DURHAM, N.H. – University of New Hampshire senior linebacker Matt Evans (Hanover, Mass.) was feted as the team most valuable player and had his uniform No. 52 retired as part of Sunday's annual football team banquet at the Memorial Union Building. The event puts a bow on the 2012 season, a year in which the Wildcats posted an 8-4 record and reached the NCAA D-I Football Championship postseason for a nation-leading ninth straight season.
Evans led the CAA with 126 total tackles, which ranked 19th in the country, and he tacked on a nation-best 87 solo tackles in his final season as a Wildcat. The co-captain, who became the University's all-time tackle leader Nov. 3 in a home win against William & Mary, capped his illustrious career with 460 stops and 266 solo tackles; both totals ranked first among all FCS players that were active in 2012. The Hanover, Mass., native, who played in the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 19, was also recognized as a College Sporting News 2012 Fabulous Fifty All-America, and a Walter Camp Football Foundation All-America for the third time, becoming just the fourth player –and third from UNH (Ricky Santos, David Ball)- to thrice garner that honor. The 6-foot, 228-pounder also was named A.P. All-America, AFCA Coaches' All-America, The Sports Network All-America, Beyond Sports Network All-America Second Team, All-CAA First Team and All-New England Team. College Sports Madness recognized the middle linebacker as its CAA Defensive Player of the Year and as an All-America Second-Team performer. Evans, the 2011 Buck Buchanan Award winner as the national defensive player of the year, closed out the season with six straight double-digit tackle games (seven overall) and led the Wildcats in tackles nine times in 12 games.
Evans becomes the fifth Wildcat to have his jersey retired, following running back Bill Burnham (No. 36, 1974-77), running back Jerry Azumah (No. 25, 1995-98), wide receiver David Ball (No. 3, 2003-06) and quarterback Ricky Santos (No. 2, 2004-07).
Senior co-captain Chris Zarkoskie (West Caldwell, N.J.) received CAA Football's inaugural Chuck Boone Leadership Award, which is presented to the league player who embodies the highest standards of leadership, integrity, teamwork and sportsmanship in his academic and athletic achievements. The Boone Award, which was voted on by the athletic directors of the league's 11 member institutions, was presented by CAA commissioner Tom Yeager.
Zarkoskie, a native of West Caldwell, N.J., also received the team's Bill Bowes Coaches Award and the Eugene K. Auerbach Student-Athlete Award. The three-year starter, who earned the nod at left guard all 12 games this season, graduated in December with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology with a 3.58 cumulative grade point average. He earned a place on the FCS ADA Academic All-Star Team and Capital One Academic D-I Football District I First Team in each of the last two seasons, received the CAA Commissioner's Academic Award three years in a row and was on the Honor Roll every semester of his collegiate career. In addition, Zarkoskie was named a semifinalist for the 2012 NFF National Scholar-Athlete Awards, presented by Fidelity Investments®, and he's been an Allstate American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Good Works Team® nominee for selfless contributions to volunteerism and community service in both '11 and '12.
Senior co-captain Alan Buzbee (Chester, N.J.) received the Jack French Unsung Hero Award. The middle linebacker and three-year starter amassed 69 tackles to rank third on the squad, and his 57 solo stops were second to Evans' 87. Buzbee tallied three interceptions and racked up a team-high 70 INT-return yards to go along with five pass breakups (tied for team lead) and a forced fumble.
Senior co-captain Dontra Peters (Annapolis, Md.) was the recipient of the Bob Demers 12th Player Award. The All-CAA Second Team and All-New England Team cornerback totaled 49 tackles, 41 solo, in nine games while pacing the team with four interceptions. Peters made a smooth transition to the defensive side of the football following a three-year career and 1,480 rushing yards as a running back. Following the season, he competed in the Texas vs the Nation All-Star Game.
Doug Stockbridge was presented the Bo Dickson Spirit Award for his longtime support of the UNH football program and years of philanthropic service to the University. Stockbridge, a former Wildcat defensive end who won the team's MVP award in 1976, is the president of the UNH Cat Club, a group dedicated to developing a network of alumni, parents, friends and fans to provide financial support and a build a sense of community for the football program.
Senior offensive lineman Mickey DiLima (Kensington, Md.) received the Buck Buchanan Distinguished Service Award for being a large part of UNH football's community presence with such outreach programs as the annual bone marrow drive and Read Across America.
The team also awarded its official game balls for each victory of the 2012 season:
•@ Holy Cross, Aug. 30: Senior wide receiver Joey Orlando (Bethlehem, Pa.) hauled in seven receptions for 102 yards and two touchdowns to power the Wildcats past the Crusaders, 38-17, in the season opener.
•vs Central Connecticut State, Sept. 15: Senior tight end Matt Murray (Stow, Mass.) helped solidify the offensive line on an afternoon that saw the Wildcats gain 331 rushing yards as part of a 43-10 win in the home opener.
•vs Delaware, Sept. 29: Peters snared two interceptions, notched three tackles, including his first career half-sack, and returned two kickoffs for 42 yards in the Wildcats' 34-14 upset win against the eighth-ranked Blue Hens.
•@ Georgia State, Oct. 6: Senior quarterback James Brady (Deer Park, N.Y.) completed 1 of 2 passes and rushed twice for 14 yards in UNH's 44-21 win at the Georgia Dome, which marked coach McDonnell's 100th victory as head coach.
•vs Richmond, Oct. 13: DiLima had a solid day blocking for a running attack that accumulated 263 rushing yards en route to a 44-40 Homecoming win against the Spiders.
•@ Maine, Oct. 20: Senior defensive tackle Jared Smith (Greencastle, Pa.) made nine tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss, and added three pass breakups to help the Wildcats retain the Brice-Cowell Musket by virtue of a 28-21 victory at Alfond Stadium.
•@ Rhode Island, Oct. 27: Senior defensive end Randi Vines (Roanoke, Va.) made a tackle to help a defensive shutdown of the Rams in a 40-20 Wildcat triumph.
•vs William & Mary, Nov 3: Buzbee collected six tackles to go along with a pass breakup in a 28-25 victory against the Tribe that locked up the Wildcats' ninth straight playoff appearance.
The Wildcats also recognized the following seniors for their commitment to the football program: kicker Nick Pellino (Danvers, Mass.), defensive back Tyler Sargent (Fairview, Pa.), offensive linemen Isaiah Martin (Pennsauken, N.J.) and Walter McCarthy (Warwick, R.I.) and team manager P.J. Barnard.
For more information about the UNH football team, visit www.unhwildcats.com.