PHILADELPHIA, PA - Sophomore quarterback Ricky Santos of New Hampshire, the 2005 Atlantic 10 Offensive Player of the Year, has been named one of three finalists for the prestigious Walter Payton Award, it was announced on Monday.
Presented by The Sports Network to the most outstanding player in I-AA, Santos is joined by Brown running back Nick Hartigan and senior quarterback Erik Meyer of Eastern Washington.
The voting was conducted among more than 110 media members and media relations professionals and based on regular season performance, during which time Santos led the Atlantic 10 in five offensive categories, including passing yards (3,200) and touchdown passes (33). A five-time A-10 Offensive Player of the Week selection, the Bellingham, MA, native is the first sophomore to earn Atlantic 10 Offensive Player of the Year honors since former New Hampshire running back Jerry Azumah in 1996, who won the Payton Award in 1998.
Under the leadership of Santos, UNH has established a program record for wins (11) while winning a share of the Atlantic 10 title with a mark of 7-1. In addition, the Wildcats became the first A-10 team since Villanova in 1997 to finish the regular season No. 1 in The Sports Network poll.
Santos currently leads the nation in completion percentage (70.8) and ranks in the top 10 nationally in passing efficiency (171.8 - third) and total offense (320.4 - fourth). He has surpassed the 300-yard passing mark six times this season - tops in the A-10. On Saturday, Santos rushed for a career-high 165 yards and tossed three touchdown passes in the Wildcats' 55-21 win over Colgate in the first round of the I-AA playoffs. Top-seeded New Hampshire hosts Northern Iowa at 11:00am on Saturday in the quarterfinal round.
Vying to join former Villanova standout Brian Finneran (1997) as the only wide receivers to win the Walter Payton Award, New Hampshire junior David Ball finished seventh in the voting. The first-team All-Conference selection hauled in 68 passes for 1,190 yards during the regular season, along with 18 touchdown catches - the most in Division I. On Saturday, Ball had 173 receiving yards and three scoring grabs in establishing A-10 records for single-season (21) and career (42) touchdown catches. Delaware sophomore running back Omar Cuff, who led the Conference in all-purpose yards (147.2) and rushing touchdowns (14) during the regular season, finished 15th in the voting.
The 19th Annual I-AA College Football Awards will be held December 15 in Chattanooga, TN, on the eve of the NCAA I-AA national championship game.
Santos is vying to become the fifth player and second quarterback in Atlantic 10 history to win the Walter Payton Award. Last season, then-senior quarterback Lang Campbell of William & Mary became the first-ever A-10 signal caller to win the award. Former Villanova standouts Brian Finneran and Brian Westbrook were presented with the Walter Payton Award in 1997 and 2001, respectively, while former New Hampshire running back Jerry Azumah received the honor in 1998. Finneran is a member of the Atlanta Falcons, Azumah plays for the Chicago Bears, and Westbrook is with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he earned a Pro Bowl slot last season.
The Atlantic 10 has now had a player finish in the top three of the voting for the prestigious award in each of the last six seasons.