Palmer Ridge Product and Air Force QB Sanders named semifinalist for Witten Man of the year

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DALLAS Air Force senior Isaiah Sanders has been named a semifinalists for the third annual Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year, announced Wednesday, which includes 20 of the nation’s top leaders in college football.

This is the fourth major award for Sanders in 2019. He was named to the American Football Coaches Association Good Works team for community service, academics and athletics, as well as being a semifinalist for the Wuerffel Trophy for community service and the William Campbell Trophy, given annually to the top student-athlete in college football.

Compiled by a subset of the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Selection Committee, the semifinalists have all demonstrated a record of leadership by exhibiting exceptional courage, integrity and sportsmanship both on and off the field.

Seventeen seniors and three juniors make up the list. Among conferences, the ACC, Big 12 and SEC led the way with four selections each, while the Big Ten had three. The Pac 12 and American Athletic Conference each had two, and the Mountain West also had one semifinalist.

The full list of semifinalists includes: Isaiah Sanders (Air Force), Derrick Brown (Auburn), Koby Quansah (Duke), Jake Fromm (Georgia), Ray Lima (Iowa State), Bryce Torneden (Kansas), Khaleke Hudson (Michigan), Darryl Williams (Mississippi State), Ford Higgins (U.S. Naval Academy), James Smith-Williams (North Carolina State), Jordan Fuller (Ohio State), Blake Gillikin (Penn State), Michael Pittman, Jr. (University of Southern California), Andrew Armstrong (Syracuse), Trey Smith (Tennessee), Brandon Jones (Texas), Kellton Hollins (TCU), Christian Montano (Tulane), Leki Fotu (Utah) and Bryce Hall (Virginia).

Three finalists will be named for the award on Monday, December 16. The winner will be announced at the award ceremony on February 18, 2020, at The Star in Frisco, Texas.

Last year, Wisconsin’s D’Cota Dixon won the award. The inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year was presented to Shaquem Griffin of UCF in 2017.

The award, presented by Albertsons and Tom Thumb, is the first college football honor to focus primarily on a player’s leadership, both on and off the field. Leadership is a term synonymous with Jason Witten, who, in addition to becoming one of the best tight ends in the history of the sport and the Cowboys’ all-time leading receiver, has served as one of football’s most prominent role models during his 16-year pro career. In addition to winning the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award in 2012, Witten also received the Bart Starr Award, Pro Football Weekly’s Humanitarian of the Year Award, Home Depot NFL Neighborhood MVP and the Bob Lilly Award, among many others. All of those honors have recognized his work in the community, achievements on the field and dedication to his teammates and family.

“It’s my honor to announce this impressive group of student-athletes as semifinalists for the third annual Collegiate Man of the Year,” said Witten. “All of these young men are shining examples of what makes college football great. They have demonstrated exceptional character and leadership, often while overcoming large challenges. They are great representatives for the game of football, and I commend all nominees for getting to this point.”

The winner of the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year will also receive a $10,000 contribution in his name to his school’s athletic scholarship fund. The contribution will be made by Jason Witten’s SCORE Foundation, the official charity of Jason and his wife Michelle. The SCORE Foundation, founded in 2007, has positively impacted tens of thousands of children and families in Texas and Tennessee over the last 12 years. The foundation operates its nationally-recognized SCOREkeepers program, which places trained male mentors on staff to work with children at family violence shelters, at nine shelters in the two states.

2019 JASON WITTEN COLLEGIATE MAN OF THE YEAR SEMIFINALISTS

Isaiah Sanders, Air Force (Sr., QB) – Quarterback at Air Force, where he is also his team’s community service representative and the cadet-in-charge of the academy’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter. Sanders has worked closely with Undivided, a non-profit focused on strengthening communities, and he was recently named to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team for his work in the community. In the classroom, Sanders has a 3.86 GPA and currently operates as his squadron’s flight officer.

Derrick Brown, Auburn (Sr., DL) – One of the nation’s top defensive players, Brown was a finalist for last year’s Man of the Year award. He is a not only a force on the field, but an incredible leader off the field as well. He is a member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll and a member of the SEC Student- Athlete Leadership Council for football. He serves as Auburn SAAC vice-president, and has done Christian-based mission work in the Dominican Republic and also spent time building homes in Montgomery and Auburn, AL, with his church. Brown has been heavily involved with other community projects like Angel Trees, Toys for Tots, campus Student-Athlete Day, Beat Bama food drive, Halloween Trunk or Treat and SAAC clothing drive.

Koby Quansah, Duke (Sr., LB) – A team captain at Duke, Quansah has amassed more than 175 career tackles while earning Academic All-ACC honors and being a two-time ACC Academic Honor Roll recipient. He has twice served with the school’s ACTION Mentor program, mentoring incoming freshmen. Named to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team for his community service, Quansah immigrated to the U.S. from Ghana when he was four and had to overcome a home affected by domestic violence. In college, he has also overcome two surgeries to become a standout starting linebacker for the Blue Devils.

Jake Fromm, Georgia (Jr., QB) – One of the nation’s top quarterbacks, Fromm has led Georgia to consecutive SEC Championship Game appearances, as well as an SEC title and an appearance in the 2018 CFP National Championship Game. A finalist for last year’s Manning Award and semifinalist for last season’s Davey O’Brien Award, both given to the nation’s top quarterback. Fromm is on the SEC Academic Honor Roll and was Georgia’s student-athlete of the year in 2018. Named to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, Fromm has worked diligently with Extra Special People, an organization assisting individuals with developmental disabilities.

Ray Lima, Iowa State (Sr., DL) – A two-time All-Big 12 selection, Lima is one of the nation’s top defensive linemen. He has already earned his degree and he was an Academic All-Big 12 selection last year. A two-year captain, Lima was not heavily recruited out of high school and went to work in a grocery store before deciding to give football another shot in junior college, eventually earning a scholarship at Iowa State. Lima leads his team with over 80 community service hours and led a group of his teammates to Marshalltown, IA, last summer to help clean up after a devastating tornado hit the area.

Bryce Torneden, Kansas (Sr., S) – Torneden has earned All-Big 12 accolades each of the last two seasons and is the Jayhawks’ captain and leading tackler. A two-time Academic All-Big 12 First Team honoree, he has earned a spot on the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll and Athletics Director’s Honor Roll for five consecutive semesters. Undersized and often overlooked, Torneden not only excels on the field but has lead his teammates in a partnership with Team Impact, a national nonprofit that connects children facing serious and chronic illnesses with college athletic teams. He was recently named to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.

Khaleke Hudson, Michigan (Sr., LB/S) – A two-time All-Big Ten selection who tied the NCAA record for most tackles for loss in a single game (8.0), Hudson is the unquestioned leader of the Wolverines. Hudson overcame the death of his father to gun violence when he was in high school, and used it as motivation to escape the violence of his hometown to build a better life for himself. He is very active in the community and has participated in football clinics and charitable efforts in South Africa, France and Italy.

Darryl Williams, Sr., Mississippi State (Sr., C) – One of the top centers in college football, Williams was a 2019 Preseason All-American and is an Outland Trophy and Rimington Trophy candidate. He overcame a neck injury as a freshman to become a great player, team captain and one of his university’s best ambassadors. Williams, who is on the SEC Academic Honor Roll, took part in the NCAA Elite Student-Athlete Symposium this year, and he is a frequent visitor to the Batson Children’s Hospital.

Ford Higgins, U.S. Naval Academy (Sr., C) – The anchor of Navy’s offensive line, which leads the nation in rushing, Higgins is the team’s captain and Navy’s “captain of the captains” for all sports at the academy. He is pursuing a degree in applied mathematics, one of the most challenging academic programs in the country, and he led an effort to clean up the Armed Forces Retirement Home.

James Smith-Williams, North Carolina St. (Sr., DE) – Wearing his team’s #1 jersey, given to one Wolfpack player each season who exhibits exceptional character and leadership, Smith-Williams has already earned a degree in Operations/Supply Chain Management. He is also vice president of N.C. State’s Student-Athlete Advisory Council and has accepted a position at IBM, which he will start when his football career is completed. Smith-Williams was recently selected to the AFCA’s Good Works Team for his work in the community and has been a vocal leader in the effort against interpersonal violence.

Jordan Fuller, Ohio State (Sr., S) – One of just 14 players in Ohio State history to be a two-year captain, Fuller is the team’s active leader in tackles and has helped lead the Buckeyes to consecutive Big ten titles. An Academic All-American, Fuller was the Big Ten Distinguished Scholar in 2018, and he is on the executive board for the Redefining Athletic Standards organization, designed to give black athletes a voice on campus. He also helped create a seminar to educate on sexual assault and healthy relationships.

Blake Gillikin, Penn State (Sr., P) – Penn State’s career leader punting average, Gillikin is one of the best punters in the nation, and he owns a perfect 4.0 GPA. A two-time captain, Academic All-American and two-time Big Ten Distinguished Scholar, Gillikin also created a program for student-athletes to donate their new or gently-used backpacks and filled them with supplies for disadvantaged local kids. He also served as the treasurer of the Penn State Uplifting Athletes chapter.

Michael Pittman, Sr., USC (Sr., WR) – Having accumulated more than 2,000 receiving yards in his career with the Trojans, Pittman has overcome his struggles with stuttering to become a team captain and leader of the USC football program. He uses his struggles with stuttering as a platform to promote reading skills to elementary students. Pittman, a Biletnikoff Award candidate, volunteers countless hours to a wide variety of organizations, and he also sponsors a child in Indonesia through Compassion International.

Andrew Armstrong, Syracuse (Sr., LB) – Armstrong has more than 125 career tackles and has never missed a game in his four year career. He is a member of the team leadership council and is treasurer of the Syracuse chapter of Uplifting Athletes. Armstrong is a type 1 diabetic and has become an advocate and mentor for other diabetics, speaking at JDRF events and helping to raise funds for the organization.

Trey Smith, Tennessee (Jr., OL) – One of the most dominant linemen in football, Smith was a Freshman All-American who has had to fight his way back on the field after being diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs before the start of his sophomore season. His return to the field and excellent play this season has been an inspiration to his team. A member of the 2018 SEC Community Service Team and Wuerffel Trophy nominee, Smith spearheaded a coat drive for the Knoxville Area Rescue Ministry and was selected as a member of the 2018 VOLeaders Class, a group of leaders chosen across all sports.

Brandon Jones, Texas (Sr., DB) - The team’s leading tackler, Jones is on both the Nagurski and Lott Impact Trophy watch lists, and he is a member of the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll. He lost his father to liver disease when he was in the seventh grade, and has worked hard to provide a foundation for his mother and four brothers. Besides being a frequent participant in team community activities, such as hospital visits and rebuilding a local playground, Jones built a special relationship with a young cancer patient he met at the Dell Children's Medical Center in Austin.

Kellton Hollins, TCU (Jr., OG) – A captain for the Horned Frogs, Hollins is president of S.P.A.R.K., an organization started by TCU football student-athletes to provide motivation to local youth about the importance of education and serving the community. He has also worked with Fort Worth youth through H.O.P.E. Farm, Inc., University Christian Church and TCU's Starpoint School. He appears on the watch list for the Wuerffel Trophy and is a nominee for the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team. Hollins was also selected to be the TCU football program's 2019 Big 12 Champions for Life representative.

Christian Montano, Tulane (Sr., OL) – Already a graduate of Brown University, where he made the honor roll eight times, Montano transferred to Tulane and has started every game at center. He is a two-time semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy and received an award for independent science research about the effects of fertilizer runoff on local aquatic habitats. Montano donated bone marrow to save a man’s life and has since met and formed a strong relationship with the man.

Leki Fotu, Utah (Sr., DT) – One of the best defensive tackles in the nation, Fotu is the leader of a Utah defense which currently ranks best in the nation against the rush. He made the AP Midseason All-America team and is on the watch list for the Outland Trophy. Fotu is a two-time member of the Utah Athletic Department Honor Roll, and he overcame the devastating loss of both his father and sister within weeks of each other. He is also heavily involved in team community service activities in Utah.

Bryce Hall, Virginia (Sr., CB) - A near-unanimous selection on preseason All-America teams coming into the season, Hall is also on watch lists for the Nagurski, Lott IMPACT and Wuerffel Trophies. He led the nation in pass breakups last season, and he is a two-time ACC Academic Honor Roll honoree. Off the field, Bryce gives back to the community by visiting sick children weekly in the hospital during the school year, volunteers at the Boy’s and Girl’s Club and enjoys volunteering weekly and building a foundation with high school kids at his local church.