Four University of Northern Iowa football student-athletes have been named finalists for the top three FCS individual awards presented by The Sports Network. UNI's four finalists are the most in the nation for a single school.
Senior linebacker L.J. Fort and senior defensive lineman Ben Boothby are among the 20 finalists for the Buck Buchanan Award (given to the top defensive player in FCS), senior quarterback Tirrell Rennie is on the ballot for the Walter Payton Award (top player in FCS), and redshirt freshman running back David Johnson is a contender for the inaugural Jerry Rice Award (top freshman in FCS).
Fort is a top candidate for the Buck Buchanan Award with 151 total tackles, 7.5 tackles-for-loss, six forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in 11 games. He is tied for second in the nation in total tackles, tackles per game, and forced fumbles. Fort registered 15 or more tackles in a game three times this season, with 15 at North Dakota State, 17 at South Dakota State and a career-high 22 stops at Illinois State. He has posted a minimum of 10 tackles in each game this season.
Boothby leads the Panthers with 7.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles-for-loss, and he also tops the Missouri Valley Football Conference in tackles-for-loss. He has racked up 63 total tackles this year after being named first-team All-MVFC in 2010 and first-team preseason All-American by The Sports Network prior to this season. Boothby is also the only Panther in school history to be a three-time, first-team Academic All-District selection.
Rennie is a finalist for the Walter Payton Award one year after finishing as the runner-up for MVFC Offensive Player of the Year. He has completed 127-of-213 passes for 1642 yards, 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions. On the ground, he leads the Panthers with 739 yards and nine touchdowns. In three games this season, Rennie threw for 140-plus yards and rushed for 100-plus yards.
Since his 80-yard touchdown catch and a rushing touchdown at Iowa State on Sept. 3, Johnson has been recognized as one of the top freshman in the nation. He owns 11 total touchdowns while leading the team with 30 receptions. Johnson is the top freshman in the MVFC in rushing yards (730) and scoring (66 points). He recorded 100 or more all-purpose yards in seven of UNI's 11 games this season.
UNI will host Wofford in the second round of the FCS Playoffs on Sat., Dec. 3, at 4 p.m. (CT) in the UNI-Dome.