Arkansas State University
Business Administration – 3.84 GPA
Head Coach: Blake Anderson | Athletics Director: Terry Mohajir
Faculty Athletics Representative: Karen McDaniel
Believed to be the only active player in the FBS to have earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees before the start of his true senior season, Arkansas State’s Blaise Taylor has taken full advantage of his time in Jonesboro. Capping off his extraordinary career, he becomes the second Red Wolves player in history to be named an NFF National Scholar-Athlete.
After graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in just two and a half years, Taylor earned his MBA last summer, giving him two degrees before the start of his fourth year on campus. A native of Waco, Texas, Taylor is a member of the Sun Belt Commissioner’s List and the Arkansas State Athletics Director’s Honor Roll. Taylor was also named a top 10 student in the A-State College of Business in 2015-16 and a recipient of the Strong-Turner 3.0 Society Award.
In addition to posting 18 tackles this season, the return specialist leads the Sun Belt Conference and ranks in the top five nationally with 18 punt returns for 308 yards (17.1 avg.), including a 63-yard return for a touchdown versus Nebraska. Taylor has also recorded one interception and is tied for the team lead with seven pass breakups, all while leading the Red Wolves to a 5-2 record (4-0 in conference). Taylor was named the Sun Belt Special Teams Player of the Week after helping Arkansas State to a road victory over New Mexico State on Oct. 28. During the game, he recorded a school and Sun Belt Conference-record nine punt returns for a career-high 114 yards that were also the third most ever by an A-State player and fifth most in Sun Belt history.
A two-time Second Team All-Sun Belt performer, Taylor holds A-State records for career punt returns (100) and return yards (1,089), both ranking second all-time in Sun Belt Conference annals. His four punt returns for touchdowns also rank second in league history. Taylor holds three of the top-10 marks in school history for punt return yards in a game and in a season and boasts the two highest punt return averages in a game all-time. Also recording five interceptions and 23 pass breakups in his career, he has helped the Red Wolves to consecutive Sun Belt titles and three-straight bowl games, including a win in the 2016 Cure Bowl.
One of only eight students to receive Arkansas State’s prestigious Distinguished Service Award,
Taylor is a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Inspired by his volunteer work at a local alternative school called Success Academy, Taylor and his sister created the non-profit, The Power of One and Two, designed to work with at-risk youth.
Marlon Walls, S – Stephen F. Austin State University
Engineering Physics – 4.00 GPA
Head Coach: Clint Conque | Athletics Director: Robert Hill
Faculty Athletics Representative: Ken Collier
After securing an internship with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and working on a joint project with NASA, it’s easy to see how Marlon Walls earned the nickname “Professor.” The perfect 4.00 GPA student has left an indelible mark at Stephen F. Austin, becoming the Lumberjacks’ first-ever NFF National Scholar-Athlete.
The first football player in SFA history to be named a First Team Academic All-American, the engineering physics major is the reigning Southland Conference Football Scholar-Athlete of the Year. A two-time Academic All-District selection and member of the Southland Conference All-Academic Team, Walls was a finalist for the Doris Robinson Award for FCS Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2016. The FCS ADA Academic All-Star was the Murray Shaw Award winner for having the highest GPA on the football team, and he has been named to the SFA President’s List every semester of his career. Walls was also the recipient of the SFA physics department’s Brian Patrick Hanson Memorial Scholarship in 2016.
Walls has recorded 40 tackles this season, including two tackles for loss, and posted a season-best nine stops versus Southern Utah on Sept. 9. He has recorded three pass breakups and is part of a secondary unit that ranks second in the Southland Conference with eight interceptions this season.
The Pearland, Texas, native ranked third on the team with 62 total tackles and led the Lumberjacks with a team-best 37 solo stops as a junior. During a standout sophomore season, he recorded a 14-yard interception off of Trevone Boykin at nationally ranked TCU and registered a 13-yard pick-six versus Incarnate Word, sealing the victory over the Cardinals. Walls entered his senior season with 91 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, three pass breakups and one forced fumble in his career.
During his internship at Johns Hopkins, Walls worked alongside students from MIT, Stanford and Yale, assisting with the NASA space probe called the Europa Propulsion Module. He was also a featured speaker at the SFA STEM Business and Industry Speaker Series. When he’s not serving as a student instructor or a math and science tutor, Walls finds time to speak at area elementary schools and assist with the football team’s “Read to Succeed” program.
Chris Weber, LB – University of Nebraska
Nutrition Science – 3.96 GPA
Head Coach: Mike Riley | Athletics Director: Bill Moos
Faculty Athletics Representative: Josephine Potuto
Described as someone who “represents all the good things about college athletics,” Nebraska’s Chris Weber has transitioned from a former walk-on to a starting linebacker for one of the country’s most storied football programs. Nebraska boasts the most NFF National Scholar-Athletes in history, with Weber becoming the 23rd honoree in a long line of Husker elite.
With a near-perfect 3.96 GPA in nutrition science, Weber has recently been accepted to medical school at the University of Nebraska. A two-time Academic All-District selection, the Elkhorn, Neb., native is also a three-time Big Ten Distinguished Scholar. He has been named an Academic All-Big Ten selection the last three years and is an eight-time Nebraska Scholar-Athlete Honor Roll member.
His senior season is proving to be his best yet, as Weber currently leads the team with 66 tackles, six tackles for loss and five pass breakups. He posted a season-high 12 tackles, including a tackle for loss, and added two pass breakups in the Huskers’ fourth-quarter comeback win against Purdue on Oct. 28
Weber earned Nebraska Walk-On of the Year honors after posting 49 tackles, two pass deflections and one fumble recovery during the 2015 season and was officially placed on scholarship in January 2016. The team captain and three-year letterman recorded a career-best 17-tackle performance versus Illinois during his sophomore campaign, and he has helped the Huskers to three bowl appearances, including a win at the 2015 Foster Farms Bowl.
Weber serves as the president of the Huskers’ Uplifting Athletes chapter and has helped the organization raise $125,000 for pediatric brain cancer research. He is a four-time member of the Tom Osborne and Brook Berringer Citizenship Teams and a three-year volunteer with the NFL Play 60 initiative. Weber has assisted at the Lincoln Food Bank and the Peoples City Mission and has served as a speaker during American Education Week. Garnering valuable insight into the medical profession, he has also found time to shadow five different doctors since 2014.
Jake Wieneke, WR – South Dakota State University
Physical/Teacher Education – 3.63 GPA
Head Coach: John Stiegelmeier | Athletics Director: Justin Sell
Faculty Athletics Representative: Rich Reid
As a three-time All-America receiver and two-time Academic All-American, Jake Wieneke has crafted a stellar collegiate career both on and off the playing field. The Maple Grove, Minn., native becomes the Jackrabbits’ third NFF National Scholar-Athlete.
On pace to graduate this December, Wieneke earned First Team Academic All-America honors as a junior and garnered Second Team laurels his sophomore season. The two-time Academic All-District selection is a three-time recipient of the MVFC Commissioner’s Academic Excellence Award and was twice honored as a First Team Academic All-Conference pick. Wieneke was also the recipient of the MVFC President’s Council Academic Award in 2016.
The team captain kicked off his senior campaign with an explosive start, posting six receptions for 75 yards and four touchdowns in the season opener versus Duquesne. In 2017, he has recorded 37 receptions for 479 yards for the top-10 nationally ranked Jackrabbits, and his 11 touchdown receptions lead the MVFC and are tied for first nationally.
A three-time AP All-American (2016 – Third Team, 2015 – First Team, 2014 – Second Team), Wieneke made an immediate impact at SDSU, earning College Sporting News FCS Freshman of the Year and MVFC Freshman of the Year honors. The 2015 STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year is a three-time First Team All-MVFC performer and helped the Jackrabbits to a share of the 2016 conference title and consecutive FCS Playoff berths. He owns career records in all major receiving categories at SDSU and boasts the MVFC single-season record with 1,472 receiving yards in 2015. Wieneke has led the team in receiving every year of his career and has led the conference in receiving the last two seasons.
Earlier this season, Wieneke was named to the 2017 AFCA Good Works Team for his work in the community, having participated in numerous mission trips to Jamaica, Kenya and Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (S.D.) He is active with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and is a youth group leader at his church. Wieneke has also served as a four-year mentor through the Brookings County Youth Mentoring Program.