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Thursday, December 19, 2002
Romo captures Walter Payton Award as top I-AA player

Associated Press

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- Eastern Illinois quarterback Tony Romo won the Walter Payton Award on Thursday night as the outstanding player in Division I-AA football.

Romo, a 6-foot-3, 224-pound senior, won the top honor at the 16th Annual Division I-AA College Football Awards ceremony. Romo is a three-time Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year, the only player to ever accomplish that feat.

Bethune-Cookman record-setting defensive back Rashean Mathis won the Buck Buchanan Award as I-AA's top defensive player. Mathis set two I-AA records this year with 14 interceptions and 445 interception return yards.

Mathis broke Dean Cain's record of 12 interceptions in a season, set in 1987 with Princeton. He also broke the previous record of 280 return yards, set by Murray State's William Hampton.

The Eddie Robinson Award for coach of the year went to McNeese State's Tommy Tate, who has led the Cowboys to a 13-1 record this season and berth in Friday night's championship game against Western Kentucky (11-3).

Tate is 29-9 during his three years as head coach at McNeese State, and has been with the Lake Charles, La., program for 23 years as a player and coach.

Dayton won the Sports Network Cup as the top team among I-AA's mid-majors. Dayton beat out Duquesne in a poll of mid-major sports information directors, media and athletic directors.