The Big Sky offensive player of the year was anything but a surprise. The conference's defensive player of the year didn't leave much doubt he deserved his award, either.
Eastern Washington receiver Cooper Kupp and Southern Utah defensive end James Cowser were announced as the recipients Tuesday, highlighting a pair of spectacular seasons.
Kupp led the FCS in receptions (114), receptions per game (10.4), reception yards (1,642), reception yards per game (149.3) and touchdown catches (19). The junior has set eight Big Sky records in his career.
"He is one of the smartest and most mature student-athletes I've been around, and the best football player I've ever coached. And that's saying a lot," said Eastern coach Beau Baldwin, who recently completed his 22nd season as a college coach. "But it's true. He's hands-down the best all-around football player I've been lucky enough to be around."
Kupp is only the second receiver in 42 years to win the award and continued an impressive legacy of Eagles to capture the honor. Eastern players have won it 11 times in the last 15 seasons and 12 times overall.
Nine Eagles received all-Big Sky honors, including first-team selections Kupp, senior offensive tackle Clay DeBord and senior offensive guard Aaron Neary.
The race for defensive player honors didn't seem all that close either, as Cowser recorded 11 sacks and 17 tackles for loss as the leader of the Big Sky's top defense. Cowser's 40 1/2 sacks and 78 tackles for loss are Big Sky records, breaking the marks of Idaho State's Jared Allen.
Cowser is among four defensive teammates on the first team, joined by sophomore linebacker Mike Needham, senior safety Miles Killebrew and senior cornerback Leshaun Sims. Southern Utah allowed 18.9 points per game, 18th in the FCS, as it rebounded from a rough 2014 season to win the conference title and earn a spot in the FCS playoffs.
"It's good for us that we stuck together for a 3-9 season (last year), we stuck together through a rough offseason and it's just paid off," Cowser said after Saturday's clinching 49-41 victory over Northern Arizona.
Kupp and Cowser are on the respective Watch Lists for STATS FCS player of the year in each category.
There was anything but a consensus for Big Sky freshman of the year, with the league's coaches voting for two players to win for the first time in the history of the award. Northern Arizona quarterback Case Cookus and North Dakota running back John Santiago were the co-recipients.
Cookus threw for 3,110 yards and 37 touchdowns, and led the FCS for most of the season in passing efficiency. He is also the conference's first-team selection at his position after keeping the Lumberjacks in the playoff hunt until the final week.
Santiago led FCS freshman running backs and the Big Sky with 1,459 yards and 16 rushing TDs, while also pacing FCS freshmen with a school regular season-record 2,159 all-purpose yards (1,459 rushing, 81 receiving, 38 punt return, 581 kick return).
He became the first true freshman in the 53-year history of the Big Sky to lead the conference in rushing, recording an FCS-leading nine 100-yard rushing games in 2015, including all eight of his league contests.
BIG SKY FOOTBALL AWARDS=
Offensive Player of the Year: WR Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington
Defensive Player of the Year: DE James Cowser, Southern Utah
Co-Freshman of the Year: QB Case Cookus, Northern Arizona; RB John Santiago, North Dakota
Newcomer of the Year: QB Alex Kuresa, Portland State
BIG SKY FOOTBALL FIRST TEAM=
QB Case Cookus, Northern Arizona
RB John Santiago, North Dakota
RB Casey Jahn, Northern Arizona
FB Joe Protheroe, Cal Poly
WR Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington
WR Emmanuel Butler, Northern Arizona
WR Jamaal Jones, Montana
TE Beau Sandland, Montana State
OL Clay DeBord, Eastern Washington
OL John Weidenaar, Montana State
OL Sean Meehan, North Dakota
OL Aaron Neary, Eastern Washington
OL Joe Hawkins, Weber State
DT Tyler Kuder, Idaho State
DT Caleb Kidder, Montana
DE James Cowser, Southern Utah
DE Tyrone Holmes, Montana
LB Michael Needham, Southern Utah
LB Herbert Gamboa, Montana
LB Will Ratelle, North Dakota
LB Darnell Sankey, Sacramento State
DB Marcus Alford, Northern Arizona
DB LeShaun Sims, Southern Utah
DB Miles Killebrew, Southern Utah
DB Patrick Onwuasor, Portland State
PK Ryan Hawkins, Northern Arizona
ST Hakeen Deggs, Northern Colorado
RS Ellis Onic II, Northern Colorado
P Ryan Hawkins, Northern Arizona