AZUSA, Calif. -- The same trio that swept the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s top awards added the top 2013 honors from the National Christian College Athletic Association as the All-NCCAA football awards were announced.
Head coach Victor Santa Cruz was named the 2013 NCCAA Football Coach of the Year after guiding the Cougars to a 10-2 season that ended with a 67-0 win over Greenville in the NCCAA Victory Bowl.
“Once again, every coaching award is humbling to receive, because I believe it speaks volumes about the staff surrounding me,” Santa Cruz said. “I’m humbled and grateful for the opportunity to work alongside these great men on a daily basis.”
Junior tailback Terrell Watson was named the NCCAA Co-Offensive Player of the Year, and junior free safety Tyler Thornton was selected the NCCAA Defensive Player of the Year. Both Watson and Thornton also earned second-team selection to the 2013 Don Hansen All-Super Region Three Team, which advances them to the national ballot for the Don Hansen NCAA Division II All-America team which will be named in January.
“Having players receive prestigious regional and national awards is indicative of the broad reach of our university and the excellence of the efforts these players give on a daily basis,” Santa Cruz said. “It speaks volumes to the way our entire team and coaching staff seeks to build champions while pursuing championships.”
Watson started all 12 games for Azusa Pacific, registering 301 rushing attempts for 1,812 yards (6.0 average) and 23 TDs to break school records for rushing yardage and rushing TDs in a season. Both records were previously held by Christian Okoye, and Watson also broke Okoye’s career rushing records for yardage and TDs. Watson’s 302-yard effort in the Cougars’ 44-36 Homecoming victory over Simon Fraser also broke the school’s single-game mark, and it was one of six times he rushed for 155 yards or more in a game.
Thornton started all 12 games and notched team-highs of 120 tackles (66 solo, 54 assist) and five interceptions. He also registered 5.0 tackles for loss, six pass breakups, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, and 288 return yards on punt and kick returns (218 kick, 70 punt). Thornton ranked in the top-three of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference in tackles and interceptions, and he had six games with at least 10 tackles, including a career-high in tackles in an Oct. 26 win at Central Washington.
Other All-NCCAA first team selections were senior center Lance Barker, senior defensive end Matt Moody, senior cornerback Silas Goma, sophomore kicker Jamie Cacciatore, and true freshman Tarik Myles, who was honored as the first team return specialist.
Senior linebacker Jake Henderson was named to the All-NCCAA second team, and senior linebacker Sean Barber earned All-NCCAA honorable mention as a punter after missing a month of the season due to injury.
At Azusa Pacific’s postseason banquet on Dec. 7, the Cougars also announced the annual team awards. Watson was named the team MVP and offensive MVP, Thornton was voted defensive MVP, and Cacciatore was the special teams MVP. Senior linebacker Ethan Danielson was voted the most inspirational player.
Scout team MVPs were freshman defensive back Taliuaki Suliafu and sophomore wide receiver Cory Crawford.
Barber was also the team’s recipient of the Teleo award, which is granted occasionally to players who exemplify the true spirit of a competitor.
Azusa Pacific opens the 2014 season at home on Saturday, Sept. 6 against Grand Valley State, which just wrapped up a 12-3 campaign with an appearance in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II playoffs.