BOONE, N.C. — With senior linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither winning Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year and running back Darrynton Evans being named Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year, App State led the way in the All-Sun Belt football awards announced by the league Wednesday.
Preparing to host Saturday’s Sun Belt Championship Game, the 21st-ranked Mountaineers (11-1, 7-1) had a league-leading six selections among the first-team offensive and defensive players. They also led the league with 21 total selections counting the three all-conference teams plus honorable mentions.
Offensive linemen Victor Johnson and Noah Hannon joined Evans on the first-team offense. Defensive lineman Demetrius Taylor and defensive back Shaun Jolly made the first-team defense alongside Davis-Gaither. It was the third straight first-team honor for Johnson.
App State’s second-team picks were linebacker Jordan Fehr, safety Josh Thomas, receiver Thomas Hennigan, receiver Corey Sutton, offensive lineman Baer Hunter, offensive lineman Cooper Hodges, Evans as an all-purpose back and Evans also as a return specialist.
The Mountaineers had three third-team selections in quarterback Zac Thomas, defensive back Desmond Franklin and defensive lineman E.J. Scott. Offensive lineman Ryan Neuzil, linebacker Noel Cook, receiver Malik Williams and running back Marcus Williams Jr. received honorable mention.
Arkansas State receiver Omar Bayless (84 catches for 1,473 yards and 16 TDs) was named the Sun Belt Player of the Year, and Louisiana’s Billy Napier received the Coach of the Year award.
On Tuesday, the grade-based PFF College site named its All-Sun Belt teams and gave first-team recognition to nine App State players: Zac Thomas, Evans, Hodges, Hannon, Neuzil, Davis-Gaither, Jolly, Josh Thomas and Franklin.
Among the other players who received higher-tier status from PFF than the league’s media/coaches were Williams (second team), Scott (second team), punter Xavier Subotsch (second team), cornerback Shemar Jean-Charles (third team), linebacker D’Marco Jackson (third team) and Hennigan (third-team punt returner).
App State, the first Sun Belt team to ever finish a regular season with 11 wins, will host Louisiana (10-2, 7-1) for the league title Saturday (noon, ESPN) in the Sun Belt’s first matchup of teams with double-digit wins.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR AKEEM DAVIS-GAITHER
Invited to the Reese’s Senior Bowl, the versatile Davis-Gaither has 85 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, six pass breakups, six QB hurries, one interception and one game-ending block of a field goal for a team that leads the league in total defense (321.2 yards per game) and has allowed 18.8 points per game despite having two Power Five opponents on the schedule.
The defense allowed just 16.4 points and 277.6 yards per game in league play during the regular season, with four of App State’s last six Sun Belt opponents opting to change quarterbacks in the second half of lopsided games. That included the last three Sun Belt road games against South Alabama, Georgia State and Troy.
In App State’s four closest games to date, Davis-Gaither totaled 44 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, three PBUs, one interception and one blocked field goal. He had 10 tackles, a second-half pick and the game-ending block in a 34-31 road win against North Carolina, then 11 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss and a contribution to a sack in the 17-7 road victory against Louisiana. A month later, in a 20-15 win at South Carolina, he recorded seven tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack, two PBUs and a drawn flag for offensive holding on the final play.
According to PFF, Davis-Gaither has 23 total pressures this year, five batted passes (No. 1 among FBS linebackers) and grades exceeding 85.0 as both a pass rusher and run defender.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR DARRYNTON EVANS
The versatility of Evans also led to him being recognized in several areas. His 20 touchdowns are four more than the second-best total in the league, and he’s second in the Sun Belt with 1,740 all-purpose yards, including 1,250 rushing yards.
With a league-best 16 rushing touchdowns, three receiving touchdowns and one kickoff return for a touchdown, Evans has helped App State average a league-high 38.9 points per game.
According to PFF, he has broken 40 tackles this year, and his speed has helped him accumulate 660 rushing yards before contact.
OTHER FIRST-TEAM SELECTIONS
The work up front from Johnson, Hannon and App State’s other offensive linemen has contributed to the Mountaineers ranking 18th nationally in rushing yards per game and eighth in fewest sacks allowed.
According to PFF, App State’s line has the 12th-best run-block grade in the country, and Hannon’s league-leading grade of 75.4 ranks 14th among all FBS centers.
Defensively, Jolly was named a second-team All-American by PFF College thanks to his five interceptions (tied for first in the Sun Belt), two interception returns for touchdowns (tied for first nationally), seven pass breakups, 35 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and one blocked punt. According to PFF, he has allowed a 49.8 passer rating when targeted.
Taylor has been a disruptive force with 6.0 sacks, 12.0 tackles for loss, six QB hurries, four pass breakups, three forced fumbles, two blocked kicks, one interception, one fumble return for a touchdown and 38 total stops.
Fehr’s 90 tackles include 16 in a win at UNC and 12 (with a sack) in the win at South Carolina, while Josh Thomas has a career-high 67 tackles for a defense that leads the Sun Belt by allowing just 186.8 passing yards per game. According to PFF, his coverage grade ranks No. 2 among all G5 safeties.
Hennigan leads App State with 54 catches for 673 yards and six games of at least 70 receiving yards, and Sutton put up 601 receiving yards with seven TDs in his nine games. Hunter has started every game at right guard, and redshirt freshman tackle Cooper Hodges was named to the midseason watch list for the FWAA Freshman All-American Team. His season-long grade from PFF ranks among the top 30 tackles in the entire country.
Zac Thomas has totaled 31 touchdowns, including 24 passing, and just six interceptions while throwing for 2,427 yards. App State outscored Georgia State and Troy by a combined 104-40 in the Mountaineers’ last two road games, and he threw four touchdown passes and rushed for one touchdown in each of those wins.
As a runner, Thomas has recorded a first down or touchdown on 46 percent of his rushes or scrambles, according to PFF.
Franklin has 41 tackles, one interception and eight PBUs, including three in the win at South Carolina and four more at Troy. Scott, a former walk-on who made the team following a 2016 tryout, has 19 tackles and 5.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage as an interior tackle for a defense that is allowing just 134.3 rushing yards per game.
Cook has produced 64 tackles with 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, Neuzil has generated PFF’s eighth-best grade for a left guard in the country while increasing his starting streak to 30 games and Malik Williams has caught 51 passes for 560 yards with four touchdowns. Marcus Williams Jr.’s 520 rushing yards include three Sun Belt games with at least 75 rushing yards, and he’s one of only four Sun Belt players with 500-plus rushing yards in each of the last three seasons.
2019 Sun Belt All-Conference Football Teams
Player of the Year: Omar Bayless, Arkansas State
Offensive Player of the Year: Darrynton Evans, App State
Defensive Player of the Year: Akeem Davis-Gaither, App State
Newcomer of the Year: Kaylon Geiger, Troy
Freshman of the Year: Layne Hatcher, Arkansas State
Coach of the Year: Billy Napier, Louisiana
Kaleb Barker, Troy (Senior, QB, Decatur, Ala.)
Darrynton Evans, App State (Junior, RB, Oak Hill, Fla.)
Tra Barnett, Georgia State (Senior, RB, Elberton, Ga.)
Omar Bayless, Arkansas State (Senior, WR, Laurel, Miss.)
Kirk Merritt, Arkansas State (Senior, WR, Destrehan, La.)
Kaylon Geiger, Troy (Junior, WR, Fort Worth, Texas)
Josh Pederson, ULM (Junior, TE, Morristown, N.J.)
Noah Hannon, App State (Junior, OL, Greer, S.C.)
Victor Johnson, App State (Senior, OL, North Augusta, S.C.)
Hunter Atkinson, Georgia State (Senior, OL, Flowery Branch, Ga.)
Kevin Dotson, Louisiana (Senior, OL, Plaquemine, La.)
Robert Hunt, Louisiana (Senior, OL, Burkeville, Texas)
Demetrius Taylor, App State (Junior, DL, Miami, Fla.)
William Bradley-King, Arkansas State (Junior, DL, Kansas City, Mo.)
Tarron Jackson, Coastal Carolina (Junior, DL, Aiken, S.C.)
Raymond Johnson III, Georgia Southern (Junior, DL, Sumter, S.C.)
Akeem Davis-Gaither, App State (Senior, LB, Thomasville, N.C.)
Bryan London II, Texas State (Senior, LB, Converse, Texas)
Carlton Martial, Troy (Sophomore, LB, Mobile, Ala.)
Shaun Jolly, App State (Sophomore, DB, Stone Mountain, Ga.)
Darreon Jackson, Arkansas State (Senior, DB, Derby, Kan.)
Kindle Vildor, Georgia Southern (Senior, DB, College Park, Ga.)
Corey Straughter, ULM (Junior, DB, Monroe, La.)
Will Sunderland, Troy (Senior, DB, Midwest City, Okla.)
First-Team Special Teams
Blake Grupe, Arkansas State (Sophomore, K, Sedalia, Mo.)
Cody Grace, Arkansas State (Senior, P, Perth, Western Australia)
Raymond Calais, Louisiana (Senior, RS, Breaux Bridge, La.)
Tra Minter, South Alabama (Senior, AP, Ellaville, Ga.)
Dan Ellington, Georgia State (Senior, QB, Olive Branch, Miss.)
Elijah Mitchell, Louisiana (Junior, RB, Erath, La.)
Josh Johnson, ULM (Junior, RB, Opelika, Ala.)
Thomas Hennigan, App State (Junior, WR, Greensboro, N.C.)
Corey Sutton, App State (Junior, WR, Cornelius, N.C.)
Ja’Marcus Bradley, Louisiana (Senior, WR, Ackerman, Miss.)
Aubry Payne, Georgia State (Junior, TE, Locust Grove, Ga.)
Cooper Hodges, App State (Freshman, OL, Glen St. Mary, Fla.)
Baer Hunter, App State (Junior, OL, Clemmons, N.C.)
Bobby Reynolds, ULM (Senior, OL, Keller, Texas)
Aaron Brewer, Texas State (Senior, OT, Dallas, Texas)
J.l. Gaston, Troy (Senior, OL, Monroeville, Ala.)
Kevin Thurmon, Arkansas State (Senior, DL, Chicago, Ill.)
Zi’Yon Hill, Louisiana (Sophomore, DL, New Iberia, La.)
Jeffery Whatley, South Alabama (Senior, DL, Midland City, Ala.)
Will Choloh, Troy (Sophomore, DL, Lawrenceville, Ga.)
Jordan Fehr, App State (Senior, LB, Charlotte, N.C.)
Rashad Byrd, Georgia Southern (Junior, LB, North Augusta, S.C.)
Joe Dillon, Louisiana (Junior, LB, Tylertown, Miss.)
Cortez Sisco, ULM (Senior, LB, Memphis, Tenn.)
Josh Thomas, App State (Senior, DB, Montgomery, Ala.)
B.J. Edmonds, Arkansas State (Senior, DB, Mobile, Ala.)
Chandler Kryst, Coastal Carolina (Senior, DB, Tega Cay, S.C.)
Michael Jacquet III, Louisiana (Senior, DB, Beaumont, Texas)
Second-Team Special Teams
Tyler Bass, Georgia Southern (Senior, K, Irmo, S.C.)
Rhys Byrns, Louisiana (Sophomore, P, Melbourne, Australia)
Darrynton Evans, App State (Junior, AP, Oak Hill, Fla.)
Darrynton Evans, App State (Junior, RS, Oak Hill, Fla.)
Zac Thomas, App State (Junior, QB, Trussville, Ala.)
Raymond Calais, Louisiana (Senior, RB, Breaux Bridge, La.)
Trey Ragas, Louisiana (Junior, RB, New Orleans, La.)
Jonathan Adams, Arkansas State (Junior, WR, Jonesboro, Ark.)
Cornelius McCoy, Georgia State (Sophomore, WR, Deerfield Beach, Fla.)
Reggie Todd, Troy (Junior, WR, Mobile, Ala.)
Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina (Sophomore, TE, Maiden, Mass.)
Jarrett Horst, Arkansas State (Sophomore, OL, Middleton, Wis.)
Jacob Still, Arkansas State (Junior, OL, Collierville, Tenn.)
Trey Carter, Coastal Carolina (Junior, OL, Monroeville, Ala.)
Shamarious Gilmore, Georgia State (Junior, OL, Riverdale, Ga.)
Kirk Kelley, Troy (Senior, OL, Marrero, La.)
E.J. Scott, App State (Senior, DL, Farmville, N.C.)
C.J. Brewer, Coastal Carolina (Junior, DL, Bowdon, Ga.)
Sterling Johnson, Coastal Carolina (Senior, DL, Clayton, N.C.)
Donald Louis, ULM (Senior, DL, Monroe, La.)
Marcus Webb, Troy (Senior, DL, Decatur, Ala.)
Tajhea Chambers, Arkansas State (Junior, LB, Gordon, Ga.)
Teddy Gallagher, Coastal Carolina (Junior, LB, Los Angeles, Calif.)
Nikolas Daniels, Texas State (Senior, LB, League City, Texas)
Desmond Franklin, App State (Senior, DB, Inverness, Fla.)
Monquavion Brinson, Georgia Southern (Senior, DB, Atlanta, Ga.)
Kenderick Duncan Jr., Georgia Southern (Sophomore, DB, Stockbridge, Ga.)
Travis Reed, South Alabama (Senior, DB, Meridian, Miss.)
Third-Team Special Teams
Stevie Artigue, Louisiana (Senior, K, Lafayette, La.)
Tyler Sumpter, Troy (Junior, P, Hoover, Ala.)
Reggie Todd, Troy (Junior, RS, Mobile, Ala.)
Raymond Calais, Louisiana (Senior, AP, Breaux Bridge, La.)
All-Sun Belt Conference Honorable Mention
Noel Cook, App State (Senior, LB, Reidsville, N.C.)
Ryan Neuzil, App State (Junior, OL, Bradenton, Fla.)
Marcus Williams Jr., App State (Junior, RB, Rocky Mount, N.C.)
Malik Williams, App State (Junior, WR, Chester, S.C.)
Caleb Bonner, Arkansas State (Junior, LB, Reform, Ala.)
Andre Harris Jr., Arkansas State (Sophomore, OL, Oklahoma City, Okla.)
Marcel Murray, Arkansas State (Sophomore, RB, Hiram, Ga.)
Ivory Scott, Arkansas State (Junior, OL, Kenner, La.)
Shadell Bell, Coastal Carolina (RS-Senior, TE, Decatur, Ga.)
Jaivon Heiligh, Coastal Carolina (Sophomore, WR, Venice, Fla.)
Ethan Howard, Coastal Carolina (RS-Senior, OL, Brookwood, Ala)
CJ Marable, Coastal Carolina (Junior, RB, Decatur, Ga.)
Shai Werts, Georgia Southern (RS-Junior, QB, Clinton, S.C.)
Wesley Kennedy III, Georgia Southern (Junior, RB, Savannah, Ga.)
J.D. King, Georgia Southern (Junior, RB, Fitzgerald, Ga.)
Reynard Ellis, Georgia Southern (RS-Sophomore, LB, Birmingham, Ala.)
Roger Carter, Georgia State (Junior, TE, Columbia, S.C.)
Malik Sumter, Georgia State (RS-Sophomore, C, Irmo, S.C.)
Hardrick Willis, Georgia State (RS-Sophomore, DE, Jonesboro, Ga.)
Dontae Wilson, Georgia State (Junior, NG, Jefferson, Ga.)
Jacques Boudreaux, Louisiana (Senior, LB, New Orleans, La.)
Jarrod Jackson, Louisiana RS-Senior, WR, Reserve, La.)
Chauncey Manac, Louisiana RS-Junior, LB, Homerville, Ga.)
Nick Ralston, Louisiana (Graduate Transfer, TE, Argyle, Texas)
Caleb Evans, ULM (Senior, QB, Mansfield, Texas)
Markis McCray, ULM (Fifth-Year Senior, WR, Euless, Texas)
Larance Shaw, ULM (Senior, DL, Fort Worth, Texas)
Eastwood Thomas, ULM (Fifth-Year Senior, OL, Jackson, Ala.)
Kawaan Baker, South Alabama (Junior, WR, Atlanta, Ga.)
Sean Brown, South Alabama (Senior, DL, Pleasant Grove, Ala.)
Riley Cole, South Alabama (Junior, LB, Oneonta, Ala.)
Jacob Shoemaker, South Alabama (Junior, OL, Gulfport, Miss.)
Jarron Morris, Texas State (Sophomore, CB, Orange, Texas)
Caeveon Patton, Texas State (Junior, DT, Cuero, Texas)
Hutch White, Texas State (Senior, WR, Kerrville, Texas)
Khambrail Winters, Texas State (Freshman, CB, Houston, Texas)
Dylan Bradshaw, Troy (Junior, OL, Enterprise, Ala.)
Khalil McClain, Troy (Junior, WR, Fairburn, Ga.)
Dell Pettus, Troy (Freshman, DB, Harvest, Ala.)
Austin Stidham, Troy (RS-Sophomore, OL, Russellville, Ala.)