It’s quite ironic that the award for the best freshman in FCS football is named after one of the biggest names in HBCU sports history, but one HBCU player has yet to win it.
The Jerry Rice Award was established in 2011. Since then, players from Villanova, Eastern Washington and Weber State, among others, have won the award. But there is no sign of schools like the Alma Mater of Rice, Mississippi Valley State.
Shedeur Sanders last week became the first Jackson State player to be on the watch list for the award. He is the only HBCU quarterback and one of four HBCU players on the roster, along with Hampton running back Elijah Burris, South running back Kobe Dillon and state running back. Delaware Sy’Veon Wilkerson.
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So what are Sanders’ chances of becoming the first Tiger to bring the trophy back to Jackson?
Of the 10 award winners, four were quarterbacks.
The most notable winner is Trey Lance, who played in North Dakota before being selected No.3 in the 2021 NFL Draft by San Francisco. Last year’s winner was Word Incarnate quarterback Cameron Ward. Case Cookus of northern Arizona won in 2015. The first quarterback to win was Villanova’s John Robertson in 2012.
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Here’s how Sanders’ numbers stack up against other quarterbacks on the 2021 Watchlist.
Demeatric Crenshaw, State of Youngstown: 68 passes for 118, 569 yards, four touchdowns, four interceptions.
Zevi Eckhaus, Bryant: 166 passes for 268, 1,605 yards, 13 touchdowns, two interceptions.
RJ Martinez, Northern Arizona: 118 passes for 188, 1,456 yards, 12 touchdowns, two interceptions.
Shedeur Sanders, Jackson State: 171 passes for 250, 2,109 yards, 20 touchdowns, three interceptions.
Sanders has the highest completion percentage, most passing yards and most passing touchdowns of any quarterback on the roster. He is also the only quarterback of a team ranked in the STATS Perform FCS Top 25.
But, the award is open to all positions, and four of the 10 former winners are running backs. A catcher and linebacker also took home the award.
Darius Hale of Central Arkansas appears to have the best stats among running backs. He has 663 yards and 13 touchdowns on 121 carries. Presbyterian’s Jalyn Witcher leads the FCS in touchdowns with 10, and is third in receiving yards with 815. Fordham’s James Conway is second in FCS with 97 tackles.
Historically, quarterbacks have won the Jerry Rice Award more than any position other than running back. And Sanders’ passing stats should place him among the favorites if he continues.