Three Redbirds Named First-Team All-MVFC
Nov. 28, 2011
ST. LOUIS - For the first time since 2007, the Illinois State football team had three players named All-Missouri Valley Football Conference First-Team selections, as senior defensive lineman Eric Brunner, senior offensive lineman Cal McCarthy and junior linebacker Evan Frierson were selected for the team Monday, as voted on by the league's coaches, sports information directors and media members.
A total of 13 Redbirds were named to this year's all-conference teams, including seven on the second team. The 10 first and second-team selections are the most for the Redbirds since 2006, when the team also had 10 players named to the list.
Junior quarterback Matt Brown, senior running back Ashton Leggett, sophomore H-back Jordan Neukirch, senior offensive lineman Nick Bledsoe, senior cornerback Otis Merrill, junior defensive end Nate Palmer and junior wide receiver Tyrone Walker each earned All-MVFC recognition as second-team selections, while senior linebacker Josh Howe, senior offensive tackle Cody White and sophomore defensive lineman Colton Underwood were tabbed as honorable mention selections.
A 2010 All-MVFC First-Team selection as well, Brunner increased his production in 2011 and was the leader of the Redbird defense, which led the conference in total defense (294.8 ypg). The Greendale, Wis., native set career highs with 4.5 sacks and 13 tackles-for-loss, which tied for fifth in the conference and ranked third on the team with 55 tackles. He also added a forced fumble, blocked a kick, recovered three fumbles, broke up two passes and tallied three quarterback hurries.
McCarthy was the leader of the offensive line unit that has helped ISU rush for 183.4 yards per game, up from 131 yards per game last year. The Shorewood, Ill., native finished his career by starting 22-consecutive games at center for the Redbirds and was the anchor of the unit that allowed just six sacks on the season, which ranked the group No. 3 in the country in fewest sacks allowed. McCarthy also helped Leggett become the first Redbird running back to rush for over 1,000 yards since 2006 and was named MVFC Offensive Lineman of the Week, after he graded out at 92 percent and had eight knock downs while helping the team rush for 273 yards in a win over Western Illinois.
After transferring to Illinois State from Illinois, Frierson made an immediate impact on the Redbird defense and helped turn it into one of the best in the country. The Washington, D.C., native led the team and was second in the Valley with 15 tackles-for-loss and ranked second on the team with 66 tackles and 6.5 sacks. He was named MVFC Newcomer of the Week, after recording eight tackles, three sacks and four tackles-for-loss in a win over nationally-ranked South Dakota and should be named to the league's All-Newcomer Team when it is announced Tuesday.
Leggett, Bledsoe and Merrill wrapped up their Illinois State careers with All-MVFC Second Team honors. Leggett followed up his 2010 MVFC All-Newcomer Team honor by leading the team with 1,031 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground in 2010. The Muskegon, Mich., native became the first 1,000-yard Redbird rusher since 2006 and recorded four 100-plus rushing yard and four multiple touchdown performances on the season.
Bledsoe started all 10 games for the Redbirds at left guard next to McCarthy, and was named the MVFC Offensive Lineman of the Week, after he graded out at 90 percent and had seven knock downs while helping the team rush for a season-high 316 yards in a win at Missouri State. Merrill solidified the young Redbird secondary when he broke into the starting lineup in the second game of the season. The Cleveland, Ohio, native finished the season with 41 tackles and 1.5 tackles-for-loss and broke up four passes, forced a fumble and added an interception.
Brown, Walker and Palmer will all return for their senior seasons in 2012 and will look to build on strong seasons. Brown, the 2009 MVFC Freshman of the Year, became just the third Redbird quarterback in history to throw for over 2,000 yards in three different seasons and finished the year with 2,187 yards and 18 touchdowns, with a school single-season record completion percentage of 65 percent (208-for 320). As one of his favorite targets, Walker led the team with 64 catches for 787 yards and eight touchdowns on the season and averaged 12.3 yards per catch and 71.5 yards per game.
Palmer, along with Frierson, transferred to ISU from Illinois and led the team and the MVFC with 9.5 sacks in 2011. The Chicago native tied for 18th in the country in sacks per game (.91) and recorded 43 tackles, 10.5 tackles-for-loss, forced two fumbles and returned a fumble 42 yards for a touchdown against Morehead State. Neukirch rounds out the second-team selections at fullback, although he is a hybrid fullback/tight end player for the Redbirds. He served as the team's primary blocking back for Leggett, but also caught four passes for 40 yards and was a standout on special teams with seven tackles.
Seniors Howe and White were named honorable mention selections for the Redbirds in their final seasons at ISU. Howe started all 11 games at middle linebacker and led the team with 83 tackles, including 34 solo stops, and added five tackles-for-loss. White started all 11 games at left tackle, protecting quarterback Brown's blind side and was a key member of the unit that has allowed just six sacks on the season.
Underwood rounds out the honorable mention selections at defensive tackle, after he ranked second on the team with six sacks and added 9.5 tackles-for-loss, which tied for 11th in the Valley. The Washington, Ill., native also recorded 38 tackles, forced three fumbles, broke up two passes and had six quarterback hurries in his second full season at ISU.
GoRedbirds.com: Your online source for Illinois State Athletics, tickets, Weisbecker Scholarship Fund gifts, multimedia, Redbird merchandise, photos and more.