Editor's Note: Cookeville Herald-Citizen Assistant Sports
Editor Thomas Corhern is a member of the Tennessee Sports Writer's
Association who voted on the honors, so TTUsports.com has chosen to
use his story from the Herald-Citizen to announce the awards. Click here to
go to the Herald-Citizen home page.
By THOMAS CORHERN
HERALD-CITIZEN Assistant Sports Editor
COOKEVILLE — As the Tennessee Sports Writers Association (TSWA) announced its college football awards on Friday morning, it was probably a little surprising not to see any representation from Knoxville, Nashville or Memphis.
Nope, both awards are heading to Cookeville.
Tennessee Tech head coach Watson Brown was named the TSWA's Coach of the Year, while senior wide receiver Tim Benford was named the Player of the Year, winning the votes of sportswriters across the state.
Benford beat out Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy (1,193 yards, 14 TDs) for the award by one vote. Also nominated for the award was Ryan Consiglio (LB, Chattanooga), Da'Rick Rogers (WR, Tennessee), Malik Johnson (DL, Tennessee), Torrey Slaven (QB, Tusculum), Dontey Gay (RB, Tennessee Tech), Mike German (QB, Tennessee State), Rico Council (LB, Tennessee State), Derek Carr (QB, UT Martin), Ben Johnson (LB, UT Martin) and Logan Kilgore (QB, Middle Tennessee).
"Against that group," Brown said, "that's a huge indication of how good an athlete Tim is. He has just had a phenomenal year, but the accolades come not only from him playing, but from winning."
Brown won the vote against Vanderbilt's James Franklin, Cumberland's Dwayne Alexander and Bethel's Dino Kaklis.
Benford had a strong season for the Golden Eagles, catching 65 passes for 923 yards and five touchdowns. Among his many honors this season, Benford was named the Ohio Valley Conference's Offensive Player of the Year. He was named to two All-America squads — a third-team pick on the Phil Steele Football Championship Subdivision All-America team, and a second-team All-American by the Sports Network.
"When you have a player like the caliber of Tim Benford — there was no ego. There's games where he caught one or two passes," Brown said. "They were double-teaming him, triple-teaming him. He never said a word. He was never saying, 'Throw to me more.'"
Benford was also selected to play in the East-West Shrine Game last week in St. Petersburg, Fla. He caught the first two passes of the game for 36 yards.
Benford's performance there may have been a boost towards continuing his goal of playing professionally.
"Tim was just invited to the NFL Combine (Thursday)," Brown said. "That puts him among the top 250 players in the country. Great things are happening for Tim. He had a great week at the East-West game, and he had to battle for time with nine receivers. With the little bit of time he was mixed in with them, they threw to him twice and he caught them. He had about the yards per catch he had for us during the season.
"He really helped himself in that game, and that may have been the piece that put him over the hump for the Combine, because the week before I got an email from the NFL saying he was on the bubble to get in. That's good, because you're real close. I think he went down the East-West game, represented himself well and they gave him another shot. Now, talk about a big shot for him. He goes down there and performs well, he's on his way."
Benford ended his career at Tech with 217 receptions and 3,104 yards — both of which rank second in OVC history.
Brown led the Golden Eagles to their first OVC championship since 1975 and a final ranking of 19th in the FCS Coaches' Poll and 21st in the Sports Network/Fathead.com poll.
Tech finished 7-3, 6-2 in the OVC, and advanced to its first appearance in the FCS playoffs, falling to Central Arkansas in the first round.
The championship was Brown's first in his 27-year career, and he finished ninth in the voting for the Eddie Robinson Award, presented to the FCS coach of the year.
"Any award for a coach comes from your players and coaches," Brown said. "When you've got good players that play together and play hard and good coaches that are there for them and can motivate them... I've said it from the middle of the season, this is the easiest season I've had and it ended up being a championship year, but I didn't know that at midseason. They just got along. There were no egos. Good things happened because of it, and that's a credit to the players and coaches."
Now, the goal for Brown is to do it all again.
"I can't be thankful enough for the easy year," Brown said. "I hope we get to do that again. I hope my team reacts like last year's did. This one coming up, it's a new team. They've got to come up again. We have to make sure the kids understand that this is a different team now. We're going to have a lot of people back, and there's a lot to do before that happens."