Here’s everything you need to know about the annual honor, presented by Stats Perform FCS.
FCS Walter Payton Award: What is it and who is it named after?
The Walter Payton Award debuted in 1987 to honor the most outstanding player in the Football Championship Subdivision. In 1995, with the introduction of the Buck Buchanan Award for top defensive player, the Payton Award was altered to only recognize the top offensive player.
A national panel of more than 150 sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries vote on the award’s winner, based on players’ regular-season performances. Voting is conducted before the start of FCS playoffs.
The Walter Payton Award is one of five national awards announced by STATS FCS:
- Walter Payton Award (FCS offensive player of the year)
- Buck Buchanan Award (FCS defensive player of the year)
- Jerry Rice Award (FCS freshman of the year)
- Eddie Robinson Award (FCS coach of the year)
- Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete of the Year
The offensive player of the year award’s namesake, Walter Payton, was an NFL legend with the Chicago Bears, earning nine Pro Bowl trips, 1977 MVP honors and a 1986 Super Bowl ring. The all-time great running back began his journey at FCS program Jackson State from 1971-74.
Payton, a two-time FCS All-American, rushed for 3,600 total yards and scored 63 touchdowns in four years at Jackson State. He is a member of both the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio and the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, Georgia.
FCS Walter Payton Award: When is the winner announced?
The Walter Payton Award winner is revealed annually at the STATS FCS Awards Banquet and Presentation the night before the FCS championship game in Frisco, Texas. The 2020-21 recipient was announced Saturday, May 15, 2021 in a broadcasted show.
All five STATS FCS national honors are celebrated at the banquet, though the Jerry Rice, Eddie Robinson and Doris Robinson winners are all announced ahead of time. The Payton and Buchanan award winners are revealed for the first time as part of the ceremony.
The first 25-man Walter Payton Award watch list is released in the preseason by STATS FCS. The list has updates periodically throughout the regular season, culminating in the invitation of finalists to attend the banquet.
FCS Walter Payton Award: Complete history of past recipients
Southeastern Louisiana quarterback Cole Kelley is the 34th recipient of the Walter Payton Award after beating out fellow finalists Eric Barriere (Eastern Washington) and Julius Chestnut (Sacred Heart). Kelley led the FCS in passing yards (2,662), completions (210), total offensive yards (2,708) and total touchdowns (27 total; 18 passing, seven rushing and two receiving) in seven games.
Preceding Kelley, future No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft Trey Lance won the 2019-20 award to become the first winner out of North Dakota State and the first freshman to be honored.
Quarterbacks have accounted for a position-best 23 winners since the award debuted in 1987, including the last five seasons. Nine running backs and two wide receivers have also been honored. Eastern Washington and Villanova lead all schools with three winners apiece.
Only two players have lifted the hardware in consecutive years: Appalachian State standout quarterback Armanti Edwards won in 2008 and ’09, and Sam Houston State QB Jeremiah Briscoe took it home in 2016 and ’17.
Other notable past honorees include eventual NFL stars Cooper Kupp (Eastern Washington, 2015), Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois, 2013), Tony Romo (Eastern Illinois, 2002), Brian Westbrook (Villanova, 2001) and Steve McNair (Alcorn State, 1994). See the full list below.
FCS Walter Payton Award winners (1987-2019):
|2020||Cole Kelley, Southeastern Louisiana||Quarterback|
|2019||Trey Lance, North Dakota State||Quarterback||Watch his highlights|
|2018||Devlin Hodges, Samford||Quarterback|
|2017||Jeremiah Briscoe, Sam Houston State||Quarterback|
|2016||Jeremiah Briscoe, Sam Houston State||Quarterback|
|2015||Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington||Wide receiver|
|2014||John Robertson, Villanova||Quarterback|
|2013||Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois||Quarterback||Watch his highlights|
|2012||Taylor Heinicke, Old Dominion||Quarterback||Watch his highlights|
|2011||Bo Levi Mitchell, Eastern Washington||Quarterback|
|2010||Jeremy Moses, Stephen F. Austin||Quarterback|
|2009||Armanti Edwards, Appalachian State||Quarterback|
|2008||Armanti Edwards, Appalachian State||Quarterback|
|2007||Jayson Foster, Georgia Southern||Quarterback|
|2006||Ricky Santos, New Hampshire||Quarterback|
|2005||Erik Meyer, Eastern Washington||Quarterback|
|2004||Lang Campbell, William & Mary||Quarterback|
|2003||Jamaal Branch, Colgate||Running back|
|2002||Tony Romo, Eastern Illinois||Quarterback|
|2001||Brian Westbrook, Villanova||Running back|
|2000||Louis Ivory, Furman||Running back|
|1999||Adrian Peterson, Georgia Southern||Running back|
|1998||Jerry Azumah, New Hampshire||Running back|
|1997||Brian Finneran, Villanova||Wide receiver|
|1996||Archie Amerson, Northern Arizona||Running back|
|1995||Dave Dickenson, Montana||Quarterback|
|1994||Steve McNair, Alcorn State||Quarterback|
|1993||Doug Nussmeier, Idaho||Quarterback|
|1992||Michael Payton, Marshall||Quarterback|
|1991||Jamie Martin, Weber State||Quarterback|
|1990||Walter Dean, Grambling State||Running back|
|1989||John Friesz, Idaho||Quarterback|
|1988||Dave Meggett, Towson||Running back|
|1987||Kenny Gamble, Colgate||Running back|