CHATTANOOGA, TENN.--Junior quarterback Ricky Santos (Bellingham, Mass.) of the University of New Hampshire football team was named the winner of the prestigious Walter Payton Award, which is given annually to the most outstanding football player in I-AA/FCS football. He received the honor at the 20th annual “Sports Network” Division I-AA Football Awards dinner held at the Sheraton Read House Hotel on Thursday evening (Dec.14).

Junior quarterback Ricky Santos (Bellingham, Mass.) was named the 2006 Walter Payton Award recipient Thursday night in Chattanooga, Tenn.

    Santos, who was named a Walter Camp All-American and the Atlantic 10 Football Conference Co-Offensive Player of the Year, passed for 29 touchdowns this season and led all players in the conference at the end of the regular season with 12 rushing touchdowns. He also topped the 3,000-yard passing mark for the third straight time in his career with 3,125 yards in 2006. Santos completed 293 of 432 pass attempts and threw only seven interceptions, giving him an impressive completion percentage of 67.8. A first-team All-Atlantic 10 selection, he has broken most of UNH’s career passing records and he was named “National Offensive Player of the Week” twice by “The Sports Network”.
    "It is really overwhelming to be mentioned in the same company as some of the all-time greats in college football. I never thought I would ever win this award when I entered New Hampshire and just focused on winning games and helping my teammates," said Santos
    "Jerry Azumah is a model of excellence for our program and a true professional. To be included in the same company is pretty overwhelming.
    One of the most impressive performances of his career came on Sept. 9 at Northwestern, where he was responsible for five touchdowns vs. the other Wildcats, leading UNH to a decisive 34-17 upset over the Big Ten power. Santos then led UNH to the NCAA Division I Football Championships, where he and the Wildcats played in their third straight quarterfinal appearance. UNH, which finished the 2006 season with a 9-4 overall record, is the only team in the Atlantic 10 to advance to the quarterfinals three consecutive times.
    "The thing that I have noticed about Ricky over the past three years is that he keeps working to get better," said New Hampshire head coach Sean McDonnell.
   "He has become a great player because he works so hard. He's a humble kid who genuinely cares about everyone around him and I think that's what makes him so special."
    Through this week, Santos is ranked third among I-AA/FCS leaders in passing yardage, third in points responsible for (18.92 ppg.), eighth in total offense (269.46 ypg.), and 10th in passing efficiency (147.50).
    His career statistics over three seasons are staggering. After starting all but the first contest of 2004 at Delaware, Santos has compiled numbers in three years that many quarterbacks struggle to reach in four. He topped the 10,000 yard passing milestone in 2006 and heads into his senior campaign with 10,240 passing yards. He also enters next season with 99 career passing touchdowns, which already ties him for the Atlantic 10’s all-time lead, while he has rushed for 21 career touchdowns. Since 2004, Santos has completed a school-record 866-1,286 passes. In his 39 games played at UNH, he has helped the Wildcats post an impressive three-year record of 30-9.
    Santos was one of three finalists for the Walter Payton Award and finished second in the voting in 2005 as a top three finalist. Also in Chattanooga for this year’s awards dinner were senior running back Arkee Whitlock from Southern Illinois and senior quarterback Jason Murrietta from Northern Arizona, who were the other two Walter Payton finalists.
Santos is the second Wildcat to earn the Payton Award as former UNH running back Jerry Azumah took home the hardware back in 1998. Azumah went on to play defensive back for the NFL’s Chicago Bears and played in the Pro Bowl. Only two other football programs have featured two Walter Payton Award winners, Villanova and Colgate.
    Many of the past winners of the Walter Payton Award are still playing in the NFL. The list includes the likes of Tony Romo (Eastern Illinois), Brian Westbrook (Villanova), Adrian Peterson (Georgia Southern), Brian Finneran (Villanova), Steve McNair (Alcorn State) and Jamie Martin (Weber State).
    Senior wide receiver David Ball (Orange, Vt.), the favorite target of Santos over the past three seasons, finished fifth in the Walter Payton voting this year and was seventh in 2005.
    "This award is as much David's as it is mine. He was a great player and more importantly, a great teammate and leader," said Santos.
    There were over 110 Walter Payton Award ballots cast by members of the media and Sports Information Directors from across the country. The voting was completed prior to the start of the NCAA Playoffs.
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