Not easy to pick the best

It's time to take a look at some of the top players and coaches in the MEAC and SWAC as the regular season concludes this week. There are a number of great players on both sides of the ball in each conference. It's not easy to come up with just one outstanding player in each category especially when you look at the best offensive and defensive players.

As far as the coaches in the MEAC and SWAC, two first-year coaches had impressive seasons. Their teams didn't have phenomenal records. Nevertheless, the impact they had on their programs should be recognized.

In terms of freshmen, both conferences have some promising young players at quarterback, defensive line and other positions.

Here is the breakdown of this season's top offensive and defensive players, freshmen and coaches.


Best Offensive Players

Chris Walley, quarterback, Norfolk State

Walley had a magnificent year. He completed 211 of 305 passes for 2,309 yards and 17 touchdowns and threw only four interceptions. He led the MEAC in passing efficiency (148.5) and passing average (209.9). Walley, a 6-2, 200-pound senior, is a big reason why Norfolk State won the MEAC championship and will face Old Dominion in the first round of the FCS playoffs on Saturday.

Mike Mayhew, running back, North Carolina A&T

Mayhew was a threat to break a big run whenever the Aggies gave him the ball. He led the MEAC in rushing with 1,120 yards. He scored nine touchdowns and averaged 4.8 yards a carry. Mayhew is one of the most exciting players in the conference. A 5-10, 210-pounder, Mayhew knows how to run between the tackles and get to the edge.

Best Defensive Players

Keith Pough, linebacker, Howard

When it comes to making plays defensively, Pough knows how to get it done. He had 120 total tackles and 71 were solo. He can also rush the passer with three sacks this season. Pough, a 6-3, 225-pound junior, is one of the best all-around defensive players in the league.

Donovan Richard, linebacker, South Carolina State

Richard can get to the football as quickly as any linebacker in the conference. When you played against South Carolina State, Richard was a big part of the scouting report. You had to know where he was on the field. He was terrific against the run. The 6-1, 215-pound senior had 119 total tackles and 60 were solo.

Best Freshman

Greg McGhee, quarterback, Howard

McGhee is not only the best freshman in the MEAC, but one of the top freshmen in the country. The 6-3, 195-pounder is a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award, which recognizes the best freshmen in the nation. McGhee completed 182 of 321 passes for 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He can throw the short pass as well as the deep ball down the middle of the field.

Best Coach

Gary Harrell, Howard

Harrell, nicknamed "The Flea" from his playing days at Howard, took on the big task of rebuilding the Bison program, which finished 1-10 last year. He more than made Howard one of the most improved teams in the conference. The Bison finished 4-4 in the MEAC and 5-6 overall. Harrell has the program heading in the right direction.


Best Offensive Players

Casey Therriault, quarterback, Jackson State

Therriault has one of the best quarterbacks in the FCS over the last two years. He does a great job of staying in the pocket and finding the open receiver. He can also throw the long pass. He completed 272 of 453 passes for 3,808 yards with 27 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Therriault made Jackson State one of the most explosive teams in the conference.

Nick Andrews, wide receiver, Alabama State

Andrews is one of the best receivers in the country. He led the SWAC with 72 receptions for 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns. He averaged 14.5 yards a catch. Andrews, a 5-9, 170-pound senior, is a solid NFL prospect.

Best Defensive Players

Adrian Hamilton, defensive end, Prairie View A&M

Hamilton put together a magnificent season. Hamilton was the best pass rusher in the SWAC with a conference-leading 19.5 sacks. He led the conference in tackles for loss with 26.5 hits. Moreover, the 6-3, 255-pound senior had 81 total and 59 solo tackles. He made a lot of plays for the Panthers.

Cliff Exama, linebacker, Grambling State

Exama consistently has been one of the best defensive players in the SWAC over the last two years. The Tigers' linebacker knows how to make contact. He plays the run extremely well and leads the SWAC with 122 total and 73 solo tackles. Exama is one of the players to watch in the upcoming Bayou Classic on Saturday, which features Grambling State and Southern University.

Best Freshman

Damian Wilson, defensive end, Alcorn State

Wilson had a tremendous year. He stepped in and made a huge difference right away. The 6-2, 250-pounder showed a great deal of versatility on the defensive line. Wilson was able to get a lot of pressure on the quarterback with 6.5 sacks. He was also a great run stopper posting 69 total and 34 solo tackles.

Best Coach

Heishma Northern, Prairie View A&M

Northern replaced Henry Frazier, who left Prairie View A&M for North Carolina Central. Northern, who was the Panthers' defensive coordinator, kept Prairie View A&M in contention for the SWAC Western Division title. The Panthers are 5-4. In addition, he has developed some great players like defensive end Adrian Hamilton and cornerback Moses Ellis.

HBCU Notes

Delaware State wide receiver Travis Tarpley was named the MEAC Offensive Player of the Week. Tarpley set a school record for receptions catching 13 passes for a season-high 150 yards and two touchdowns in a 39-36 win over Howard.

Delaware State linebacker Brandon Harvey was selected MEAC Defensive Player of the Week. Harvey had 16 total and 10 solo tackles to help the Hornets beat the Bison.

Norfolk State coach Pete Adrian is a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award, given annually to the top Division I FCS coach in the nation by The Sports Network. Adrian led Norfolk State to a 9-2 overall and 7-1 conference record. The Spartans won the MEAC championship and will face Old Dominion in the first round of the FCS playoffs.

HSRN Final Regular Season Division I-FSC Top 10 Poll

1. Norfolk State
2. Jackson State
3. Alabama A&M
4. Bethune-Cookman
5. Alabama State
6. South Carolina State
7. Florida A&M
8. Hampton
9. Grambling State
10. Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Boxtorow HBCU Football Media Top 10 Poll

1. Winston-Salem State
2. Norfolk State
3. Jackson State
4. Bethune-Cookman
5. Alabama A&M
6. South Carolina State
7. Alabama State
8. Morehouse
9. Florida A&M
10. Albany State

SBN Sports Network Black College Football Poll

1. Winston-Salem State
2. Bethune-Cookman
3. Norfolk State
4. Jackson State
5. South Carolina State
6. Alabama A&M
7. Alabama State
8. Grambling State
9. Florida A&M
10. Hampton

Alabama State and Tuskegee will play in 88th annual Turkey Day Classic on Thursday at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala.

Edward P. Hurt, former Morgan State coach who died in 1989, has been chosen as the American Football Coaches Association Trailblazer Award winner. The award will be given at the AFCA President's Kickoff Luncheon on Jan. 9 at the AFCA Convention in San Antonio. The award was created to honor the early leaders in the coaching profession who coached at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune. You can reach him at dhunt37261@aol.com.