By Tim Gayle
Seventeen Camellia Bowl alumni are among the nation’s best collegiate players on the 17 preseason watch lists honoring players at their respective positions.
The watch lists, released over a two-week period, include a number of players from Camellia Bowl participants South Alabama, Bowling Green, Appalachian State, Ohio University and Toledo.
Headlining the list are Appalachian State junior tailback Jalin Moore and Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside, two of the 85 players mentioned for the 2017 Maxwell Award, presented to the nation’s top collegiate player.
Moore, the 2016 Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year, led the conference with 1,402 yards rushing despite sharing the backfield with fellow 1,000-yard rusher Marcus Cox. Moore ranked 19th nationally in rushing yards and averaged 5.9 yards per carry. The junior had 96 yards on 13 carries in the 2015 Camellia Bowl win over Ohio and 35 yards on 16 carries in the 2016 Camellia Bowl win over Toledo.
Moore also was listed as one of the 40 players to watch for the Walter Camp Player of the Year.
Woodside shattered nearly every Toledo passing record in 2016. He led the nation with 45 touchdown passes, 16 more than the previous best in Rocket history. He connected on 69.1 percent of his passes for 4,129 yards, an average of more than 317 yards per contest and another school record. He earned first-team All-MAC honors and was named a contender for the Heisman Trophy by the Heisman Trophy Trust. Most importantly, he directed the Rockets to nine wins, pacing an offense that scored at least 31 points in 11 of 13 games. He was 18 of 26 for 247 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the 2016 Camellia Bowl and owns bowl records for highest completion percentage (69.2) and pass efficiency (174.42) in the three-year history of the bowl.
Woodside was named to a pair of prestigious quarterback watch lists as well, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm and Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award.
Two Mid-American Conference players made the preseason watch list for the Rimington Trophy, awarded to the nation’s top collegiate center. Fifth-year senior Tim McAuliffe of Bowling Green was the starting center in the inaugural Camellia Bowl and Ohio University senior Jake Pruehs was the backup center in the 2015 Camellia Bowl but did not play.
McAuliffe started all 12 games in 2016 and was a key component in helping running back Fred Coppet rush for more than 1,000 yards on the season. He was also named MAC East Special Teams Player of the Week after a game against Kent State in which the offensive line paved the way for a 420-yard game. This was the first time the Falcons had rushed for more than 400 yards since 1998.
Pruehs has started in 25 games during his career at Ohio, including all 14 last season. In 2016, he anchored the offensive line which gave up just 19 sacks through the season and averaged 26.3 points per game and 392.3 yards per game including 167.9 rushing yards per game. He helped lead the Bobcats to the MAC East Title and the 2016 Marathon MAC Championship game against Western Michigan. He also is on the preseason watch list for the Outland Trophy, presented to the nation’s top interior lineman.
Ohio’s Louie Zervos, the backup to Josiah Yazdani in the 2015 Camellia Bowl, set the MAC single-season record as a redshirt freshman in 2016 with 29 field goals made, which was also a NCAA record for made field goals by a freshman placekicker. Zervos converted 29 of 35 field goal attempts last season and drilled a season-long 51-yard field goal. Zervos helped lead Ohio to a MAC East Title, a Marathon MAC Championship Game appearance and an invite to the 2017 Dollar General Bowl. He is on the preseason list for the Lou Groza Award, presented to the nation’s top college kicker.
Bowling Green fifth-year senior Joe Davidson is on the watch list for the Ray Guy Award, presented to the nation’s top collegiate punter. He was named fourth team All-American by Phil Steele a year ago after averaging 45.8 yards per punt, fifth-best in the country. His net punting average of 43.1 yards was second and he tied for the nation’s longest punt of the year – an 82-yard bomb at Toledo. In addition, he was first team Academic All-American and carries a 3.94 grade point average with a double major in finance and mathematics. He was just a freshman in the inaugural Camellia Bowl when he boomed seven punts for a 47.1-yard average.
Two Camellia Bowl alumni are on the preseason watch list for the 2017 Bronko Nagurski Trophy, awarded to the nation’s top collegiate defender.
Appalachian State linebacker Eric Boggs, who also is on the preseason list for the Butkus Award as the nation’s top collegiate linebacker, was a second team All-Sun Belt Conference performer in 2016 and part of a defense that led the FBS in points allowed (91) in conference play and was ninth nationally in scoring defense (17.9). Boggs was the leading tackler with 98 total tackles, finishing with 43 solo tackles and a team-high 55 assisted tackles. He had five 10-tackle performances and three interceptions last season. He started both the 2015 and 2016 editions of the Camellia Bowl at inside linebacker, recording nine and six tackles, respectively.
South Alabama safety Jeremy Reaves, who is also on the preseason list for the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back, will begin his final year at the collegiate level among the top five in three different statistical categories on USA’s all-time record list. Reaves is tied for first with six forced fumbles, tied for second after intercepting five passes thus far in his career and he stands fifth with a total of 197 tackles. In the inaugural Camellia Bowl, he had two tackles and a pass breakup as a reserve player.
Three players were named to the Outland Trophy watch list with Camellia Bowl ties. In addition to Pruehs, Toledo tackle Elijah Hkansah and Appalachian State guard Colby Gossett were named to the Outland list.
Nkansah, a 6-6, 315-pound left tackle, is the leader of an offensive line that that allowed just 14 sacks in 2016, which ranked 11th in the country and third in the MAC. Toledo’s offense led the MAC in total offense (517.8) and passing offense (322.8) last season, and ranked seventh in nation in total offense and 10th in passing offense. He was the starting right tackle in the 2016 Camellia Bowl.
Gossett was a first team All-Sun Belt selection in 2016 after starting all 13 games at right guard. He played a team-high in snaps in starting every game for the Apps and recorded 50 knockdowns and 13 pancakes while grading out at 88 percent in allowing one sack on the season. He paved the way for the top-rated rushing offense and the top-rated offense in passing efficiency in the Sun Belt. Gossett was the starting right tackle in the 2015 Camellia Bowl and the starting right guard in the 2016 game with Toledo.
In addition to Reaves, Appalachian State cornerback Clifton Duck was on the Thorpe Award watch list. The Sun Belt Freshman of the Year in 2016, Duck started all 13 games as a true freshman at defensive back and led the Mountaineers with five interceptions, which tied for second in the Sun Belt and tied for 13th in the nation. He was part of an App State defense that was sixth nationally with 20 interceptions in 2016. He led with league with 13 passes defended and was tied for fourth on the team with 57 tackles. He had three tackles in the bowl matchup with Toledo.
South Alabama’s Xavier Johnson was named to the watch list for the Paul Hornung Award, a relatively new award in its eighth year that is presented to the nation’s most versatile collegiate player. Johnson enters the 2017 campaign ranked first at South Alabama in several career categories – rushing yards per game (61.8), 100-yard rushing games (9), kickoff return average (25.32), kickoff return touchdowns (2) and all-purpose yards per game (93.6), while ranking in the top five in several other categories. He rushed for 21 yards on seven carries as a reserve tailback in the inaugural Camellia Bowl in 2014.
A pair of Toledo teammates, junior Jon’Vea Johnson and senior Cody Thompson, are on the preseason watch list for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top receiver. Thompson was a first-team All-MAC selection in 2016 after catching 64 passes for a school-record 1,269 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was ninth in the nation with 19.8 yards per reception, and also earned Academic All-MAC honors. He had 99 yards on five receptions in last year’s Camellia Bowl.
Johnson had 40 receptions for 773 yards and 10 TDs in 2016. He was 14th in the nation with 19.3 yards per catch. He also caught a 98-yard TD pass, the longest play from scrimmage in UT history. He had 22 yards on two receptions in last year’s bowl game.
Thompson is one of 109 players honored on the preseason watch list for the Wuerffel Trophy, awarded to the player who best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement. Other former Camellia Bowl players selected include Appalachian State quarterback Taylor Lamb and South Alabama defensive lineman Tre Alford.
Lamb enters his senior season second among active quarterbacks in college football with 27 wins as a starter (27-9 overall), trailing only Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma. He also has a slew of career records within reach, including App State’s and the Sun Belt’s career marks for touchdown passes. He is second at App State with 63 career TD passes and needs 11 to become App’s career leader and 18 to reach the Sun Belt. The dual-threat quarterback was named Camellia Bowl most valuable player after rushing for 126 yards and a touchdown, while throwing for another in the Mountaineers’ 31-28 Camellia Bowl victory over Toledo in December. He accounted for 245 yards as a passer and a runner after passing for 124 yards and two touchdowns and running for 51 more in the 2015 Camellia Bowl win over Ohio.
In addition, Lamb was named to the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award watch list as well.
Alford — a three-time member of the Sun Belt Conference Academic Honor Roll — received his exercise science degree from South Alabama in May. Off the field during his time as a Jaguar, he has volunteered at Special Olympics and Wilmer Hall Children’s Home events while also participating in the reading program at UMS-Wright Preparatory School. The rising senior recorded 37 total tackles in his first season as a starter during the 2015 campaign after recording two tackles as a reserve in the 2014 Camellia Bowl. He was set to once again start on the interior of the defensive line last fall, but suffered an injury during summer workouts that forced him to miss the year.
Toledo senior Terry Swanson is on the watch list for the Doak Walker Award, presented annually to the nation’s top running back. Swanson has rushed for 2,238 yards in three seasons as a Rocket. He rushed for 583 yards and four touchdowns last year backing up first-team All-MAC rusher Kareem Hunt. In 2015, Swanson rushed for 923 yards and seven TDs, averaging 6.5 yards per carry and earning second-team All-MAC honors. He also ran for 732 yards and six scores as a freshman in 2014. He had one reception for nine yards out of the backfield in a limited role behind Hunt in the 2016 Camellia Bowl.