And the winner is...
Last updated 1/20/2022 at 8:59am
The awards for outstanding players in the NCAA divisions have been announced. The FBS winners are told prior to the bowl games in early December. The FCS awards are announced the night before the national championship game in January. I think it is fitting to wait until this time and make it that much more special.
The Walter Payton Award is the FCS version of the Heisman Trophy only without as much glamour but still very significant. The 2021 recipient is Eastern Washington University quarterback Eric Barriere. Barriere becomes the fourth Eagle to win the award. The Payton Award was first given in 1987. EWU has had more winners than any other FCS school.
QB Erik Meyer was the first Eagle to receive this honor in 2005. In 2011, Bo Levi Mitchell also a QB was voted the year's best. This just so happened to be a year after the Eagles won the FCS National Championship. In 2015, wide receiver Cooper Kupp was voted as that season's best player although many Eagle fans might have said he deserved to win it a couple of more times.
It is a real honor for EWU to have some great players earning national recognition on All-American teams and awards honoring the best of the best. But EWU isn't just offense. The Buck Buchanan Award for the nation's best defensive player has been won by a couple of Eagles as well. First awarded in 1995, DE Greg Peach took home the Buchanan in 2008. J.C. Sherritt earned the award in 2010 the same year that the Eagles were National Champions.
I am proud to say that I saw all of these guys play on the Cheney campus over the years and they were worth the price of admission and a ¾ mile hike to the stadium.
There was one other guy that could very well have won the Payton Award had he not left to play for Oregon as a graduate transfer. That player was Vernon Adams who partnered with Cooper Kupp for some highlight reel plays against Oregon State, Oregon and Washington and several other schools.
Another defensive end that had a fantastic career at EWU is Samson Ebukam. He now plays for the San Francisco 49ers. Ebukam had a solid career with EWU and had some great plays all over the field.
All of the recipients of these awards graduated from EWU. Both Cooper Kupp and Barriere had opportunities to either go pro or transfer to an FBS school to possibly better their chances in the pro draft. Kupp decided to return to Cheney to finish out his senior season with his recruiting class and to play one final season with his younger brother.
Barriere returned because he wanted another shot at a national championship. As a sophomore he came off the bench to replace Gage Gubrud whose injury took him out for the rest of the season. Barriere led the Eags all the way to the championship game in Frisco, Texas where the Eags would fall to the North Dakota State Bison.
Peach, Sherritt, Meyer and Mitchell all ended up in the Canadian Football League and have had success. Some have earned league honors and been on the winning Grey Cup team as well.
Ebukam and Kupp are in the NFL and are in the midst of a playoff run. Kupp's 2021 season is memorable because he has led the league in receptions; reception yards and TD receptions sort of the wide receiver triple crown.
Kupp is a humble guy and when asked about breaking a record of a previous receiver he said that he wouldn't consider it his record because the other guy did it in a 16 game schedule and he is playing a 17 game schedule. He is a smart, respectful, team player who is never arrogant. He is much more than a possession receiver he led the league in yards after catch and by doing that you have to be tough. Kupp also prides himself on being a really good blocker so he never takes a play off.
There are not a lot of NFL players that I would tell a kid to emulate but Cooper Kupp would head the list for sure and Samson Ebukam would be there too.
This year's Walter Payton award recipient Eric Barriere will most likely be headed north to Canada to play professionally. With his scrambling ability and the bigger field I'm sure he could find success there. It would be kind of cool to see him play in the NFL but it is rather doubtful but who knows?
With another Walter Payton award secured by an EWU player I can only say the winner is: Eagle fans!!