CHENEY, Wash. - Having one student-athlete in the top three in voting for the Walter Payton Award is out of this world, but two from the same team is in a world all its own.
Eastern Washington University quarterback Gage Gubrud and wide receiver Cooper Kupp will join Sam Houston State quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe as the final three remaining finalists for the Walter Payton Award presented by STATS on Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas.
One of those three players will claim what has become known as the Heisman of the FCS level, and goes to the top offensive player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Voting was conducted at the conclusion of the regular season for the award, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2016. Kupp was last year's winner of the FCS Offensive Player of the Year by both STATS and the FCS Athletic Director's Association, and he was also presented the 2015 Walter Payton Award as selected by Mickey Charles LLC.
The dynamic duo for the Eagles and Briscoe were selected among a group of 25 finalists who were on the voting list for the award. A national panel of over 150 sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries participated in the voting.
"That's amazing," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin on what is believed to be an unprecedented achievement of two teammates in the final three. "I felt they were both very deserving, but I didn't think they both would be finalists. I actually thought one might take the other player's votes. You just don't see this happen very often."
Besides the Walter Payton Award, STATS will also present the Buck Buchanan Award (FCS defensive player of the year), the Jerry Rice Award (FCS freshman player of the year), the Eddie Robinson Award (FCS coach of the year) and the Doris Robinson FCS Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Kupp won the Jerry Rice Award as a freshman in 2013.
All four awards and the STATS FCS Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete of the Year will be celebrated at the STATS FCS Awards Banquet and Presentation, scheduled for Friday, Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas, on the eve of the national championship game.
Gubrud and Kupp were honored on Nov. 22 as the Big Sky Conference co-Offensive MVPs, the first time in league history two players from the same team were selected by the coaches to share the award. Both were unanimous selections as first team selections in the league, with Kupp also becoming just the fourth player in league history to earn first team all-league all four seasons.
Gubrud took over as EWU's starting quarterback this season and passed for 4,071 yards and 40 touchdowns, and was the team's leading rusher with 463 yards and four more scores. Kupp repeated as league MVP after catching 91 passes for 1,297 yards and 12 touchdowns. Eastern players have now been selected as the Big Sky Conference Offensive MVP in 12 of the last 16 seasons, including six of the last seven. One of only 10 repeat winners in league history, Kupp in 2015 became only the second wide receiver in 42 years to win the honor.
Kupp enters this week's FCS Playoffs with FCS, Big Sky and school career records with 402 receptions, 6,061 yards and 68 touchdown receptions. He has broken a total of 13 FCS, 10 Big Sky and 22 school records heading into 10-1 EWU's second-round game versus 10-2 Central Arkansas on Saturday (Dec. 3) at 1 p.m. at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.
"When you take a look at their seasons, Gage has had an outstanding debut year, and then Cooper's body of work is off the charts," said Baldwin. "It's very deserving in terms of how teams have to prepare going against Gage and Cooper and what they bring to the table offensively. They just happen to be on the same team. With the work each of them has done individually, their accomplishments on paper statistically and the wins they've helped produce for our team, I think it's very deserving they are two of the three finalists. It's quite an honor."
Gubrud is the FCS leader in total offense at 412.2 per game, and is second in passing yards (4,071), passing yards per game (370.1), points responsible per game (24.4), total points responsible for (266) and passing touchdowns (40). He is also fourth in completion percentage (.680) and fourth in passing efficiency (170.5). He is already among EWU's season leaders for passing yards (second), touchdown passes (second) and total offensive yards (second with 4,534). All three records were set by Vernon Adams Jr. in 15 games in 2013 (4,994, 55, 5,559).
Kupp missed 1 1/2 games earlier in the season and almost a half at Portland State on Nov. 18 with shoulder injuries, but still leads FCS in receiving yards per game (129.7), is second in receptions per game (9.1), and is seventh in receiving touchdowns (12).
Gubrud has put up some remarkable numbers in his first season as EWU's starter, so impressive in fact that he may set a pair of Big Sky Conference records and rank among the best in NCAA Championship Subdivision history. His average of 370.1 passing yards per game is just off of the Big Sky record of 379.6 set by Dave Dickenson of Montana in 1995. Gubrud's average for total offense is 412.2, with the Big Sky record currently owned by Jamie Martin of Weber State with a 394.3 average in 1991.
Gubrud's total offense mark currently ranks fourth in FCS history, with the record owned by Steve McNair of Alcorn State (527.2 in 1994). The passing record is owned by Willie Totten of Mississippi Valley State (455.7 in 1984) and Gubrud currently ranks 10th (Sam Houston State's Jeremiah Briscoe leads FCS currently with a 372.4 average). Gubrud is well ahead of school records for average yards passing (364.5 set by Bo Levi Mitchell in 2011) and total offense (376.8 set by Vernon Adams Jr. in 2014).
Previously, three Eagles have won the Payton Award -- Cooper Kupp in 2015, Bo Levi Mitchell in 2011 and Erik Meyer in 2005). Eastern has also had two Buchanan Award Winners (J.C. Sherritt in 2010 and Greg Peach in 2008) and a Jerry Rice Award recipient (Cooper Kupp) in the last 11 seasons (2005-2015). In both 2013 and 2014, Vernon Adams Jr. was the runner-up for the Payton Award.
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