SAINT LOUIS, Mo. -- San Diego junior quarterback Anthony Lawrence and senior defensive lineman Jonathan Petersen were named the Pioneer Football League's Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, respectively, leading the league's 2017 Major Award recipients, presented Monday. Lawrence, the league's 2015 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year, becomes the second-straight San Diego student-athlete to earn the league's top offensive honor. Petersen was a unanimous pick as the league's top defensive standout.
Dayton return specialist Christian Searles was named the PFL Special Teams Player of the Year. In addition, Valparaiso head coach Dave Cecchini was selected as the league's Coach of the Year. The league also presented its top freshman awards, Monday. Campbell quarterback Daniel Smith was tabbed the PFL Freshman Offensive Player of the Year and Stetson defensive back J.J. Henderson nabbed the league's Freshman Defensive Player of the Year.
These honors launch the PFL's annual awards week. The PFL will announce its 25th All-PFL Teams, Tuesday. The league will announce its Scholar-Athlete of the Year, Wednesday, coinciding with the announcement of the 25th Academic All-PFL teams.
Lawrence, La Mesa, California, a finalist for the STATS FCS Walter Payton Award, was a three-time PFL Offensive Player of the Week honoree during the season. He finished the regular season ranked among the FCS' Top 50 in 11 statistical categories, including ranking second in passing touchdowns (30) and fourth in both passing efficiency (170.1) and completion percentage (67.3). Lawrence threw just two interceptions during the campaign, one of those coming on a game-ending "Hail Mary" attempt at Princeton. Following Saturday's 41-10 playoff win at Northern Arizona, his season totals are now 232-for-349 (66.5%) for 3,204 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Petersen, of Poway, California, was the FCS leader in sacks and tackles for loss and a finalist for the STATS FCS Buck Buchanan Award. He ended the regular season with 13 sacks (1.18 per game) and 20 tackles for loss (1.80 per game), both FCS bests, while ranking second in the subdivision in forced fumbles (0.45 per game). Following his outstanding performance against NAU where he tacked on two more sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery, Petersen is the FCS active career leader in sacks with a San Diego-record 41 sacks and needs just two sacks to set the FCS career sacks mark. His season totals heading into Saturday's game at North Dakota State are: 15 sacks (-116 yards), 22.5 tackles for loss (-136 yards), 43 tackles (27 solo), 8 quarterback hurries, 6 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries.
Searles, of Chicago, ranked seventh among all FCS kick returners with 825 combined kick return yards in 2017. He also ranked among the FCS Top 30 in kick return average (28th, 23.8 yards per return) and punt return average (30th, 7.6 yards per return), ranking second in both categories among PFL kick return specialists.
Smith, of Leesburg, Virginia, needed just 10 games to amass 1,269 rushing yards and 3,158 yards total offense. A finalist for STATS FCS Jerry Rice Award, he ended the regular season leading all FCS rushers with 9.13 yards per carry while ranking fourth in total rushing yards while ranking second in yardage per game (126.9). Smith had six 100-yard rushing performances during the season, including a 289-yard outing at Davidson.
Henderson, of Tampa, Fla., led all PFL freshmen in both total tackles (71) and passes defended (11) in 2017. He finished 10th among all FCS freshmen in total tackles and 17th among all PFL defenders in total tackles. Nine of his 11 pass breakups came in PFL play, including a season-best four against Davidson.
Checchini, who finished his fourth season at Valparaiso, earns his first PFL Coach of the year award after leading the Crusaders to their first winning record since 2003. Valparaiso's third-place finish in the 2017 PFL race also was the program's best conference result since the league returned to single-division play in 2006. Checchini, who is a finalist for the STATS FCS Award, becomes the first Valparaiso head coach to earn Coach of the Year honors since 2003 when Tom Horne notched his second award.
San Diego won the 2017 PFL title outright with an unblemished 8-0 mark. It is the Toreros ninth PFL crown, all coming since the 2005 campaign (13-season span). Saturday's 41-10 victory over No. 25 Northern Arizona also marks the second straight season for the Toreros to win their first-round playoff game.
2017 PFL AWARDS
Offensive Player of the Year: Anthony Lawrence, San Diego
Defensive Player of the Year: Jonathan Petersen, San Diego (unanimous)
Special Teams Player of the Year: Christian Searles, Dayton
Freshman Offensive Player of the Year: Daniel Smith, Campbell
Freshman Defensive Player of the Year: JJ Henderson, Stetson
Coach of the Year: Dave Cecchini, Valparaiso
All-PFL Teams: To be announced, Tuesday
Scholar-Athlete of the Year: To be announced, Wednesday
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