University of Northern Iowa senior linebacker L.J. Fort has been named the Missouri Valley Football Conference Defensive Player of the Year, the league announced Wednesday.
With Fort taking the honor in 2011, a UNI player has now claimed the award in four of the last five seasons.
Fort (Waynesville, Mo./Waynesville HS) tallied 57 total points in the balloting of league head coaches, sports information directors and media. Cornerback Marcus Williams of North Dakota State was second with 41 points.
With 151 total tackles, 7.5 tackles-for-loss, six forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in 11 games, Fort is also a top candidate for the Buck Buchanan Award as the top defensive player in FCS. 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 at least 10 tackles in each game this season.
Fort joins current UNI head coach Mark Farley (1985), William Freeney (1991, 1992), Andre Allen (1993, 1994), Adam Vogt (2001), Brannon Carter (2007), and James Ruffin (2008, 2009) in the rich history of Panthers who have claimed the league's top defensive honor.
UNI senior quarterback Tirrell Rennie placed second in the voting for MVFC Offensive Player of the Year for the second season in a row. Indiana State running back Shakir Bell took the award with 67 points, while Rennie finished with 30 points in the voting.
Rennie is a finalist for the Walter Payton Award presented by The Sports Network as the most outstanding player in FCS. He has completed 127-of-213 passes for 1642 yards, 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions this season. On the ground, he leads the Panthers with 739 yards and nine touchdowns. On three different occasions this season, Rennie threw for 140-plus yards and rushed for 100-plus yards in a game.
Redshirt freshman running back David Johnson took runner-up honors in the balloting for MVFC Freshman of the Year and finished fourth in the race for Newcomer of the Year. South Dakota State quarterback Austin Sumner was named the league's Freshman of the Year and Southern Illinois running back Jewel Hampton edged Sumner for the top newcomer award.
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 Panthers 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.
Fort, Rennie, Johnson and the rest of the Panthers will host Wofford in the second round of the FCS Playoffs on Sat., Dec. 3, at 4 p.m. (CT) in the UNI-Dome.