This has been a disappointing season for most Mississippi college football teams, but several individuals have put together superb seasons, including the 10 nominees for the 21st C Spire Conerly Trophy.
The list of finalists was completed early Monday afternoon and include the nation’s leading scorer in Division II (Delta State’s Chris Robinson), the nation’s most productive tight end (Ole Miss’ Evan Engram), the SEC leader in touchdown catches (Mississippi State’s Fred Ross), the SWAC leader in sacks (Alcorn’s Darian Anderson) and a running back who has produced nearly 1,600 yards and 16 touchdowns (Southern Miss’ Ito Smith).
The Conerly Trophy, named for College Football Hall of Famer Charlie Conerly, goes annually to the state’s most outstanding college football player. The award will be presented on Nov. 29.
The 2016 finalists (in alphabetical order):
• Darian Anderson, Alcorn State linebacker: One of seven players nationally selected as a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award as the best defensive player in NCAA Division I FCS Division. Leads the SWAC with 10 sacks and leads Alcorn in tackles with 80.
• Austin Bray, Mississippi Valley State quarterback: He has completed 129 of 239 passes for 1,462 yards and eight touchdowns. He also accounted for four rushing touchdowns.
• Evan Engram, Ole Miss tight end: A four year starter, Engram is the national leader among tight ends for career receiving yards, having caught 162 passes for 2,320 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has started 42 of 45 games as an Ole Miss Rebel. A finalist for the Mackey Award, Engram made several mid-season All-America teams and leads all the nation’s tigh ends with 84.2 yards receiving per game. He leads all SEC receivers in the same category.
• Alex Foust, Millsaps defensive lineman: Made 42 tackles his senior season, his third as a starter. Finished second in the Southern Athletic Association 15.5 tackles for losses, totaling 58 yards in losses. Also finished second in the league in sacks with 9.5.
• Javancy Jones, Jackson State defensive end: He is JSU’s C Spire Conerly nominee for the second straight year. Jones is a versatile defensive end/linebacker hybrid who leads JSU with 17.5 tackles for a loss and four quarterback sacks for 26 yards in losses. JSU also uses him as a tight end and he has caught two passes, one for a touchdown.
• Hunter McEachern, Belhaven quarterback: Was his team’s captain as a freshman, when he completed 337 of 574 passes for 3,722 yards and 31 touchdowns (vs. 22 interceptions). Set single game records for pass attempts (76), completions (48) and passing touchdowns (6). Threw for 300 yards or more in eight games and had the second highest passing yardage in school history.
• Marcel Newson, Mississippi College wide receiver and kick returner: He is MC’s nominee for the second year after transferring from Northwest Community College. He led the Gulf South Conference and ranks fifth nationally in all-purpose yardage with 180.6 yards per game. Led the GSC and ranked 27th nationally in receiving yards per game (94.8). Ranks third in GSC in kickoff return average (27.3) and punt return average (15.5).
• Chris Robinson, Delta State running back: The nation’s leading scorer in Division II and three-time Gulf South Conference Player of the Week, Robinson, from Bude, scored 24 touchdowns, 144 points total and averaged 14.4 points per game. He ran 186 times for 976 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also caught 37 passes for 551 yards and five scores. He totaled 1,544 all-purpose yards and tied the DSU and GSC records for touchdowns in a game with six against West Florida.
• Fred Ross, Mississippi State wide receiver: He is the 2016 Southeastern Conference leader in touchdown receptions with 11 and caught 67 passes for 835 yards. Ross has set four MSU career receiving records this season, including catches (184), consecutive games with a catch (32), 100-yard receiving games (9) and receiving yards (2,275). His 184 career catches rank him 16th all-time in the SEC. He leads all SEC receivers in 10-yard-plus plays from scrimmage this season with 33.
• Ito Smith, Southern Miss running back: One of the most productive backs in school history, Smith has rushed for 1,195 yards and 15 touchdowns on 215 carries for 5.6 yards per carry. He is also the team’s second leading receiver with 38 catches for 390 yards and another touchdown. A model of consistency, he has scored at least one touchdown in every game the Golden Eagles have played. In two games against SEC opponents, Smith has rushed for 237 yards, caught 11 passes for 86 yards and scored two touchdowns.
The 21st annual C Spire Conerly Trophy presentation will be held at the Clarksdale Country Club. A 5:30 p.m. reception will be followed by the banquet and trophy presentation at 6:30 p.m. For ticket information, contact the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum at 1-800-280-FAME (3263), 601-982-8264 or [email protected].