It’s not surprising to find some of the best FCS players on the rosters of last season’s national finalists, four-time defending champion North Dakota State and runner-up Illinois State.
But the top talent clearly runs up, down and far across the FCS nation.
With NDSU and Illinois State leading the way on the STATS FCS Preseason All-America Team, announced Thursday, the three units went 100 players deep, spread out among 63 schools from all 13 FCS conferences.
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North Dakota State, which is seeking to continue its unprecedented run of consecutive FCS national titles, had the high with five preseason All-American selections, including senior offensive tackle Joe Haeg returning from the 2014 postseason first team and joined by senior punter Ben LeCompte. In addition, senior fullback Andrew Bonnet and junior offensive tackle Zack Johnson, who is returning from a season off due to knee surgery, were named to the second team, and sophomore long snapper James Fisher was named to the third team.
From Illinois State, which shared the Missouri Valley Football Conference title with NDSU last season, senior running back Marshaun Coprich returned to the first team. Last season’s FCS leader in rushing yards (2,274) and touchdowns (27) was suspended from the Redbirds program this offseason, then was reinstated after receiving probation for a drug charge in Illinois.
Illinois State linebacker Pat Meehan made the preseason second team, and quarterback Tre Roberson and defensive end Teddy Corwin were third-team selections. Each is a senior.
Liberty also had four preseason All-Americans, and wide receiver Darrin Peterson, offensive guard Jonathan Burgess and place-kicker John Lunsford gave the Big South Conference power the most first-team selections with three. Fellow senior Chima Uzowihe was named to the second team.
If many of the preseason honorees appear familiar, it’s because 37 selections returned from last season’s postseason All-America team. Included were 12 players on the first team, seven on the second team and 18 on the third.
Like Haeg and Coprich, Lunsford returned to the first team. He kicked three of the five longest field goals in Division I last season, including a 60-yarder.
The other players returning to the first team were Villanova quarterback John Robertson and linebacker Don Cherry; South Carolina State defensive tackle Javon Hargrave and punt returner Antonio Hamilton; Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp, already a two-time first-team All-American; Richmond fullback Seth Fisher; Indiana State linebacker Connor Underwood; Stetson safety Donald Payne, the FCS tackles leader last season; and Murray State kick returner Pokey Harris. All are seniors except for Kupp and Payne, a pair of juniors.
Robertson was the 2014 national offensive player of the year, having accounted for 46 total touchdowns (35 passing, 11 rushing) and 301.8 total yards per game and leading the FCS in passer efficiency rating (181.3).
The rest of the FCS preseason first-team offense consisted of running backs Chase Edmonds of Fordham and Dy’Shawn Mobley of Eastern Kentucky; South Dakota State wide receiver Jake Wieneke; Idaho State tight end Josh Cook; and offensive linemen JP Flynn of Montana State, Donald Jackson III of Sam Houston State and Corey Levin of Chattanooga.
Also on the first-team defense were defensive ends James Cowser of Southern Utah and Jonathan Woodard of Central Arkansas; Gardner-Webb defensive tackle O.J. Mau; linebackers Luke Rhodes of William & Mary and Darnell Sankey of Sacramento State; and cornerbacks Casey DeAndrade of New Hampshire, Jermaine Hough of Jacksonville State and Harlan Miller of Southeastern Louisiana.
Prairie View A&M’s Johnta Hebert, who led the FCS in all-purpose yards per game (225.3), was selected as the first-team all-purpose back, while Portland State’s Kameron Canaday was the long snapper.
The Missouri Valley led all FCS conferences with 17 preseason All-Americans. The Big Sky had 15 selections, including the most on the first team with six, and CAA Football had the third-highest total with 14 selections.
They were followed by the Ohio Valley and Southland conferences with nine each, the Big South and Southern conferences with seven each, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with six, the Northeast Conference with four, and the Ivy, Patriot and Pioneer leagues and the Southwestern Athletic Conference with three apiece.
Quarterback – John Robertson, senior, 6-foot-1, 221 pounds, Villanova.