Cullowhee, N.C. - A combined 16 Western Carolina football players were honored on Tuesday as the Southern Conference unveiled its 2015 All-Southern Conference and All-Freshman post-season teams from both the league's head coaches and voting members of the SoCon Sports Media Association (SCSMA).
Three Catamounts were unanimous first team selections by both the coaches and media including running back Detrez Newsome, tight end Tyler Sexton, and defensive lineman Caleb Hawkins. Another trio of Catamounts were tabbed second team by both voting groups including quarterback Troy Mitchell, offensive lineman Josh Wineberg, and defensive back Trey Morgan.
WCU had two players earn split votes from the two tabulations including redshirt sophomore linebacker Daniel Riddle earning first team honors from the media and a second team nod from the coaches. Redshirt freshman punter Ian Berryman tallied three honors, landing on the coaches' first team and all-freshman team, as well as garnering second team from the media.
Redshirt senior wide receiver Karnorris Benson collected second team plaudits from the league's head coaches while three earned second team honors from the media including senior defensive back Sertonuse Harris, junior linebacker Tyson Dickson, and redshirt senior offensive lineman Jake Thornton.
Additionally, five players completing their first year of college competition were selected to the All-Freshman team by the league's head coaches including Berryman, offensive linemen Zach Weeks and Nathan Dalton, defensive back Marvin Tillman, and placekicker Logan Howard.
All told, WCU's 16 honorees were the program's most all-time since the league began recognizing an all-freshman team in 2008. The 12 players selected either first or second team by the coaches and media were one shy of the school benchmark of 13 set back in 1984 and matched again in 2014.
The coaches named both first and second teams on offense, defense, and special teams. Because of ties in the voting, the first team included two return specialists and the second team included an additional defensive back, bringing the total honored to 26 student-athletes on both the first and second teams. The eight league coaches, who could not vote for their own players or themselves, also selected a 25-man all-freshman team with 11 offensive players, 11 defensive players, and three specialists, with no regard for position.
In all, each SoCon team had at least two all-conference selections and one all-freshman pick. League co-champion, Chattanooga, put seven players each on the first and second teams and added three all-freshman selections. Samford and Western Carolina followed with nine all-conference picks each, with the Bulldogs putting six on the first team and the Catamounts four. The Citadel put four on both the first and second teams for a total of eight selections. Mercer and Western Carolina paced the league with five all-freshman team picks each.
Ten student-athletes who earned first-team honors last year repeated this season, while two more earned second-team honors this year. Six second-team picks from 2014 earned first-team honors this year, all on the defensive side of the ball, while another five repeated on the second team.
In the media tabulations, Chattanooga led all schools with seven first-team selections. Western Carolina had a total of 10 players earn all-conference honors, including six on the second team. The Citadel and Samford both had eight all-conference honorees. All eight SoCon schools were represented on both all-conference teams. Due to a tie in the voting, there was a position added at linebacker on the second team.
Western Carolina's 2015 All-Southern Conference Selections:
Sophomore tailback Detrez Newsome became just the ninth Catamount running back since 1967 -- and the first since Darius Fudge in 2006 -- to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark in a season, posting the fourth-best total in single-season in school history with 1,109 yards on the ground. Newsome led the Southern Conference in rushing, the only back to average over 100-yards on the ground (100.8 yds/gm), and finished the regular season ranked 10th in the nation in rushing.
A product of Raeford, N.C., Newsome closed the season by matching a career-long streak with his third-consecutive, 100-yard rushing performance at VMI, by-passing the 1,000-yard mark in the second quarter of the road victory. He twice rushed for over 100 yards against teams from the Southeastern Conference,
Newsome led Western Carolina in scoring with 72 points, tallying 12 touchdowns including nine on the ground and the first three TD receptions of his career to accompany 281 receiving yards. Adding in 389 yards on kickoff returns, Newsome averaged a SoCon-leading 161.7 all-purpose yards per game, ending the regular season sixth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).
Newsome collected SoCon Offensive Player of the Week in early October following a 237 all-purpose yard performance that included a career-high 189 rushing yards in the win over Presbyterian.
Junior tight end Tyler Sexton became an integral part of the Catamount offense, collecting a pair of first team nods following the season. He finished fourth on the team in receiving with career-highs in receptions (31) and receiving yards (385), averaging 38.5 receiving yards per game and over 12 yards per reception. He and his position counter parts played an integral role in giving WCU its first 1,000-yard rusher since 2006.
Sexton, a Flat Rock, N.C., native, posted a career-high 102 receiving yards in a home SoCon victory over Samford. He finished the year with a career-best 20 points including three receiving touchdowns and a two-point conversion. He missed the regular season finale after suffering a broken arm against SEC-foe, Texas A&M.
A senior defensive end from Durham, N.C., Caleb Hawkins closed his Catamount career strong, finishing with 48 tackles including 23 solo stops. Hawkins led the defensive linemen with 10 tackles for loss -- second on the Catamount squad -- while pacing the team with his single-season best 6.5 sacks, a mark that ranked him fourth in the SoCon. Hawkins forced a team-high three fumbles with one recovery this season.
For his career, Hawkins finished with 177 career tackles from his end position including 26.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 career sacks.
Senior quarterback Troy Mitchell nearly rewrote Western Carolina's offensive record books during his four-year career, earning a pair of second team nods from the voting media and league's coaches behind first team selection -- and conference offensive Player of the Year, Chattanooga's Jacob Huesman. Mitchell closed his storied career as WCU's all-time leader in pass attempts (1,051), pass completions (655), passing yards (7,354), passing touchdowns (50), touchdowns accounted for (69), and total offense in a career (9,397), which included a WCU single-season record of 3,096 yards as a junior.
Mitchell, a product of Houston, Texas, also finished ranked in numerous SoCon records including fourth in total offense in a career, seventh in career passing yards, eighth in touchdown responsibility, and 10th in career rushing yards by a quarterback (2,043)
This season, Mitchell finished third in the SoCon in both passing yards per game (212.5 yds/gm) and total offense per game (257.0) -- 26th nationally -- while ranking fifth in passer efficiency (131.7).
Senior offensive lineman Josh Wineberg was named second team All-SoCon by both the coaches and voting media. Finishing his career with 40-consecutive starts among his 45 career games, Wineberg was instrumental in WCU seeing its first 1,000-yard rusher since 2006. The West Jefferson, N.C., native was Western Carolina's highest graded offensive lineman at over 90-percent for the season.
Junior defensive back Trey Morgan was the third Catamount to collect second team honors from both voting groups. Morgan was a preseason All-SoCon selection that continued to draw the assignment of opponent's top receivers in 2015. He finished sixth on the Catamount squad with a single-season career-high 65 total tackles including 40 solo stops and three tackles for loss. A product of North Augusta, S.C., Morgan successfully defended seven passes this year with two interceptions to give him nine for his career, just shy of WCU's all-time top 10 entering his senior campaign.
Two Catamounts earned split votes but were represented on both post-season teams. Daniel Riddle, who led Western Carolina -- and the Southern Conference -- in tackles during the regular season collected first team honors from the media and second recognition from the league's head coaches. A two-time SoCon Player of the Week and selected the top defensive player in October, Riddle finished with 129 tackles including 46 solo stops and three for losses. The Raleigh, N.C., native posted double-digit tackles in nine of WCU's 11 seasonal games and concluded the regular season seventh in the country in tackles per game (11.7).
Redshirt freshman punter Ian Berryman received a trio of accolades following the season including first team All-SoCon from the coaches, second team from the media, and All-Freshman team distinction, also from the coaches. Among the top 20 finalists for the STATS FCS Freshman of the Year, Berryman ranked second in the SoCon -- and ninth nationally -- in punting average at 43.7 yards per kick, the third-best individual season average in WCU history. A native of Marietta, Ga., Berryman punted 58 times with 14 punts of 50 yards or more including a career-long of 65 yards against Samford. He also downed 22 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line and forced 11 fair catches with just five touchbacks.
Redshirt senior Karnorris Benson earned second team honors from the league's head coaches after leading WCU in receiving with 43 catches for 684 yards and five touchdowns. Benson ranked tied for sixth in the SoCon in receptions per game (3.9) and was fifth in receiving yards per outing (62.2). The Atlanta, Ga., product hauled in five TD receptions during the year.
Benson concluded his Catamount career with his second, 100-yard receiving outing of the season with 121 yards at VMI giving him eight, 100-yard career performances. He closed his career with 2,386 receiving yards, eighth in WCU's career record books. He had 153 career catches, seventh in program history, with his 23 career receiving TDs ranking him second in school history, just three shy of all-time record holder Gerald Harp (26, 1977-80).
Three Catamounts earned All-SoCon second team honors from the voting media only, led by senior defensive back Sertonuse Harris. The Mableton, Ga., product finished tied for fourth on the team with 68 tackles including 30 solo stops and 3.5 tackles for loss. He was credited with a pair of pass break-ups, two fumble recoveries, and returned a lateraled interception 30 yards in the win over Presbyterian.
Playing multiple positions from linebacker to the defensive secondary, Harris -- who was a team captain in 2015 -- finished his four-year Catamount career with 325 tackles to rank sixth in program history for career tackles.
Harris was joined by linebacker Tyson Dickson on the media's second team. Dickson was second only to Riddle on the WCU squad in tackles this season, recording 96 stops with 43 solo tackles. Dickson was seventh in the SoCon after the regular season in tackles per game (8.7). The Ellenwood, Ga., native paced the Catamounts -- and ranked tied for fourth in the SoCon -- with 10.5 tackles for loss including matching a program single-game record with five TFL's in the road win over Wofford.
Rounding out WCU's All-SoCon selections was offensive lineman Jake Thornton, a second team media honoree. Thornton anchored the middle of the Catamount offensive line at the center position, finishing his WCU career by starting all 33 games in which he saw action. Thornton, who transferred to WCU from Carson-Newman prior to the 2012 season, graded out at over 86-percent as a senior and like fellow all-conference honoree, Wineberg, was crucial in WCU securing a 1,000-yard rusher in Newsome.
In addition to the aforementioned Berryman, four other Catamount freshman earned recognition at season's end from the league's head coaches with All-Freshman team plaudits. Offensive linemen Zach Weeks (Bryson City, N.C.) and Nathan Dalton (East Flat Rock, N.C.), both of which graded out at over 82-percent on the season, earned the nod. Defensive back Marvin Tillman was recognized, finishing the year inside the top 50 in tackles in the league with 4.3 hits per game -- the third-best among freshman defenders. The Bridgeport, Conn., standout tallied 47 seasonal stops including a career-high 12 against nationally-ranked Chattanooga, with an interception coming against SEC-foe, Texas A&M.
True freshman placekicker Logan Howard was also honored. The Kernersville, N.C., product ranked second on the Catamount squad in scoring with 69 points including 12-of-14 on field goals and 33-of-35 on PATs. He finished tied for second in the SoCon with an 85.7-percent success rate on field goals, averaging 1.09 per game, and was sixth in the league in overall scoring. Howard was perfect both between 20-29 yards and 40-49 yards with a pair of 40-yard boots in the win over Presbyterian including a career-long of 46 which earned him SoCon Special Teams Player of the Week.
Western Carolina finished the season at 7-4, tallying its first back-to-back winning seasons since a run of three from 1992-94. It was also WCU's first consecutive seven-win seasons since 1983-84, going 11-3-1 and 8-3, respectively. This season marked just the third time since 2000 that a Catamount football team won seven-or-more games -- and just the sixth time since becoming a NCAA Division I program in 1976.