Small College Defensive Player of the Year Award to be Announced on Dec. 24
SALEM, ORE. -- Willamette University football player Jack Nelson (Jr., ILB, Portland, OR/Jesuit HS) has been named a finalist for the 2013 Cliff Harris Award, presented to the nation's top small college defensive player. The 49 finalists for the award include 20 players from NCAA Division III, 21 from NCAA Division II, and eight from NAIA institutions.
"Jack is a football player that prepares himself every week to be successful," Willamette Head Coach Glen Fowles said. "He was the leading tackler on our football team and within the NWC. We couldn't be more proud of Jack being named a finalist for the Cliff Harris Award."
Harris, an Arkansas native, attended Ouachita Baptist University (Ark.) from 1966-69 before signing as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys in the 1970. He spent 10 years playing for Dallas, winning two Super Bowls.
Harris was a six-time Pro Bowl selection and was named a First Team All-NFL player for four consecutive seasons by both the Associated Press and the Pro Football Writers Association. After his retirement, he was selected as the free safety on Sports Illustrated's All-Time Dream Team.
Nominees and finalists for the Cliff Harris Award are chosen by head coaches and a prestigious selection committee of college and pro football greats, including Harris, Roger Staubach, Gene Stallings, and Mel Renfro among others.
The winner will be announced on Dec. 24 and honored at the Little Rock (Ark.) Touchdown Club's annual awards banquet in February 2014, featuring guest speaker Lou Holtz.
Nelson, whoranked seventh in NCAA Division III in solo tackles per game (7.4 avg.) in 2013 and was ninth in the nation in total tackles per game (12.4 avg.),has earned a string of postseason honors this year.
Last week, he was named Third Team All-West Region by D3football.com, the 17th Bearcat to earn an All-Region selection since 2005. In November, Nelson was selected First Team All-NWC for the second season in a row.
An Economics major, he also received First Team Capital One Academic All-District recognition for his success in the classroom, where he has achieved a 3.78 cumulative grade point average.
Nelson led the NWC in defensive plays this season, achieving 112 total tackles (67 solo). He tied for the team lead with 9.5 tackles for loss (37 yards), including 2.5 quarterback sacks (21 yards). Nelson also intercepted two passes, broke up two passes, recovered two fumbles and forced a fumble.
During the season, Nelson recorded at least 10 tackles in all nine games, and he has made a habit of playing his best games against Willamette's biggest rivals. He registered 15 tackles in the Bearcats' contest against nationally-ranked Linfield College and contributed 14 tackles (9 solo) in WU's Wagon Wheel Game victory over Lewis & Clark College.
Nelson has been a team leader since moving into a starting role midway through his sophomore season. He provided the Bearcats with a career-high 19 total tackles against Lewis & Clark on Oct. 13, 2012, and he has reached double-digit tackles 12 times in the past 15 games.
Nelson has earned NWC Defensive Student-Athlete of the Week honors three times.
In his career, Nelson has accumulated 211 total tackles, with 128 unassisted stops and 83 assists. He has achieved 16.0 tackles for loss and 6.0 quarterback sacks, with three interceptions and six pass breakups.
"Jack has had a great couple of years for us and deserves every accolade he achieves," Fowles said. "We are extremely proud of Jack's accomplishments. We don't have a football player on our team that out-prepares Jack, and it will be great for our football team to have his leadership return in 2014."
Willamette finished the 2013 season with a 7-2 overall record, including 4-2 in the Northwest Conference (3rd place). The Bearcats were ranked #25 in the final regular season NCAA Division III Coaches Poll released by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA).
Fowles, in his second season leading the Bearcats, advanced his record to 15-4 (.789). The Bearcats averaged 41.1 points and 471.9 yards per game, while forcing opponents into 21 turnovers and earning 27 sacks on defense.
Cliff Harris Award