Echoing the Trojans’ second-stingiest Pac-12 defense from a year ago, three USC football players–led by standout defensive end Leonard Williams–were named to the 2014 Chuck Bednarik Award watch list. The list of 76 players was released by the Maxwell Football Club on Monday even with football season months away.Sophomore safety Su’a Cravens and senior linebacker Hayes Pullard join 2013 Bednarik Award semifinalist Williams as early hopefuls for defensive player of the year. Williams, a junior, was an ESPN first-team All-American last year after recording 13.5 tackles for losses (with 6 sacks for 38 yards), one fumble recovery and two forced fumbles. He finished second on the team in total tackles to Pullard despite playing the entire year with a torn labrum. The shoulder injury forced him out against Oregon State and to miss the California game.
Projected to be one of the top defensive players in the 2015 NFL Draft, Williams has racked up four double-digit tackle performances in two years. The Daytona Beach, Fla. product was named Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2012 after racking up 64 tackles, eight sacks and an interception from the tackle position.
Williams spent the entire offseason in rehab (missing 14 spring practices and the spring game) after undergoing surgery to repair the injured shoulder, and he only expects to improve. “I’m just expecting to just be a lot better than I was last year,” Williams said to FOX Sports West’s Rahshaun Haylock in April. “My last season was a lot better than my freshman season so I just want to gradually continue to get better.”
The other two Trojans touted as potential difference-makers provide their own reasons to get excited. Cravens exploded into the team’s secondary as a first-year player, earning a litany of freshman All-American team nominations and a 2013 All-Pac-12 honorable mention. Only 38 other Division I-A players topped his four interceptions last season after Cravens tore his meniscus in April 2013.
Pollard served as the defense’s captain and point guard in 2013-14, earning All-Pac-12 second team honors. The Inglewood, Calif. native led the team in tackles (94), earning 2013 All-Pac-12 second team honors.
The trio helped USC hold teams to 21.2 points per game, second in the conference to Oregon’s 20.5.
Other notable inclusions include UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, 2013 semifinalists Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley and Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, and four players from Stanford. The Pac-12 contributed a dozen players in total.
The list of 76 Maxwell Award hopefuls was also released Monday, kicking off a week full of these watch lists. The full schedule is as follows:
- Tue., July 8: Mackey Award/Rimington Trophy
- Wed., July 9: Lou Groza Award/Ray Guy Award
- Thurs., July 10: Bronko Nagurski Trophy/Outland Trophy
- Fri., July 11: Jim Thorpe Award
- Mon., July 14: Butkus Award/Rotary Lombardi Award
- Tue., July 15: Biletnikoff Award
- Wed., July 16: Davey O’Brien Award
- Thurs., July 17: Doak Walker Award
- Fri., July 18: Walter Camp Award
Check back for more on which Trojans are getting national pre-season hype.