Led by 2012 Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Player of the Year Matt Brown, a school-record eight Illinois State football players were named All-MVFC First-Team selections Monday by the conference office. The votes were tallied from a survey of the league’s head coaches, sports information directors and members of the media.
Brown picked up All-MVFC First-Team honors for the first time in his illustrious career and was joined on the first team by senior wide receiver Tyrone Walker, senior offensive lineman Pete Cary, and junior fullback Jordan Neukirch. Four Redbird defenders also earned All-MVFC First-Team honors for the first time in their careers. Junior defensive end Colton Underwood, senior middle linebacker Mike Zimmer, senior free safety Ben Ericksen and junior defensive tackle Shelby Harris rounded out the record-number of Redbird first-team honorees.
Senior defensive end Nate Palmer was also recognized for his stellar season by being named to the All-MVFC Second Team. A trio of Redbirds was also named honorable mention selections in the annual vote, including senior outside linebacker Evan Frierson, senior running back Darrelynn Dunn and sophomore cornerback Mike Banks.
Brown earned the conference’s top offensive honor and led the MVFC in passing yards (2,676), passing yards per game (243.3) and total offense yards (2,789) this season. The Marion, Ill., native threw 20 touchdown passes, just two off his career-high, and added a career-best six rushing touchdowns. A two-time MVFC Offensive Player of the Week selection during the season, Brown completed 62.7 percent of passes attempted and recorded two 300-plus yard passing games for the Redbirds. During the course of the season, Brown also set seven school and four MVFC career records.
Walker led the Redbirds and the conference in receptions (71), receiving yards (995), receiving yards per game (90.5) and touchdown catches (6), while averaging 14 yards per catch. The Indianapolis, Ind., native posted five games with over 100 yards receiving and caught touchdowns in five different games, including one in three-straight games. A two-time All-MVFC Second-Team selection, Walker earned first-team plaudits for the first time in his career that has seen him put his name at the top of every career receiving category in the Illinois State record books.
One of four team captains, Cary started all 11 games at center for the Redbirds during the regular season and graded out at over 85 percent all season. The Cincinnati, Ohio, native helped ISU rush for 136 yards per game on the ground and was a key blocker for Dunn, who rushed for 12 touchdowns, the most of for a Redbird back since 2006. Cary was also the leader of the offense line unit that allowed just 10 sacks all season, which ranks No. 9 in the country in fewest sacks allowed.
Rounding out the offensive first-team selections was Neukirch, who was an All-MVFC Second-Team pick in 2011. Neukirch was the primary lead blocker for Dunn, but also got involved in the passing game for the Redbirds. The Algonquin, Ill., native caught four passes for 27 yards, including a touchdown each against Western Illinois and No. 1 North Dakota State.
Underwood capped off his tremendous regular season with first-team honors for the first time in his career. The 2012 Buck Buchanan Award nominee leads the MVFC in sacks (9.5) and tackles-for-loss (18.0) and ranks No. 9 in the country in sacks and No. 7 in tackles-for-loss. The Washington, Ill., native recorded a sack in seven games and a tackle-for-loss in eight games, with five multiple tackle-for-loss performances. Underwood also ranks second on the team with 89 tackles and was credited with eight quarterback hurries, one pass breakup and a blocked kick.
Zimmer led team with 109 tackles, including 50 solo stops, and tied for fourth in the MVFC with those 109 tackles in his first season playing middle linebacker. The Wheeling, Ill., native added 4.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles-for-loss and posted six games with 10 or more tackles. He recorded a career-high 17 tackles against Missouri State and had 15 tackles and a sack in win over Eastern Illinois.
In his final season with the Redbirds, Ericksen started all 11 games at free safety and he currently leads the country with seven interceptions. He has tallied 48 tackles, one sack and 3.5 tackles-for-loss and has also added a pass break up and a quarterback hurry. The Greendale, Wis., native recorded a season-best seven tackles against Missouri State, Indiana State and North Dakota State and was named the national and MVFC Defensive Player of the Week, after intercepting two passes and finishing with four tackles in a win at FBS Eastern Michigan.
Rounding out the first-team selections was Harris, who ranked third on the team and fifth in the MVFC with 12.5 tackles-for-loss. The Milwaukee, Wis., product also ranked third on the team with five sacks and added 76 tackles, five quarterback hurries, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, two pass breakups and an interception in 2012. He posted season-best efforts with 12 tackles, two sacks and three TFL against Missouri State and added two sacks and eight tackles in a road win at UNI.
Palmer was the team’s lone second-team selection, after he ranked second on the team and was fourth in the MVFC with 13 tackles-for-loss. The Chicago, Ill., native secured 10.5 of those came in conference play, which tied for third-best among league players. He was also third on the team and tied for fourth in the MVFC with six sacks.
Article courtesy ISU Sports Information.