The close of the football season is a mixed bag for most fans, coaches and players. The void left by Friday nights, or tailgating on Saturday afternoons, or cheering for their favorites on Sundays will ache until something scratches that itch. Coaches shift from introspection of the completed season into projections and strategies for the off-season and building a better team for the fall.
Players soothe the gap playing Madden or adopting winter sports. But the season isn’t completely finished until the post-season honors are awarded.
The National Christian College Athletic Association, of which Southwestern Assemblies is a member, announced their All-America team. Four players for the SAGU Lions were selected, including three members from the defensive unit.
Cornerback Nick Ekanem, a 5-foot-9 freshman from Richmond, Texas, was chosen. He had six interceptions and credited 13 passes broken up. Senior J.W. Hall, the mainstay on the offensive line, garnered recognition for his play at offensive tackle. The 6-foot-4, 280-pounder from Commerce, Texas provided protection for quarterbacks’ blind side, and was a bulldozer for running backs.
Jared Hudgins, who led the country in tackles, averaging 14.6 per game was a one-man wrecking machine at inside linebacker. At 6-foot-2 and 208 pounds, the junior from Midland, Texas keyed the defensive unit.
The immovable object was sophomore defensive tackle Jonathan Hulett. At 6-foot-2, 330-pounds, the native of Corrigan, Texas was the anchor on the line.
When the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics named the 2009 All-American team, it included not one, but two players from Southwestern Assemblies of God University. The Lions, who didn’t begin playing football until 1996, had previously never had anyone recognized by the NAIA, which has 297 member colleges.
SAGU inside linebacker Hudgins and shutdown cornerback, Ekanem a transfer freshman, were selected as All-Americans. Hudge made the second team, while Ekanem received honorable mention status.
The pair of defensive stalwarts had tremendous seasons.
Hudgins had 76 solo tackles and 65 assisted stops in 10 games. He gained national attention in the second game of the season, a record-setting 23 tackle performance against Howard Payne University.
Described as the guy you wish your daughter would bring home by defensive coordinator John Allen, Hudge was No. 2 in the NAIA in tackles for a loss. He averaged 2.1 per contest, making 18 solo and five assisted tackles in opposing backfields.
“It’s really a tribute to our whole defense,” said Hudgins. “The guys really worked hard together all season. They played their roles, did their jobs. The defensive line built a wall up front, not allowing linemen to get through to block ‘Dante’ (Richard Embry) or me. That scheme allows the linebackers to make plays. They all helped and deserve recognition too.”
Hudge’s strengths are many, though what contributes most to his ability to make so many tackles are his hustle, vision, and his desire to run a lot. “I enjoy reading offenses,” he said. “This season, it seemed to me that the game slowed down as I got better in my reads.”
He also spoke highly of a move in the line-up made by the coaches late in the season. Quentin Hollomon was moved between the defensive line and outside linebacker.
“Q is one run-stuffin’ dude,” Hudgins said, praising his teammate whose play freed him to roam sideline to sideline with his 4.7 speed.
Ekanem transferred to Southwestern from Arkansas State, an NCAA Division I school. He was No. 2 in the country in interceptions per game, and was fourth in picks for the season, with six, which also led the Red River Athletic Conference. He was tops in the entire NAIA in passes defensed. He had 13 breakups, and, coupled with his six thefts, gave him a total of 19.
Hudgins, a quad captain on the team, was full of praise for Ekanem. “When Nick showed up at camp, he was a force from the git-go. A playmaker. A guy who shuts down whoever he guards. He has great leaping ability and his sense of timing is uncanny. He is cool and collected out there. I look forward to playing with him again this coming season.”
Blessed with very good closing speed, he arrives in the ‘nick’ of time even when he is beaten. Which is seldom. His pair of end zone interceptions at nationally ranked Langston University were great picks.
Both players were also selected first team all-conference by the coaches in the Central States Football League. And both are returning this fall. The team has had players chosen as All-America’s for the National Christian College Athletic Association before. The honor of such a nationally known, media-endorsed outlet like the NAIA has not been afforded to Southwestern until now.
Veteran head coach, Jesse Godding, who just completed his eighth season at SAGU, was grateful.
“We are extremely pleased with the national recognition coming to our program and these players from Jason Dannelly and the CollegeFanz Network,” who announced the selections. “Obviously, Jared and Nick are extremely deserving young men who have demonstrated their capabilities at a nationally recognizable level and we are proud of their accomplishments,” Godding said.
The CollegeFanz Network televises NAIA athletics, and was launched by Bill Rasmussen, the same man who founded ESPN. It is touted as the world’s largest on-line, college sports community. They will televise 500 football and 1,500 college basketball games in the coming 2010-2011 school year