NFF Announces Finalists for William V. Campbell Trophy

Thirteen of the nations best and brightest vie for college football’s premiere scholar-athlete award

The National Football Foundation (NFF) & College Hall of Fame announced today the finalists for the 2018 William V. Campbell Trophy®, which annually recognizes an individual as the absolute best football scholar-athlete in the nation. Fidelity Investments is a proud partner of the Campbell Trophy®.
The 13 finalists will each receive an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship as a member of the 60th NFF National Scholar-Athlete Class, and they will travel to New York City for the 61st NFF Annual Awards Dinner on Tuesday, Dec. 4, where their accomplishments will be highlighted in front of one of the most powerful audiences in all of sports. At the event, one member of the class will be declared the winner of the 29th William V. Campbell Trophy® and have his postgraduate scholarship increased to $25,000. The event, which will take place at the New York Hilton Midtown, will be live streamed on ESPN3, starting at 8:30 p.m. ET.
Selected from a nationwide pool of  179 exceptional semifinalists from among all NCAA divisions and the NAIA, the 13 finalists are:
SCHOLAR-ATHLETE
POS.
SCHOOL
GPA
MAJOR
Kenneth Brinson
LB
Army West Point
3.96
Chemical Engineering
Taryn Christion
QB
South Dakota State
3.61
Business Economics
De’Arius Christmas
LB
Grambling State
3.82
Engineering Technology
D’Cota Dixon
S
Wisconsin
3.32
Rehabilitation Psychology
Ryan Finley
QB
North Carolina State
3.76
Psychology
Piercen Harnish
LB
Saint Francis (Ind.)
3.96
Finance
Trace McSorley
QB
Penn State
3.31
Accounting
Dalton Risner
OL
Kansas State
3.60
Communication Studies
Max Scharping
OL
Northern Illinois
3.99
Kinesiology
Eric Stevenson
LB
Wheaton (Ill.)
3.83
Economics
Easton Stick
QB
North Dakota State
3.92
Sport Management
Drue Tranquill
LB
Notre Dame
3.73
Mechanical Engineering
Christian Wilkins
DL
Clemson
3.33
Communication Studies
“We are extremely proud to announce the finalists for this year’s Campbell Trophy®, who make up the NFF National Scholar-Athlete Class,” said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell. “These young men have an unrelenting commitment to excellence in all aspects of their lives, and they represent all that is right in college football. They serve as living examples that Football Matters®, and we are excited to honor their hard work and accomplishments with postgraduate scholarships.”
Nominated by their schools, which are limited to one nominee each, candidates for the Campbell Trophy® and NFF National Scholar-Athlete Awards must be a senior or graduate student in their final year of playing eligibility, have a GPA of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 scale, have outstanding football ability as a first team player or significant contributor and have demonstrated strong leadership and citizenship.
“The NFF Awards Committee did an excellent job in selecting this year’s National Scholar-Athletes,” said NFF Chairman Archie Manning, whose sons Peyton (Campbell Trophy®recipient) and Eli were NFF National Scholar-Athletes in 1997 and 2003, respectively.”Selected from an impressive group of semifinalists, they should be extremely proud of their accomplishments, as they have undoubtedly distinguished themselves as some of the best student-athletes in the country. Each of these men is also a leader in his respective community, and we know that they have only begun to reach their potential.”
The Campbell Trophy® is named in honor of the late Bill Campbell, the former chairman of Intuit, a former player and head coach at Columbia University, and the 2004 recipient of the NFF’s Gold Medal. The award comes with a 25-pound bronze trophy and a $7,000 increase in postgraduate funds for a total scholarship of $25,000. A total distribution of $241,000 in scholarships will be awarded Dec. 4, pushing the program’s all-time distributions to more than $11.5 million.
Following the NFF Annual Awards Dinner, the 2018 Campbell Trophy® recipient will be honored at several other prestigious events. On Wednesday, Dec. 5, the New York Athletic Club (NYAC) will host a luncheon in his honor. From there, he will travel directly to Atlanta for ESPN’s “The Home Depot College Football Awards” at the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame on Thursday, Dec. 6, where he will be interviewed live during the show. Finally, he will travel to Santa Clara, California, to be honored on the field during the College Football Playoff National Championship at Levi’s® Stadium on Monday, Jan. 7.
The NFF National Scholar-Athlete program, launched in 1959, became the first initiative in history to award postgraduate scholarships for combined athletic, academic and leadership abilities. Including the 2018 recipients, the NFF has honored 854 individuals with National Scholar-Athlete Awards. The honorees have used the financial support to earn more than 150 medical degrees, 100 law degrees, 80 MBAs and 43 PhDs. Continuing their excellence on the field, more than 200 recipients have played in the NFL with an average career of six seasons or double the length of a typical NFL player. Past recipients also include 13 Rhodes Scholars.
The members of this year’s class find themselves among some of the most elite student-athletes in the history of the game, including NFL standout Drew Brees (Purdue); actor Mark Harmon (UCLA); Robert Morris University President Chris Howard (Air Force); XFL Commissioner & CEO Oliver Luck (West Virginia); NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins (Illinois) and Leland Melvin (Richmond); and 37 College Football Hall of Famers, including 2018 electees Dave Dickenson (Montana) and Matt Stinchcomb (Georgia). Click here for a database of all the past NFF National Scholar-Athletes.
The Campbell Trophy®, first awarded in 1990, adds to the NFF National Scholar-Athlete program’s prestige, having previously honored two Rhodes Scholars, a Rhodes Scholar finalist, two Heisman Trophy winners and five first-round NFL draft picks. The past recipients of The William V. Campbell Trophy® include: Air Force’s Chris Howard (1990); Florida’s Brad Culpepper (1991); Colorado’s Jim Hansen (1992); Virginia’s Thomas Burns (1993); Nebraska’s Robert Zatechka (1994); Ohio State’s Bobby Hoying (1995); Florida’s Danny Wuerffel (1996); Tennessee’s Peyton Manning (1997); Georgia’s Matt Stinchcomb (1998); Marshall’s Chad Pennington (1999); Nebraska’s Kyle Vanden Bosch (2000); Miami (Fla.)’s Joaquin Gonzalez(2001); Washington University in St. Louis (Mo.)’s Brandon Roberts (2002); Ohio State’s Craig Krenzel (2003); Tennessee’s Michael Muñoz (2004); LSU’s Rudy Niswanger (2005); Rutgers’ Brian Leonard (2006); Texas’ Dallas Griffin (2007); California’s Alex Mack (2008); Florida’s Tim Tebow (2009); Texas’ Sam Acho (2010); Army West Point’s Andrew Rodriguez (2011); Alabama’s Barrett Jones (2012); Penn State’s John Urschel (2013); Duke’s David Helton (2014); Oklahoma’s Ty Darlington (2015); Western Michigan’s Zach Terrell (2016); and Virginia’s Micah Kiser (2017).

Fidelity Investments, a leading provider of workplace savings plans in higher education, serves as a proud partner of the Campbell Trophy® and the NFF National Scholar-Athlete Awards. Since 2013, the Campbell Trophy® has been prominently displayed inside its official home at the New York Athletic Club.

As part of its support of the NFF’s scholarship programs, Fidelity Investments helped launch the NFF Faculty Salutes, which recognize the contributions of the faculty athletics representatives at each of the institutions with a Campbell Trophy® finalist. The NFF Faculty Salutes include the NFF presenting each of the faculty representatives with a plaque and Fidelity donating $5,000 for the academic support services at each school. The salutes have recognized 115 FARs since the program’s inception, and Fidelity has made a total of $570,000 (including $65,000 this year) in donations.

2018 NFF Campbell Trophy® Finalists Highlights
  • 3.70 Average GPA
  • 13 Captains, including 3 three-year captains (Harnish, Risner, Stick)
  • players who have already graduated (Dixon, Finley, McSorley, Risner, Scharping, Stick, Tranquill, Wilkins), including 1 who has already earned a master’s degree (Finley)
  • Academic All-America selections (Brinson, Harnish, Scharping, Stevenson, Tranquill)
  • 11 Academic All-Conference athletes(Christion, Christmas, Dixon, Finley, Harnish, McSorley, Risner, Scharping, Stevenson, Stick, Wilkins – Brinson and Tranquill are from independent teams)
  • All-America performers (Christion, Christmas, Harnish, McSorley, Risner, Scharping, Wilkins)
  • 11 All-Conference selections (Christion, Christmas, Dixon, Finley, Harnish, McSorley, Risner, Scharping, Stevenson, Stick, Wilkins)
  • 4 members of national championship teams (Christmas – HBCU, Harnish – NAIA, Stick – FCS, Wilkins – CFP)
  • members of conference championship teams (Christion, Christmas, Harnish, McSorley, Stevenson, Stick, Wilkins)
  • school record holders (Christion, Harnish, McSorley, Stick)
  • members of ranked teams (Christion, Harnish, McSorley, Stevenson, Stick, Tranquill, Wilkins)
  • Offensive Players (Christion, Finley, McSorley, Risner, Scharping, Stick)
  • Defensive Players (Brinson, Christmas, Dixon, Harnish, Stevenson, Tranquill, Wilkins)
In addition to the presentation of the NFF National Scholar-Athlete Awards and The William V. Campbell Trophy®, the 61st NFF Annual Awards Dinner will include the induction of the 2018 College Football Hall of Fame Class and the presentation of several major awards.

 

Bios for the 2018 Campbell Trophy® Finalists and
NFF National Scholar-Athlete Class Members
(In alphabetical order – All stats as of Oct. 31, 2018)
Kenneth Brinson, LB – United States Military Academy
Chemical Engineering – 3.96 GPA
Head Coach: Jeff Monken | Athletics Director: Boo Corrigan
Faculty Athletics Representative: Holly West
Boasting a near-perfect GPA, Kenneth Brinson has successfully balanced academics and football alongside his military duties during four standout years at West Point. The Kennesaw, Georgia, native becomes the Black Knights’ 16th NFF National Scholar-Athlete.
A First Team Academic All-American in 2017, Brinson boasts a 3.96 GPA in chemical engineering and ranks 45th in his class of 1,078 cadets. He is a two-time recipient of one of West Point’s highest academic honors, the Distinguished Cadet Award, and a three-time recipient of the Superintendent’s Award for Academic Achievement. A member of the Dean’s List every semester of his collegiate career, Brinson was named Army’s 2016 Men’s Yearling of the Year. He graduates in May 2019 and hopes to attend medical school.
This season, Brinson has guided Army to bowl eligibility with a 6-2 record while posting 15 tackles and three sacks, including a season-high six tackles and two sacks in a key win over Hawai’i. A game captain for the Black Knights, he boasts 116 career tackles and is now tied for fifth all-time at Army with 11.5 career sacks.
A four-year starter, Brinson has been part of a football renaissance at Army. In 2017, he helped Army capture the coveted Commander in Chief’s Trophy for the first time in 21 years after beating Air Force and Navy. The past two seasons, he led the Black Knights to consecutive wins in the Army-Navy Game for the first time since the 1995 and 1996 seasons, including Army’s first win over Navy since 2001. Brinson also guided the team to consecutive postseason victories in the 2016 Heart of Dallas Bowl and the 2017 Armed Forces Bowl.
Off the field, Brinson serves as the point of contact for all Army football clinics. He also assists with the football team’s efforts to support local and national food banks while serving as a peer tutor on campus. A two-sport standout for the Black Knights, Brinson was the 2017 Patriot League Scholar-Athlete of the Year for track and field, and he was the conference’s indoor champion for weight throw. He received a coveted NFF National High School Scholar-Athlete Award in 2015.

 

Taryn Christion, QB – South Dakota State University
Business Economics – 3.61 GPA
Head Coach: John Stiegelmeier | Athletics Director: Justin Sell
Faculty Athletics Representative: Rich Reid
South Dakota State’s all-time passing leader, Taryn Christion leads one of the top teams in the FCS while maintaining an impressive 3.61 GPA. His outstanding résumé earned his spot as the Jackrabbits’ fourth NFF National Scholar-Athlete.
A two-time First Team Academic All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection, Christion has maintained a 3.61 GPA as a business economics major with a minor in health science. On pace to graduate in December, the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, native is a two-time recipient of the MVFC Commissioner’s Academic Excellence Award and three-time member of the MVFC Academic Honor Roll.
Christion has thrown for 1,777 yards and 19 touchdowns this season for the Jackrabbits while adding 127 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. He has guided South Dakota State to a 5-2 record and the No. 7 ranking in the national FCS poll. Boasting a conference best 166 passing efficiency in 2018 (fourth best nationally), Christion is tied for first in the MVFC with 19 passing touchdowns and sits third in the league with 272 yards of total offense per game.
Christion holds multiple South Dakota State and MVFC records, including career yards of total offense (11,601) and career touchdown passes (91). He is also the Jackrabbits’ all-time leading passer with 10,292 in his career, good for second most in conference history, and his 740 career completions are an SDSU record. The two-year team captain was a Third Team All-American in 2016 and has twice been named a finalist for the Walter Payton Award for the best player in the FCS. A two-time all-conference selection, Christion was named the 2016 MVFC Offensive Player of the Year after leading the Jackrabbits to a share of the conference title. He has led South Dakota State to the FCS playoffs the past three seasons, including the semifinals and a No. 3 final ranking in 2017. One of Christion’s primary targets in recent seasons was 2017 NFF National Scholar-Athlete Jake Wieneke, who finished his career third in FCS history with 5,147 receiving yards.
Christion has also made an impact in the community, helping organize the “Be The Match” bone marrow drive on campus the last two years. Active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, he has served as an event speaker and as a summer intern for the organization, and he has been a volunteer at Vacation Bible School.

 

De’Arius Christmas, LB – Grambling State University
Engineering Technology – 3.82 GPA
Head Coach: Broderick Fobbs | Athletics Director: Paul Bryant
Faculty Athletics Representative: Bobby Burkes
De’Arius Christmas personifies the scholar-athlete ideal, leading Grambling State in tackles while working toward an engineering degree. The Vicksburg, Mississippi, native deservedly becomes the Tigers’ second NFF National Scholar-Athlete, and their first since 1972.
Boasting a 3.82 GPA as an engineering technology major, Christmas is on pace to graduate in May 2019 and aspires to work at his hometown’s research and development laboratory. The SWAC All-Academic Team selection was named the 2017 Grambling State Student-Athlete of the Year across all sports. His other academic accolades include the Athletics Director’s Academic Honor Roll, the President’s List and the Dean’s List.
For the second consecutive season, Christmas is the Tigers’ leading tackler, posting 42 stops in 2018 along with 8.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He has twice been named the SWAC Defensive Player of the Week this season, including his performance against Alabama State where he returned an interception 66 yards for a touchdown. Christmas’s other weekly honor came when he led Grambling State with eight tackles while recording two sacks and an interception in a win over Texas Southern.
A two-year team captain, Christmas led Grambling State with 88 tackles in 2017 en route to earning Third Team All-America status. The 2017 SWAC Defensive Player of the Year also garnered first team all-conference recognition while guiding the Tigers to consecutive 11-win seasons and SWAC titles. Christmas led Grambling State to a victory in the 2016 Celebration Bowl, which denotes the HBCU national champion, and he guided the Tigers to an appearance in the 2017 edition.
A three-year volunteer with the Special Olympics, Christmas has participated in events with the Vicksburg Packers, including giving a speech for the city’s leadership team. A transfer from East Mississippi Community College, he was featured on the first season of the Netflix docuseries “Last Chance U.”
D’Cota Dixon, S – University of Wisconsin
Rehabilitation Psychology – 3.32 GPA
Head Coach: Paul Chryst | Athletics Director: Barry Alvarez
Faculty Athletics Representatives: Peter Miller and Jeanette Roberts
Already pursuing a master’s degree, D’Cota Dixon overcame numerous obstacles to become one of Wisconsin’s top scholar-athletes. The standout safety becomes the Badgers’ sixth NFF National Scholar-Athlete.
Dixon is currently pursuing a master’s in counseling psychology after graduating in May 2018 with a degree in rehabilitation psychology. The Oak Hill, Florida, native twice earned academic all-conference honors and was named a 2017 Big Ten Distinguished Scholar. Chosen as the 2017-18 University of Wisconsin Student-Athlete of the Year across all sports, Dixon is a member of the Dean’s List and was chosen as a recipient of the 2017 Wilma Rudolph Student-Athlete Achievement Award.
This season, Dixon has recorded 25 tackles while leading the Badgers to a 5-3 record. The team captain’s best performance of the season came in a win over New Mexico, when he led the team with nine tackles, including one for loss.
Boasting 159 career tackles, Dixon earned First Team All-Big Ten honors in 2017 after receiving third team recognition in 2016. Guiding Wisconsin to consecutive division titles and berths in the Big Ten Championship Game, he also led the Badgers to three consecutive postseason wins in the 2015 Holiday, 2017 Cotton and 2017 Orange bowls. A key contributor to the 2016 Wisconsin defense that led the Big Ten with 22 interceptions, Dixon has helped the Badgers to national rankings in each of the last three seasons, including a No. 7 finish in 2017 and a No. 9 final ranking in 2016.
An inspiration to others, Dixon was awarded the 2017 FWAA/Orange Bowl Courage Award for overcoming an unstable family life that included numerous foster homes, a father battling addiction and for surviving a life-threatening infection while at Wisconsin. Despite everything he endured, Dixon became a positive and active volunteer, and he was selected to the 2018 AFCA Good Works Team. His numerous community activities include mentoring youth at a correctional center, developing a program for student-athletes aimed at reducing the stigma of seeking mental health services and speaking to countless community and youth groups.
Ryan Finley, QB – North Carolina State University
Psychology – 3.76 GPA
Head Coach: Dave Doeren | Athletics Director: Deborah Yow
Faculty Athletics Representative: Joel Pawlak
Ryan Finley personifies the student-athlete ideal, having already graduated from two postgraduate programs, including his master’s in liberal studies, while climbing the North Carolina State record books. The Phoenix native becomes the Wolfpack’s fourth NFF National Scholar-Athlete.
After graduating magna cum laude from Boise State in just three years with a degree in psychology, Finley transferred to North Carolina State prior to the 2016 season. In Raleigh, he maintained a 3.89 GPA while earning a master’s degree in liberal studies, and he earned a graduate certificate in youth, family, and community sciences earlier this year. With his accomplishments in the classroom, the two-time Academic All-ACC selection is believed to be one of just three FBS players to have already earned a master’s degree.
This season, the team captain boasts 2,250 passing yards and leads the ACC with 321.4 passing yards per game (sixth nationally) while connecting with receivers for 13 touchdowns. Having guided NC State to a 5-2 record, Finley leads the ACC with 325.1 yards of total offense per game. After his 377-yard performance against Marshall, he became only the third ACC quarterback since 2000 to start a season with three straight games of 300-plus passing yards. Against Syracuse on Oct. 27, he threw for a career-best 473 yards, the fourth-highest single-game total in school history.
Finley continues to climb the Wolfpack record books, currently sitting third with 8,827 career passing yards, fifth with 48 career passing touchdowns and fourth with 9,141 yards of total offense. The 2017 team co-MVP and Third Team All-ACC selection, Finley was one of just five finalists for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and guided the Wolfpack to its best record (9-4) since 2003. Behind his leadership, the 2017 team was second in the ACC Atlantic Division, won its second consecutive bowl game and finished with the No. 23 national ranking. Finley’s 3,518 passing yards in 2017 are the fourth most in Wolfpack single-season annals.
A member of the team’s leadership council, Finley represented the Wolfpack at the 2018 ACC Football Kickoff. Last season, he started a book club with other football student-athletes and coaches centered on personal development.
Piercen Harnish, LB – University of Saint Francis (Ind.)
Finance – 3.96 GPA
Head Coach: Kevin Donley | Athletics Director: Mike McCaffrey
Faculty Athletics Representative: Matt Hopf
Leading Saint Francis to back-to-back NAIA National Championships in 2016 and 2017 all while maintaining a 3.96 GPA, Piercen Harnish deservedly becomes the school’s first-ever NFF National Scholar-Athlete.
The Ossian, Indiana, native, was a 2017 First Team Academic All-American and First Team Academic All-District selection. A 2017 NAIA National Scholar-Athlete, Harnish is expected to graduate in May 2019 with a degree in finance. A member of the Dean’s List, he is a two-time member of the Mid-States Football Association All-Academic Team.
This season, the three-year team captain is second on the team with 72 tackles, including two tackles for loss. Harnish was named the Mideast League Football Defensive Player of the week after posting 14 tackles and one forced fumble in a 27-19 win over St. Xavier (Ill.) on Sept. 22. The four-year starting linebacker has led Saint Francis to a 7-2 record and the No. 9 national ranking.
The Cougars’ all-time leader with 435 career tackles, Harnish boasts three of the top 10 single-season tackles performances in school history. A Second Team All-American in 2017, he was chosen as the VSN NAIA National Defensive Player of the Year. The only player in Saint Francis history to earn three first-team all-conference honors prior to his senior season, Harnish led the team in tackles in both 2015 and 2016. Harnish has led Saint Francis to a 45-4 overall record during his career, including two first-place finishes in the MSFA Mideast League (2015, 2017). After winning consecutive NAIA National Championships, Saint Francis finished the season at No. 1 nationally in 2016 and 2017 after finishing at No. 4 in 2015.
Selfless with his time off the field, Harnish has participated in team housebuilding missions to El Salvador and Jamaica while also working with the Fort Wayne Chapter of Forgotten Children. He also volunteers for a wheelchair basketball tournament for children and adults with disabilities, and he assisted at the Fort Wayne Treasure House, which provides furniture and clothing to the needy. As a husband and father, Harnish continues to impress with his ability to balance his time commitments. His brother Chandler, a former quarterback at Northern Illinois, was honored as an NFF National Scholar-Athlete in 2011.
Trace McSorley, QB – Penn State University
Accounting – 3.31 GPA
Head Coach: James Franklin | Athletics Director: Sandy Barbour
Faculty Athletics Representative: Dennis Scanlon
Trace McSorley has taken the Nittany Lions back to national prominence while setting multiple school records and being a positive role model on and off the field. The Ashburn, Virginia, native becomes Penn State’s 18th NFF National Scholar-Athlete.
McSorley graduated in May 2018 with a degree in accounting and is currently working on a second bachelor’s degree in journalism. A three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection, he spent the summer of 2017 interning for Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
This season, McSorley has thrown for 1,628 yards and 12 touchdowns while guiding the Nittany Lions to a 6-2 record and the No. 14 national ranking. A semifinalist for the 2018 Maxwell Award, he has rushed for an additional nine touchdowns on 617 yards, which are the second-most rushing yards in a single-season by a Penn State quarterback all time. The two-year team captain’s 77.1 rushing yards per game currently rank eighth in the Big Ten across all positions. McSorley guides a prolific offense that ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 459.5 yards of total offense per game and is second in the conference with 41 points per game.
A two-time All-Big Ten selection, McSorley has rewritten the Penn State record books, setting new career marks for passing yards (8,997), passing touchdowns (71), total offense (10,513), rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (27), 300-yard passing games (10) and 200-yard passing games (26). The only Penn State quarterback to ever have multiple 3,000-yard passing seasons, he set single-season school records in 2016 for passing yards (3,614) and passing touchdowns (29) while leading the Nittany Lions to their first Big Ten title and Rose Bowl berth in eight years. The two-time team Offensive MVP has led Penn State to back-to-back 11-win seasons and back-to-back top 10 finishes. An Honorable Mention All-American in 2017, McSorley was a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and received MVP honors after a win in the Fiesta Bowl.
A counselor at the Manning Passing Academy, McSorley is heavily involved in Penn State’s Uplifting Athletes Chapter, serving as president of the organization in 2017 and vice president in 2018. He has participated in numerous “Lift for Life” events, raising money for kidney cancer treatments, and he visits local hospitals.
Dalton Risner, OL – Kansas State University
Communication Studies – 3.60 GPA
Head Coach: Bill Snyder | Athletics Director: Gene Taylor
Faculty Athletics Representative: Be Stoney
Only the fifth player in Kansas State history to be a three-year captain, Dalton Risner’s leadership has allowed him to be a force both on the field and in the community. The Wiggins, Colorado, native is the sixth NFF National Scholar Athlete in K-State history.
Boasting a 3.60 GPA, Risner graduated with a degree in communication studies in December 2017 while minoring in leadership and also earning a certification in coaching. A three-time Academic All-Big 12 selection, Risner earned first team honors the last two seasons and second team laurels in 2015.
This season, Risner has led the Wildcat offense to the third highest rushing yards in the Big 12 (1,478) as well as blocking for the conference’s leading rusher, Alex Barnes (816 yards). Kansas State is averaging 342.4 yards per game and 22.1 points per game.
Named a 2017 First Team All-American by Pro Football Focus, Risner has started in every game of his college career. In 2017, he guided a Wildcats offense that tied for third place in school history in rushing yards per carry (4.98) while also finishing seventh in program history with 2,584 total rushing yards. In 2016, Risner led an offensive line that paved the way for a school record 5.27-yard per carry average. A 2015 First Team Freshman All-American and two time First Team All-Big 12 selection, Risner has led K-State to three consecutive bowl games, including wins in the 2016 Texas and 2017 Cactus bowls.
A member of the 2018 AFCA Good Works Team, Risner created the RiseUp Foundation, which encourages others to rise above evil and be a shining light in others’ lives. He serves as a big brother to a young boy battling leukemia, visiting him numerous times throughout the year, and he spends time with kids battling cancer at Camp Home. Risner actively visits the Buttonwood Special Needs Home and serves as a guest speaker at numerous schools in the Manhattan area and in his hometown in Colorado.
Max Scharping, OL – Northern Illinois University
Kinesiology – 3.99 GPA
Head Coach: Rod Carey | Athletics Director: Sean Frazier
Faculty Athletics Representative: Mark Groza
With a near perfect 3.99 GPA, Max Scharping has been equally impressive athletically as academically. As a two-time First Team All-MAC selection, the Green Bay, Wisconsin, native becomes Northern Illinois’s fifth NFF National Scholar-Athlete.
Scharping graduated in May 2017 with a degree in kinesiology, and he is scheduled to graduate in December with his master’s degree in exercise physiology and fitness leadership. A 2017 Second Team Academic All-American, he is also a two-time First Team Academic All-District selection, a three-time Academic All-MAC honoree and a three-time MAC Distinguished Scholar-Athlete.
This season, Scharping has anchored an NIU offense averaging 284.2 yards per game while serving as a game captain on multiple occasions. Scharping earned MAC Male Scholar-Athlete of the Week recognition for his efforts in NIU’s 24-21 win over Ohio in October. Scharping helped the Huskies amass a season-high 255 rushing yards and 400 yards of total offense against the Bobcats, and he caught a lateral to convert the two-point conversion that followed NIU’s go-ahead touchdown. The Huskies boast a 5-3 overall record, and remain a perfect 4-0 in conference play this season.
A two-time First Team All-MAC selection, Scharping was an Honorable Mention Sophomore All-American in 2016 and a Freshman All-American in 2015. Having started every game of his collegiate career, he entered the 2018 season having not allowed a sack since the 2015 Poinsettia Bowl. Scharping paved the way for an offense that averaged 377.8 yards per game last season after leading a unit that ranked 27th nationally in total offense in 2016. He led NIU to a 2015 MAC West Division title and appearances in the 2015 Poinsettia Bowl and the 2017 Quick Lane Bowl.
Scharping is heavily involved within the community, averaging more than 19 hours of service each season. He volunteers with the local YMCA; participates in Healthy Kids Day; hosts a football camp and tournament; and participates in reading programs at various elementary schools and daycares. Scharping visits hospitals in DeKalb and Chicago and helped with clean-up efforts after tornadoes hit local cities.
Eric Stevenson, LB – Wheaton College (Ill.)
Economics – 3.83 GPA
Head Coach: Mike Swider | Athletics Director: Julie Davis
Faculty Athletics Representative: Andy Abernethy
Boasting a 3.83 GPA while leading Wheaton in tackles for the third consecutive season, Eric Stevenson rightfully takes his place as the first ever Thunder player to be named an NFF National Scholar-Athlete.
Set to graduate in May 2019 with a degree in economics, Stevenson plans to pursue an MBA. A 2017 Second Team Academic All-American, the Arlington, Texas, native also garnered Academic All-District honors while being a three-time Academic All-CCIW selection. A two-time male recipient of the CCIW’s Jack Swartz Award for academic and athletic achievement, Stevenson was named a Don and Ann Church Scholar and is one of only four Vocational Capital Scholars at Wheaton.
For the third year in a row, Stevenson leads Wheaton in tackles, racking up 64 so far this season, including 8.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. He has led the team in tackles in four games this season, including a season-high 12 against Illinois Wesleyan. As a captain in 2018, Stevenson has helped guide Wheaton to a No. 24 ranking and a 6-2 record (5-2 in conference) while heading a unit that leads the CCIW in total defense and scoring defense, limiting opponents to 238.9 yards and 10.9 points per game.
A 2017 first team all-conference selection, Stevenson guided the Thunder to the quarterfinals of the Division III Playoffs in 2016 after previously helping Wheaton win the CCIW title and reach the second round of the playoffs in 2015. Wheaton has finished each season ranked nationally throughout Stevenson’s career, topped by a No. 8 spot following the 2016 season. Stevenson has led Wheaton in tackles the past two seasons, ranking third in the CCIW in 2017 (85) and fourth in 2016 (100). The 2017 D3football.com All-North Region selection has propelled the Thunder to a 36-7 overall record during his career.
An active volunteer, Stevenson has participated in a mission and cultural exchange trip to China. He also took part in a mission trip through the Wheaton Football Ministry Partnership to the Dominican Republic, where he helped build new home structures in impoverished communities. He has volunteered with the Greater Chicago Food Depository and the Feed My Starving Children organization, and he interned twice with B.C. Ziegler and Company investment bank.
Easton Stick, QB – North Dakota State University
Sport Management – 3.92 GPA
Head Coach: Chris Klieman | Athletics Director: Matt Larsen
Faculty Athletics Representative: Ann Burnett
Whether it’s winning two national championships, graduating summa cum laude in 3.5 years, or currently boasting a 4.0 GPA in his MBA program, Easton Stick has accomplished it all in his time at North Dakota State. The Omaha, Nebraska, native makes history by becoming the Bison’s first-ever NFF National Scholar-Athlete.
A 2017 FCS ADA Academic All-Star and two-time First Team Academic All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection, Stick has excelled in the classroom, posting a 3.92 GPA during his undergraduate studies. Stick was a 2017 MVFC President’s Council Academic Award recipient, a three-time winner of the MVFC Commissioner’s Academic Excellence Award and a four-time MVFC Honor Roll member.
This season, Stick has thrown for 1,357 yards and 13 touchdowns while also rushing for nine touchdowns and 345 yards. He has led North Dakota State to the No. 1 FCS national ranking and a perfect 8-0 record (5-0 conference) – part of a 14-game winning streak, the longest active streak in the FCS. Boasting a 160.7 passing efficiency, which ranks second in the conference, Stick has twice been named the MVFC Offensive Player of the Week this year following stellar performances against Northern Iowa and Delaware.
A three-year captain, Stick led North Dakota State to three consecutive national championship games, winning the FCS title following the 2015 and 2017 seasons. The 2017 FCS Championship Game MVP, Stick has helped the Bison finish no lower than third nationally the last three seasons. The 2017 CFPA FCS National Performer of the Year and a two-time honorable mention all-conference selection, he guided the Bison to a share of the MVFC title in 2015 and 2016 and the outright conference title in 2017. Boasting an impressive 41-3 record as a starting quarterback, Stick owns the Bison record with 73 career passing touchdowns while ranking second in NDSU history with 9,489 yards of total offense and 7,298 passing yards in his career. He also sits second in school annals in career pass attempts (847) and third in completions (508).
A member of the 2018 AFCA Good Works Team and the NDSU Student-Athlete Advisory Council, Stick served on the Summit League Food Fight committee that raised more than $2,000 and collected 2,000 pounds of food for the Fargo Emergency Food Pantry. Stick has raised $5,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and he organized the first on-campus football camp for the Special Olympics. He also participates in numerous hospital and school visits and serves as a guest speaker with various youth groups.
Drue Tranquill, LB – University of Notre Dame
Mechanical Engineering – 3.73 GPA
Head Coach: Brian Kelly | Athletics Director: Jack Swarbrick
Faculty Athletics Representative: Patricia Bellia
A two-year team captain on the No. 3-ranked team in the FBS, Drue Tranquill has thrived both on and off the field in his time at Notre Dame. The Huntertown, Indiana, native becomes the 18th NFF National Scholar-Athlete in Notre Dame’s history.
Tranquill graduated in May 2018 with an impressive 3.73 GPA in mechanical engineering. A 2016 First Team Academic All-American, Tranquill was named a First Team Academic All-District selection three times. A two-time recipient of Notre Dame’s Rockne Student-Athlete Award, he is a five-time member of the Dean’s List, and he has been inducted into the Pi Tau Sigma engineering honorary.
Second on the Fighting Irish with 47 tackles, Tranquill has 6.5 tackles for loss and one sack in 2018. The standout linebacker has been a key part of Notre Dame’s perfect 8-0 start this season and a leader on a defense that is holding opponents to just 19.1 points per game.
Tranquill was named Notre Dame’s 2014 Defensive Newcomer of the Year following a season where he tallied 33 tackles and one interception and helped Notre Dame to a Music City Bowl victory. The four-year letterwinner was medically redshirted after suffering a torn ACL in 2015 before rebounding in 2016 to finish second on the team with 79 tackles. Tranquill transitioned from safety to linebacker in 2017, and he was third in tackles on a Notre Dame team that won the 2017 Citrus Bowl and finished No. 11 in the polls. Boasting an impressive 253 career tackles, Tranquill was named a finalist for the 2017 Pop Warner Award.
A 2017 Wuerffel Trophy finalist, Tranquill launched the “5th Quarter” postgame event in 2016, giving him the opportunity to share his story of perseverance with the South Bend Community. Tranquill has participated in three mission trips to the Dominican Republic, and he is an Athlete Ambassador for Dream Teams, a mentoring program in South Bend elementary schools. He serves as a football representative on the Student-Athlete Advisory Council and the Rosenthal Leadership Academy.
Christian Wilkins, DL – Clemson University
Communication Studies – 3.33 GPA
Head Coach: Dabo Swinney | Athletics Director: Dan Radakovich
Faculty Athletics Representative: Janie Hodge
A two-time First Team All-American, Christian Wilkins also earned Academic All-ACC honors while guiding Clemson to its first national championship in 35 years. The Springfield, Massachusetts, native becomes the Tigers’ fourth NFF National Scholar-Athlete.
After graduating in December 2017 with a degree in communication studies, Wilkins became the first scholarship player in Clemson football history to finish school in two and a half years. He will graduate this December with a master’s in athletic leadership. In addition to being a three-time All-ACC Academic Team member, he received First Team Academic All-District honors in 2017.
A two-year team captain, Wilkins has guided Clemson to a perfect 8-0 record (5-0 in conference) and a No. 2 national ranking in 2018. A semifinalist for the 2018 Bednarik Award, he has amassed 24 tackles on the season, including six tackles for loss. The standout defensive lineman is a quarterfinalist for the 2018 Lott IMPACT Trophy and also has two sacks, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery to his name. On Oct. 27, he recorded the first rushing touchdown of his career on a one-yard run against Florida State. Wilkins leads a Clemson unit that tops the ACC and is tied for first in the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to 13 points per game. The Tigers also sit second in the ACC and third in the nation in total defense, limiting offenses to 263.9 yards per game.
A three-year letterman, Wilkins made an immediate impact at Clemson, earning 2015 First Team Freshman All-America honors. A two-time All-ACC selection, he earned first-team honors in 2017 and second team laurels in 2016. A finalist for the 2016 Nagurski Award, Wilkins was named the 2017 Willis Award recipient as the National Defensive Lineman of the Year by the Columbus (Ohio) Touchdown Club. Wilkins guided the Tigers to the 2016 national title, two College Football Playoff National Championship game appearances and three consecutive trips to the CFP Semifinals. In addition to winning three consecutive ACC titles, Wilkins helped Clemson finish the last three seasons ranked No. 2 (2015), No.1 (2016) and No. 4 (2017).
Making a difference off the field, Wilkins became a certified substitute teacher during the 2018 offseason, indicating that he wanted to provide inspiration and guidance to K-12 students. An avid volunteer, Wilkins has worked with Habitat for Humanity, the Clemson Miracle Fundraiser, Colleges Against Cancer Relay for Life and the “Kicks, Cleats, Kids” initiative. He has also taken part in the Taylor Elementary Visionary Leaders program.

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