RICHMOND, Ky. – Eastern Kentucky University football player Matt Denham was one of 20 Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) players named to the initial Walter Payton Award watch list today. The award, which is presented by The Sports Network, is presented annually to the most outstanding college football player on the FCS level.
Denham, a senior running back from Rineyville, Ky., burst onto the scene as a junior and rushed for 1,570 yards, which was the highest total by a Colonel since 1991. He averaged 184.5 yards rushing per game in his eight starts in 2011. Denham was named a 2011 Associated Press third team All-American.
In his first career start last October at Eastern Illinois, Denham piled up 216 yards rushing and two scores in the 48-16 win. He notched the game-winning score, a seven-yard run, with 1:08 remaining in the 23-16 win over UT Martin on Nov. 19. In the 2011 FCS playoff game against James Madison, Denham finished with 125 yards rushing which included a 66-yard play to set up an EKU third quarter touchdown. Denham was one of just two FCS players to reach 200 yards rushing in four games last year.
Denham was one of only two OVC players to make the initial watch list and first Colonel to appear on the list since running back C.J. Hudson in 2002. The Payton Award watch list can undergo revision during the 2012 season. Ballots will be sent to a panel of approximately 175 sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries following the conclusion of the regular season on Nov. 19.
The Walter Payton Award is named in honor of Payton, who played collegiately for Jackson State and set the NCAA record for points scored in a career with 464. He scored 66 touchdowns for the Tigers, while rushing for 3,563 yards. Payton also kicked five field goals and 53 PATs in his four-year career at JSU. He set nine school records, six of which still stand today.
However, Payton’s collegiate accomplishments pale in comparison to the numbers he posted in his professional career. Upon his retirement, he was the NFL’s all-time leading rusher with 16,726 yards, and the Chicago Bears’ all-time leading scorer with 750 points, as well as the holder of eight NFL records and 28 Bears records.
The Walter Payton Award has been handed out annually since 1987. Some of the past winners include Dave Meggett (Towson – 1988), Steve McNair (Alcorn State – 1994), Brian Westbrook (Villanova – 2001) and Tony Romo (Eastern Illinois – 2002). Romo is the only OVC player who has ever won the Payton Award.
The Payton Award will be presented to the FCS national offensive player of the year on Friday, Jan. 4 in Frisco, Texas – the night before the national championship game.
For a complete listing of the Walter Payton Award watch list, click here.