CHICAGO – Chattanooga wide receiver Bryce Nunnelly and Western Carolina quarterback Tyrie Adams are among the 25 players on the initial watch list for the STATS FCS Walter Payton Award, STATS announced Wednesday.
The Payton Award, given to the offensive player of the year in college football's Division I subdivision and first awarded in 1987, has watched past winners such as Steve McNair, Tony Romo, Brian Westbrook, John Friesz, Brian Finneran, Jimmy Garoppolo and Cooper Kupp move on to the NFL. Last year, Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges won the SoCon's seventh Payton Award.
Nunnelly has garnered multiple preseason All-American nods and is also on the preseason All-Southern Conference first team. He was second in the SoCon and sixth in the nation with 112.5 receiving yards per game last season. He also ranked third in the league and No. 8 in the country with 7.2 receptions per game.
Nunnelly is the seventh Moc to be named to the Payton Award watch list, including Derrick Craine (2016), Jacob Huesman (2014 & 2015), B.J. Coleman (2011), Alonzo Nix (2004), Cos DeMatteo (2001) and Chris Sanders (2000). Sanders placed ninth in the final voting in 2000, while Huesman was 11th in both 2014 and 2015.
Nunnelly was known for his big-play ability last season, posting 11 catches of 40 or more yards. The Mocs only had five of those plays as a team in 2017. He opened the year with seven catches for 161 yards and an 89-yard score against Tennessee Tech. He followed that with National Player of the Week honors, posting 10 catches for 268 yards and two TDs at The Citadel.
He recorded six 100-yard receiving games, including a school-record four in a row to start the season. He closed out the year with five catches for 141 yards at South Carolina.
There are only five juniors and a total of seven receivers on this year’s initial watch list.
Collecting preseason All-America selections from STATS FCS (third team) and HERO Sports (second team), Adams is the third Catamount to grace the initial watch list for the Walter Payton Award in recent years, doing so in both 2018 and 2019. He is joined by former tailback Detrez Newsome, who was on the first watch list in 2017, and former QB Troy Mitchell, who made the preseason list prior to the 2015 season.
A semifinalist for the award a season ago, Adams finished 19th in the final national balloting last year.
Expectations are high for the mobile, veteran signal-caller entering the 2019 season. The SoCon Preseason Offensive Player of the Year is coming off a year that saw him throw for 2,417 yards and 16 touchdowns while also rushing for a SoCon-best 1,006 yards and 10 scores, accounting for 26 TDs while becoming just one of 11 NCAA FCS quarterbacks all-time to throw for 2,000+ and rush for over 1,000 in the same season. He guided an offense that ranked second in the SoCon – 31st nationally – averaging 31.5 points per game while also ranking second in the league in total offense with 464.5 yards of offense per game – 17th overall in the FCS.
Over his first three seasons at QB, Adams has amassed 9,389 yards of total offense – second in program and sixth in conference history. That mark includes 7,279 yards passing – second all-time at WCU – and 2,110 rushing yards, 11th in school history. Already the program’s record-holder with 53 career touchdown passes, Adams ranks ninth in SoCon history and looks to improve that standing entering 2019.
More players can join the watch list during the 2019 season. A national panel of over 150 sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries will select the winner following the regular season.
Also this season, STATS will present the Buck Buchanan Award (FCS defensive player of the year), Jerry Rice Award (FCS freshman player of the year), Eddie Robinson Award (FCS coach of the year) and Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
For STATS’ full release, click here.