Thursday was a big day for Eastern Washington University senior linebacker J.C. Sherritt. Friday is even bigger.
The two-time NCAA Football Championship Subdivision All-American won the highest honor he could win as The Sports Network has announced that Sherritt has won the Buck Buchanan Award given to the top defensive player in FCS. The award, now in its 16th year, is selected by sportswriters, broadcasters and sports information directors from throughout the country, and is presented at The Sports Network's 24th Annual FCS Awards Presentation sponsored by Fathead.com
"It's a great honor," said Sherritt. "Even though it's cliché, it's a great reflection of our team. There is no way I win this award without my teammates and coaches, and especially the players that came before me."
As an added bonus, Sherritt and the Eagles will take on Delaware Friday (Jan. 7) in the 2011 NCAA Division I Football Championship Game at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas. Kickoff is 4 p.m. Pacific time and the game will be televised on ESPN2.
"I will be smiling for a long time, that's for sure," the 2006 graduate of Pullman (Wash.) High School said of winning the honor and playing for the national title in the same season. "This award is great and will be something I will look back on fondly when I'm older and will really cherish. But the national championship -- that's the biggest prize you can get."
Eastern has now won the Buck Buchanan Award or the Walter Payton Award -- given to the top player in FCS -- three of the past six years. Defensive end Greg Peach, who is in Frisco for the festivities, won the Buchanan Award in 2008. In 2005, quarterback Erik Meyer won the Payton Award.
"It's great to have Greg Peach down here," added Sherritt. "He was one of the leaders I looked up to as a young kid coming up through this program. I think it just shows the huge family we have here. It's a huge honor."
"It's exciting for J.C., his family and for the team," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "J.C. will be the first to admit you don't win an award like this without the teammates around him. For as good a player as he is, he's an even better person, teammate and leader. He's one of the most inspirational leaders I've been around. It is always fun to coach those types of individuals."
Sherritt has already earned numerous All-America honors on the field in both 2009 and 2010. He also was selected recently to Football Championship Subdivision Athletics Directors Association Academic All-Star Team for his athletic and academic achievements, and was chosen for the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District VIII squad as selected by members of the College Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA). The health and fitness major has a 3.46 grade point average, and hopes to become an collegiate athletic director in the future.
Sherritt is EWU's leading tackler thus far with 158 for the season (second in school history behind his junior season total of 170), an average of 11.29 per game that ranks 10th in FCS. Last season, he led FCS with an average of just over 14 per game and finished second in the voting for the Buchanan award.
"He's well-deserving," Baldwin added. "He was close to winning it last year, and for him to win it this year is a really neat thing for J.C."
Sherritt also has three sacks, 13 1/2 total tackles for loss (40 yards), three interceptions, five passes broken up, two quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in 2010.
Earlier in the playoffs in a 38-31 overtime victory over North Dakota State, Sherritt broke the school record of 399 career tackles previously held by Greg Belzer (1997-2000). He capped his record-breaking night by forcing the fumble that was recovered by EWU to end the game with NDSU at the Eastern 1-yard line. He added eight tackles versus Villanova in the FCS semifinals, giving him 414 in his 46-game career (34 as a starter).