Kennesaw State freshman LB Armstrong wins Jerry Rice Award

(STATS) – Bryson Armstrong wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school, so he jumped at a scholarship offer from Kennesaw State, just 10 minutes down the road from where he grew up.

Armstrong got to stay close to home, and the Owls hit a home run.

Kennesaw State’s standout linebacker became the first defensive player to be named the STATS FCS Jerry Rice Award winner on Tuesday, edging Yale running back Zane Dudek by a single point in the voting (347-346) for the nation’s best freshman.

There was no real tradition to speak of when Armstrong arrived on campus in 2016, with the Owls in their second year as a football program under coach Brian Bohannon. But he got to watch as a redshirt as the program became more than just a startup, and by the time Armstrong stepped on the field as a starter Aug. 31 at Samford, Kennesaw State had arrived.

That day turned out to be the Owls’ lone loss in three months. With Armstrong anchoring a defense that ranks 13th in the FCS overall, Kennesaw State rattled off 12 straight wins, including in the program’s first two playoff games before the Owls fell at Sam Houston State in the national quarterfinals this past Saturday.

Armstrong is tied for the national high with four fumble recoveries, set a Big South record with 11 sacks and led KSU in total tackles (114), solo tackles (85), tackles for loss (12.5) while also tying for second with three interceptions. Not bad for a kid who was ignored by more established FCS programs in the south.

Still, he doesn’t see himself as the heart of the Owls’ defense.

“There’s several other guys on the defense who I consider the leaders,” Armstrong said. “I look up to all the older guys. To be able to play with all the older guys is incredible. I do work on my leadership skills, but I don’t know If I consider myself one.”

Armstrong edged Dudek in what was a tight race at the top of the voting – the first defensive winner since the Jerry Rice Award’s inception in 2011. Duquesne’s A.J. Hines, the 2016 recipient, was the third running back to earn the honor, joining two quarterbacks and former Eastern Washington and current Los Angeles Rams standout receiver Cooper Kupp.

The Jerry Rice Award voting reflected the regular season and was conducted before the start of the FCS playoffs.


The complete results were as follows:

1. Bryson Armstrong, LB, Kennesaw State: 29-32-12-12-14-347

2. Zane Dudek, RB, Yale: 19-31-26-20-9-346

3. Gresch Jensen, QB, Montana: 18-13-13-17-22-237

4. Daniel Smith, QB, Campbell: 21-11-12-4-7-200

5. Davis Cheek, QB, Elon: 16-10-15-8-12-193

6. Jabril Cox, LB, North Dakota State: 7-13-13-12-9-159

7. Caylin Newton, QB, Howard: 14-6-12-12-3-157

8. Franklin McCain III, CB, North Carolina A&T: 5-10-13-16-9-145

9. Peter Guerriero, RB, Monmouth: 5-6-9-11-13-111

10. Grant Breneman, QB, Colgate: 7-3-4-6-6-77

11. Anthony Knighton, DE, Southern Illinois: 2-1-2-7-11-45

12. Reynard Ellis, LB, Furman: 2-3-4-3-4-44

13. Troy Anderson, RB/LB, Montana State: 3-1-4-3-2-39

14. Wesley Dugger, RB, Davidson: 0-3-4-4-3-35

15. Vincent Sellers, S, Tennessee State: 0-4-3-1-1-28

16. Kierre Crossley, RB, Central Arkansas: 1-1-1-3-9-27

17. Kaelan Riley, QB, Mercer: 1-0-2-3-9-26

18. Torrance Marable, RB, Presbyterian: 1-1-1-2-3-19

19. Jaron Grayer, LB. Maine: 0-1-0-4-4-16

20. Glenn Cunningham, LB, Fordham: 0-1-1-3-1-14

A first-place vote was worth five points, a second-place vote four points, a third-place vote three points, a fourth-place vote two points and a fifth-place vote one point.