SALEM, ORE. -- Three Willamette University football players have been named First Team All-Northwest Conference in voting by the leagues head coaches, the NWC announced today. A total of 12 Bearcat players received All-NWC recognition, including three Second Team selections, and six Honorable Mention picks. In all, 87 players from the conferences seven teams earned recognition, with 35 of those picks chosen First Team All-NWC on offense or defense.
Willamettes list of All-Conference players is highlighted by junior offensive lineman Brandon Bennett (San Marcos, CA/La Costa Canyon HS), who earned his second straight First Team All-NWC selection. Bennett, who was an Honorable Mention pick his freshman year, was a Don Hansens Football Gazette Preseason Division III All-American coming into the 2006 campaign, and was a D3Football.com Honorable Mention All-American last year. The other two First Team All-NWC honorees were senior flanker Ryan Hernandez (Portland, OR/Portland Christian HS) and junior placekicker Matt Bicocca (San Andreas, CA/Calaveras HS).
Hernandez, who was a Second Team pick last year, led Willamette in rushing with 589 yards on 85 carries (6.9 avg.), which was also good for third best in the conference. Hernandez concluded his Willamette career with 1,474 yards on 208 carries (7.1 avg.). Bicocca converted 7 of 9 field goals, with a long of 47 yards against Lewis & Clark College on Nov. 4, and was 19 of 22 on extra point attempts.
The Bearcats chosen for Second Team honors were senior defensive back Wesley Randall (Los Angeles, CA/Cathedral Prep), junior defensive lineman Mitchell MacCready (Manteca, CA/Manteca HS) and junior linebacker Phil Sweet (Albany, OR/West Albany HS). Both MacCready and Sweet were also Second Team selections last year, and Sweet was also an Honorable Mention pick as a freshman. Randall earned his third All-NWC award, as he was an Honorable Mention choice the previous two seasons.
Sweet was the Bearcats top tackler with 59 total tackles, including 27 solo stops. His numbers were good for 11th best in the NWC. MacCready was Willamettes leader in tackles for losses with seven and quarterback sacks with 3.5. His 31 tackles were sixth best on the team. From his cornerback position, Randall led Willamette with three interceptions and four blocked kicks, while also tallying 19 tackles. His four blocked kicks improved his career total to nine blocked kicks over the past three seasons.
Among the six Honorable Mention award winners were seniors Kevin Dean (RB, Weed, CA/Weed HS) and Mike Plank (WR, Stockton, CA/Franklin HS). Dean, an Honorable Mention All-NWC pick last season, was Willamettes second leading rusher with 310 yards on 50 carries. He tied Hernandez for the team lead with five rushing touchdowns apiece. Plank, a Second Team All-NWC player last year, led the Bearcats in receiving for the second straight season with 34 catches for 466 yards and one touchdown. During his final two seasons, Plank caught 71 passes for 965 yards.
The remaining four Honorable Mention honorees were junior tight end Tony Davis (Boise, ID/Mountain View HS), junior linebacker Taylor Hermes (Keizer, OR/McNary HS/Southern Oregon University) and junior defensive backs Tyler Gill (Fresno, CA/Herbert Hoover HS) and Ben Fennimore (Salem, OR/McKay HS).
Davis was second on the team in receptions with 13, and third on the team in receiving yards with 172. He was a Second Team pick last year. Gill, who was also a Second Team pick last season, was Willamettes fourth leading tackler with 46 tackles, which included four tackles for losses. He also intercepted a pass, giving him six for his career.
Both Hermes and Fennimore made major contributions on defense in their first year as starters for the Bearcats. Hermes, who transferred from Southern Oregon University where he was a starter, finished second on the team in tackles with 57, including four tackles for loss and three sacks. What makes his numbers even more impressive is that he didnt become a starter until the teams fourth game of the year. Fennimore started eight games and wound up fifth on the team in tackles with 45, including two tackles for losses. He also picked off one pass and broke up three others.
The Bearcats finished the season 2-7 overall and 2-4 in NWC play. It was their first losing season since 2001, and just their third losing season in the past 14 years. The future does look bright, however, as Willamette will return eight starters on both sides of the ball, plus its punter, placekicker, and long-snapper.