ST. LOUIS, Mo. – The Missouri Valley Football Conference announced the specialty award winners on Wednesday (Nov. 27), and Western Illinois had two representatives among the top three in voting.
Junior running back J.C. Baker finished second in the ‘Newcomer of the Year’ voting, quarterback Trenton Norvell was third in ‘Freshman of the Year’, and first-year head coach Bob Nielson received votes for ‘Coach of the Year’.
Baker received 43 points in the Newcomer voting, as done by the league’s head coaches, sports information directors and media members. Norvell had 19 points in the Freshman award voting. Both awards were won by Youngstown State freshman running back Martin Ruiz with 62 and 78 points in each respective award.
Baker took over as the team’s starting running back in the last six games and he recorded seven 100-yard rushing games in his debut. His 1,149 yards are the 10th-most in a season in WIU history, which ranks 22nd nationally in rushing yards, and he recorded a team-leading six touchdowns. Baker has already registered the sixth-most 100-yard rushing games in a season, and seventh-most 100-yard games in a career. Only two other Leathernecks (Aaron Stecker, Charles Tharp) had more 100-yard games in their debut season with Western than Baker did.
Norvell was the only freshman quarterback in the league to start every game. Named to the College Football Performance Awards ‘National Freshman Performer Watch List’, he set WIU freshman records with: 195 completions, 2,140 yards and 16 touchdowns - missing by nine yards reaching the WIU season ‘Top 10’ for passing yards. Norvell recorded the sixth-most completions and fourth-most attempts in a season. Among the national leaders, Norvell currently has the fifth-most passing TDs and passing yards by a freshman nationally as three of his four 200-yard passing games and 11 of his TDs came in MVFC play.
In his first year in charge, Nielson coached the Leathernecks to a 4-8 record (improving on last year’s record). He received six points in the 'Coach of the Year' award voting. Western’s offense nearly scored as many points this year (257) as the last two years combined (275). The defense led the MVFC in: fumbles recovered (12), passing yards allowed (149 ypg/3rd nationally), and turnovers gained (28/8th nationally). Western also ranked seventh nationally in total defense, allowing just 305.3 yards per game, 14th in team passing efficiency defense (108.11), 13th in interceptions (16), and 30th in 3rd down conversion defense (.357).
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