2011, Bo Levi Mitchell, QB, Eastern Washington
-- Mitchell was named the 25th winner of the Walter Payton Award. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Mitchell led the nation in passing yards (4,009) and touchdown passes (33) during the regular season. As Eastern Washington's offense suffered seven key injuries (including five that were season-ending), the Big Sky's offensive player of the year averaged 364.5 passing yards per game, which ranks ninth in FCS history. He completed 318-of-503 attempts (63.2 percent), with 13 interceptions. The Eagles finished with a 6-5 record.
2010, Jeremy Moses, QB, Stephen F. Austin
-- Moses was named the 24th winner of the Walter Payton Award. During the regular season, the 6-foot, 195-pound Moses led the FCS in pass attempts (499), completions (303), touchdown passes (34) and passing yards (3,658), yet threw only four interceptions. He helped lead the Lumberjacks to the Southland Conference title and into the playoffs for a second straight season. They lost in the second round and finished with a 9-3 record. Moses, who was seventh in last season's Payton Award voting, is the first Southland Conference player to win the award. In 1989, SFA quarterback Todd Hammel was the runner-up. Over his four-year career, Moses completed an FCS-record 1,184 passes (on 1,893 attempts) for 13,401 yards and 121 touchdowns. He averaged 304.6 passing yards in his 44 games.
2009, Armanti Edwards, QB, Appalachian State
-- Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards became the first player to capture the award in back-to-back seasons and the first two-time winner of the Payton Award. Appalachian State linebacker Dexter Coakley, who won the first two Buck Buchanan Awards in 1995-96, and James Madison coach Mickey Matthews, who won the Eddie Robinson Award in 1999 and again in 2008, are the only other two-time award winners at the FCS level. The 6-foot, 185-pound senior signal-caller became the first quarterback in NCAA history to pass for more than 10,000 yards and rush for over 4,000 yards in his career. He ranked third nationally in total offense and fifth in passing efficiency in the regular season, and finished with 3,291 yards passing and 679 yards rushing, with 30 combined touchdowns for 2009. For his career, Edwards finished with 14,753 yards of total offense, ranking him second on the all- time list behind Alcorn State great Steve McNair. For the second year in a row, Edwards finished first by a landslide, with 55 first-place votes and 431 points. Terrell Hudgins of Elon became the highest-placing receiver since Villanova's Brian Finneran won the award in 1997, finishing second with 268 points, just ahead of Southern Illinois running back Deji Karim. Edwards was a third-round draft choice in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers.
2008, Armanti Edwards, QB, Appalachian State
-- Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards was named the 22nd winner of the Walter Payton Award. The 6-foot-tall, 184-pound junior signal-caller rushed for 941 yards and 11 touchdowns, while completing 64% of his passes for 2,902 yards and 30 touchdowns. He ranked second nationally in passing efficiency, seventh in total offense (296 yards per game, 3,843 total yards) and 11th in passing yards. Edwards, one of the team captains for the Mountaineers, saved his best games for the brightest spotlight. Facing South Carolina State in the first round of the 2008 playoffs, Edwards completed 29-of-41 passes for a school-record 433 yards and four touchdowns, breaking predecessor Richie Williams' mark of 413 in 2004 in a 37-21 win. Edwards finished first in one of the most lopsided Payton Award races in history with 53 first-place votes and 398 points. James Madison quarterback Rodney Landers was second with 17 first-place votes and 290 points, with Western Illinois running back Herb Donaldson placing third with 209 points.
2007, Jayson Foster, QB, Georgia Southern
-- Foster was named the 21st winner of the Walter Payton Award. Foster rushed for an NCAA all-divisions quarterback record of 1,844 yards (7.1 yards per carry) with 24 touchdowns during the 2007 season. The senior also completed 109-of-170 passes for 1,203 yards and six touchdowns. Foster is the second Georgia Southern player to win the Payton Award, joining 1999 honoree Adrian Peterson, and is the fourth Southern Conference player to be so honored, along with Peterson, 1992 winner Michael Payton of Marshall and 2000 recipient Louis Ivory of Furman. Foster received 24 first-place votes and 224 points out of 100 ballots cast by a panel of sports information directors and selected media. He finished 40 points ahead of Northern Iowa quarterback Eric Sanders, and 58 points in front of San Diego quarterback Josh Johnson. Foster has spent time on the practice squads of the NFL Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens.
2006, Ricky Santos, QB, New Hampshire
-- Santos threw for 2,681 yards and 23 touchdowns and ran for 385 yards and 12 scores in the regular season, and directed a New Hampshire offense that threw for 249.6 yards per game and ranked third nationally with 36.5 ppg. Santos tossed only five interceptions all season, and led the Wildcats to the playoffs for the third consecutive season. Santos excelled in the first round of the postseason as well, as he threw for 318 yards and five touchdown passes to lead New Hampshire past Hampton, 41-38. Santos got off to a fast start with five total touchdowns to lead New Hampshire to a 34-17 victory at Northwestern. He also notched five passing touchdowns in a win against Dartmouth, and exploded with five total touchdowns and 391 yards of total offense to lead the Wildcats to a 52-49 victory in a shootout against Delaware. He helped the Wildcats to a 5-0 start and the No. 1 ranking in the country for the first half of the season. Santos recorded 458 yards of total offense and five total touchdowns in a 36-35 loss in overtime at Northeastern, and continued to play well even while the Wildcats lost three out of four games. With his team's playoff fate on the line, Santos once again notched five total touchdowns to lead the Wildcats past Rhode Island, 63-21, and scored a pair of rushing touchdowns to lift New Hampshire to a playoff spot with a 19-13 victory in overtime over Maine. As a junior, Santos completed the regular season with 9,796 passing yards, 93 touchdown passes and only 24 interceptions in his career, and then added six more touchdown passes in the playoffs. Santos spent time on the NFL Kansas City Chiefs roster and is currently in his second season with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.
2005, Erik Meyer, QB, Eastern Washington
-- Meyer threw for 3,616 passing yards in the regular season, and directed an Eastern Washington offense that finished second nationally in passing yardage (337.6 ypg) and third in total offense (477.7 ypg). Meyer threw for 26 touchdowns and five interceptions, and added four touchdowns in a playoff loss to Northern Iowa to finish with a 169.3 passer rating. That rating helped Meyer finish with a 166.47 career passer rating, which broke the FCS record of 166.27 set by 1995 Payton Award winner Dave Dickenson. Meyer also helped the Eagles earn the Big Sky's automatic berth to the playoffs. Meyer performed well throughout the season and led the Eagles to at least 23 points in every contest. Meyer threw for more than 300 yards in the first three games of the season, though the Eagles started 1-2. After wins against Northern Arizona and Portland State, Meyer made his defining mark on the season at Montana. Meyer put on a near-flawless show with a 28-for-40, 395-yard, five-touchdown effort in a 34-20 win. In a must-win game, Meyer orchestrated a 35-14 win against Montana State (254 total yards, 2 TD) that put the Eagles in position to claim a share of the Big Sky title. Meyer finished with a gaudy 9,874 yards passing, 80 touchdowns and only 17 interceptions in his career. Meyer spent time in training camps of the NFL Cincinnati Bengals, Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders. Meyer played briefly with the Cologne Centurions in NFL Europe (2007) and was on the practice squad of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2009) of the CFL.
2004, Lang Campbell, QB, William & Mary
-- Campbell led William & Mary to its first-ever semifinal appearance and a share of the Atlantic 10 title. He finished the regular season with just one interception, and threw for a school-record 3,988 yards and 30 touchdowns for the year. Campbell also ran for 317 yards and seven touchdowns and totaled 307.5 yards of total offense per game. He came up huge in critical Tribe games at the end of the season and into the playoffs. Campbell led the Tribe to wins in their final four regular season games, with a 26-of-33, 323-yard, two-touchdown effort in a 27-24 win at James Madison to help the Tribe claim a share of the A-10 title. In the quarterfinals, Campbell led the Tribe back from a 31-10 fourth-quarter deficit against Delaware. He threw for 342 yards and three touchdowns in the contest. Campbell is the fourth Walter Payton Award winner from the Atlantic 10, but the first-ever quarterback. Campbell spent time in training camps of the NFL Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons. He also played with the Berlin Thunder (2006) of NFL Europe. He played one season with the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena League Football.
2003, Jamaal Branch, RB, Colgate
-- Branch set FCS records with 2,326 yards rushing and 29 rushing touchdowns to lead Colgate to a Patriot League title, 15-1 overall record, and the school's first appearance in the national championship game. Branch had a record-setting 12 games of over 100 yards rushing, and broke the 200-yard barrier on four occasions. He posted a season and career high 280 yards on the ground and three touchdowns in a win against Holy Cross. Branch led all of Division I with 168.8 rushing yards and 12.5 points per game during the 2003 regular season. In the semifinals against Florida Atlantic, Branch ran 45 times for 130 yards and a score to lift Colgate to a 36-24 win. Branch became the second Colgate player to win the Payton Award, and the first since Kenny Gamble won the first-ever Payton Award in 1987. Branch played for the NFL New Orleans Saints in 2006-07. After signing with the Saints on December 29, 2006, Branch scored his first NFL touchdown just two days later.
2002, Tony Romo, QB, Eastern Illinois
Romo passed for 2,950 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2002, completing 237 of 363 passes (65.3 percent) in leading Eastern Illinois to an 8-3 record, the Ohio Valley Conference co-title, and a FCS playoff berth. He headed one of the most prolific offenses in the nation during the 2002 season, as the Panthers averaged 37.7 points per game despite the presence of two I-A opponents and no sub-FCS competition on their '02 slate. The Burlington, WI native finished his career with 84 touchdown passes, shattering the previous school mark of 75 held by current New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton. Romo was signed as a free agent by the Cowboys following his senior season. Romo is now playing quarterback in his seventh season with the Dallas Cowboys and has thrown for over 10,500 yards with 81 touchdowns. Romo has been a starter since the 2006 season.
2001, Brian Westbrook, RB, Villanova
-- Westbrook concluded an incredible collegiate career with a brilliant senior season that included 1,603 rushing yards, 59 receptions, and 29 touchdowns for the Atlantic 10 quad-champions. Westbrook became the second Villanova player to win the Payton, and the program joined Idaho as the only schools with two winners of the Award. The Fort Washington, MD native led FCS with 2,823 all-purpose yards, just two years removed from major knee surgery that forced him to miss the 1999 season. Westbrook's 9,512 all-purpose yards are an NCAA all-divisions record, and his single-season all-purpose yard figures in 1998, 2000, and 2001 are the three-best totals in FCS history. Westbrook was selected in the third round of the 2002 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, and is currently in his eighth pro season. Westbrook was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2004 and 2007 and has scored 64 touchdowns, while rushing and receiving for over 9,300 yards.
2000, Louis Ivory, RB, Furman
Ivory had a breakthrough season in 2000, amassing 2,079 regular season yards and 16 touchdowns to become the second straight Southern Conference underclassman to claim the Payton. The Fort Valley, GA native went over the 100-yard plateau 11 times during the season, leading Furman to a Southern Conference co-title and second consecutive playoff berth. Ivory may have sealed the Payton with a 301-yard, three-touchdown effort in a 45-10 victory over reigning (and eventual) national champion Georgia Southern. Ivory's heroics continued in the postseason, as he accumulated 172-yards and two-touchdowns in a first round playoff loss to Hofstra. For his career, Ivory rushed for 5,353 yards and 53 touchdowns, averaging 6.3 yards per carry. Ivory, who had his number 34 retired by Furman, holds nearly every Paladin career rushing record.
1999, Adrian Peterson, RB, Georgia Southern
-- Peterson became the first Southern Conference player to win the Payton since Marshall's Michael Payton in 1992, and like his SoCon predecessor, led his team to a FCS National Championship. In only his sophomore season, the fullback put up eye-popping totals of 2,704 yards and 40 touchdowns, rushing for over 100 yards in all 15 games for the Eagles. Peterson bolted for 247 yards and three touchdowns on just 25 carries in a 59-24 championship game win over Youngstown State. The Alachua, FL native picked up 9,161 yards, 114 touchdowns, and two national titles in his career, and graduated as the NCAA FCS all-time leader with 6,559 regular season rushing yards. Peterson is well known for "The Run," in which he broke numerous tackles en route to a 58-yard gain during the 1999 Championship game victory against Youngstown State. Peterson was selected in the sixth round of the 2002 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears, and is currently in his eighth pro season. His finest NFL season was in 2007, when he caught 51 passes for 420 yards and rushed for 510 yards with three scores.
1998, Jerry Azumah, RB, New Hampshire
The second straight player from an Atlantic 10 school to win the Payton Award, Azumah was also the first honoree from a team with a losing record. The senior's 2,195 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns were both school records, but were not enough to help the Wildcats avoid a 4-7 mark. One of UNH's seven losses was typical of the team's season, as Azumah rambled for 329 yards but the Wildcats lost to Hofstra, 41-38. For his career, the talented Worcester, MA native rushed for 6,193 yards and 60 touchdowns, and 418 points, graduating as the all-time FCS leader in each category. Azumah was drafted in the fifth round of the 1999 NFL draft by the Chicago Bears, and was selected to his first Pro Bowl as a return specialist in 2003. During his first year with the Bears, Azumah was awarded the "Brian Piccolo Award" by his teammates. He enjoyed seven successful seasons at defensive back and return specialist for the Bears.
1997, Brian Finneran, WR, Villanova
-- The first-ever receiver to win the Payton, Finneran caught 96 passes for 1,389 yards and 19 touchdowns, and led the Wildcats to an undefeated regular season, Atlantic 10 title and NCAA playoff berth. Finneran's 17 regular-season touchdowns rank fourth in FCS history, with NFL standouts Jerry Rice and Randy Moss among those listed ahead of Finneran on the list. The native Californian remains atop the Villanova career charts for receptions (265), yards (3,872), and touchdown catches (34). The senior finished his storied VU tenure with a 16-catch, 180-yard performance in a playoff loss to eventual national champion Youngstown State and had his number 25 jersey retired by Villanova in 2003. Following graduation, Finneran spent time on the practice squad of the NFL Seattle Seahawks and played three games with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999 before signing with the Atlanta Falcons. Finneran is currently in his 10th year in the NFL and eighth as a member of the Falcons. In his career, Finneran has caught 208 passes for 2,816 yards and 16 touchdowns.
1996, Archie Amerson, RB, Northern Arizona
-- Amerson became the fifth Big Sky player in a 10-year span to win the Payton Award, but was the first-ever non-quarterback from the conference to be selected. The senior rushed for a league-leading 2,079 yards and 25 touchdowns in 1996, leading the Lumberjacks to a 9-3 record and their first-ever FCS playoff appearance. The running back went over the 200-yard plateau six times during the season, and set a FCS record with seven touchdowns in a 59-45 win over Weber State. Amerson's 2,429 all-purpose yards set a FCS record, and is still in the single-season Top 10. In his two-year NAU career, Amerson rushed for 3,196 yards and scored 228 points. Amerson enjoyed a successful, eight-year career in the Canadian Football League with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. As a slotback, Amerson caught 436 passes for 6,298 yards and 37 receiving touchdowns and rushed for an additional 1,654 yards with eight scores in his career. He amassed over 9,000 all-purpose yards in the CFL.
1995, Dave Dickenson, QB, Montana
-- Dickenson became the fourth Big Sky quarterback to win the Payton Award in its nine-year history, and was the second Payton winner to lead his team to a FCS national championship. The senior threw for a nation-leading 4,176 yards and 38 touchdowns, with the former mark still ranking atop Big Sky Conference annals. The Grizzlies defeated Marshall, 22-20, to win their first-ever FCS title. For his career, Dickenson tossed for 11,080 yards and 96 scores, and ranks in the Top 5 in FCS history in career passing efficiency (166.3). The Great Falls, MT native enjoyed a successful 11-year professional career in Canada, starring for the Calgary Stampeders and B.C. Lions of the CFL. Dickinson played in 140 CFL regular-season games and 14 additional post-season contests. He holds CFL records for highest single-season completion percentage (73.98 in 2005), highest quarterback rating in a single season (118.8 in 2005) and all-time highest completion percentage (67.5). Named the CFL's Most Outstanding Player in 2000 and Grey Cup MVP in 2006. Spent 2001-02 on the rosters of the NFL's San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions before returning to the CFL. Dickinson, who retired from football in February, 2009, is currenty the offensive coordinator with Calgary.
1994, Steve McNair, QB, Alcorn State University
-- Perhaps the most storied Payton winner to date, McNair set the college football world alight during the 1994 season. The Mt. Olive, MS native completed 356 of 612 passes for 5,377 yards and 47 touchdown passes, and led Alcorn State to a SWAC title and NCAA FCS playoff berth. McNair graduated with 14,496 career passing yards, 119 touchdowns and 16,283 career yards of total offense. Besides winning the Payton Award, McNair finished third in balloting for the Heisman Trophy, behind Colorado's Rashaan Salaam and Penn State's Ki-Jana Carter. Drafted third overall by the NFL's Houston Oilers in 1995, "Air McNair," as he was called during his collegiate days due to his passing prowess, had a successful professional career with the Oilers/ Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens. In his 13-year NFL career, McNair passed for over 31,000 yards and 174 touchdowns, completing over 60-percent of his passes. He was a three-time Pro Bowl player (2000, 2003, 2005) and played in Super Bowl XXXIV with the Titans. He tragically passed away July 4, 2009.
1993, Doug Nussmeier, QB, University of Idaho
-- Nussmeier became the third Big Sky Conference quarterback to claim the Payton Award, and the second from the University of Idaho. The southpaw threw for 2,960 yards and 33 touchdown passes in 1993, leading the Vandals to the NCAA FCS semifinals. Nussmeier's 175.2 passing efficiency during the 1993 season still ranks atop Idaho annals. The Lake Oswego, OR native's career passing mark of 12,054 yards is among the top 10 in FCS history. Nussmeier was selected in the fourth round of the 1994 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints, and played for the Saints, Indianapolis Colts, and CFL British Columbia Lions during his pro career. Following his playing days, Nussmeier served as quarterback coach for the BC Lions and Ottawa Renegades of the CFL, before moving on to Michigan State University as an assistant coach. For two seasons, Nussmeier was the quarterbacks coach with the NFL St. Louis Rams (2006-07) before moving on to Fresno State University as offensive coordinator. Nussmeier is currently the quarterbacks coach at the University of Washington.
1992, Michael Payton, QB, Marshall University
-- Payton was the first-ever Southern Conference player to win the Walter Payton Award, and was also the first-ever Payton winner to claim a FCS championship the same year. Payton threw for 3,610 yards and 31 TDs for the Thundering Herd, winning SoCon Player of the Year honors for the second straight season. Among the quarterback's prime targets was current NFL standout Troy Brown, who was on the receiving end of 101 completions, 1,654 yards, and 16 touchdowns in 1992. Payton's top accomplishment, however, was leading the Herd to their first-ever national title, defeating Youngstown State, 31-28, in the 1992 championship game. For his career, Payton threw for 8,900 yards and 66 touchdowns and still holds the FCS record for most yards passing in a half when he threw for 383 yards in the first half of a game versus VMI in 1991. Payton went on to play professionally with the Florida Bobcats of the Arena Football League.
1991, Jamie Martin, QB, Weber State
-- Martin was the second quarterback and Big Sky player to bring home the Payton Award, and was also the first player to claim the honor during his junior season. The signal-caller threw for 4,125 yards and 37 touchdowns during the 1991 campaign, leading the Wildcats to an 8-4 mark and a berth in the FCS playoffs. Martin's 643-yard, four-touchdown effort in a 60-41 win over Idaho State helped seal the Payton, and the single-game yardage total still stands as a FCS record. Martin's career total offense mark of 12,287 yards ranks fifth in FCS history. Martin played 16 seasons in the NFL with L.A./St. Louis Rams, Washington Redskins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, New York Jets, New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers.
1990, Walter Dean, RB, Grambling State
-- Dean was the first player from the Southwestern Athletic Conference to win the Payton Award, bringing the trophy home to the league of former Jackson State standout Walter Payton himself. Dean's FCS-best 1,401 rushing yards in 1990 were the most ever by a Grambling senior, and his 17 touchdowns gave the tailback a two-year total of 35. Dean led the Tigers to an 8-3 record during the 1990 campaign, including a 25-13 victory over Southern in the storied Bayou Classic. The standout rusher compiled 3,328 yards and 41 touchdowns for his career, marks that still rank among the best in Grambling's storied history. Following his magical collegiate career, Dean was selected by the Green Bay Packers in the sixth round of the NFL Draft and played one season professionally.
1989, John Friesz, QB, University of Idaho
-- The first quarterback to claim the Payton Award, Friesz threw for 4,041 yards and 31 touchdowns in leading his Vandals to the 1989 Big Sky title and a berth in the FCS playoffs. The Idaho native threw for an incredible 367.4 yards per game, went over the 300-yard mark 10 straight times, and at one stretch completed 173 consecutive passes without an interception. The signal-caller's 10,187 career passing yards still rank in the NCAA Top 15, and his 305.6 career per game average is the best mark in school history. Friesz was selected in the sixth round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers, and enjoyed an 11-year pro career with the Chargers, Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks, and New England Patriots. For his career in the NFL, Friesz threw for 8,699 yards and 45 touchdowns. In 2006, Friesz was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and had his number 17 jersey retired by the University of Idaho.
1988, Dave Meggett, RB, Towson
-- Meggett scored four touchdowns in Towson's 45-34 season-opening win over Northeastern and never looked back, piling up 1,612 all-purpose yards en route to the 1988 Payton Award. The Tigers' 5-5 record was their first-ever .500 mark at the FCS level. In just two seasons at Towson following his transfer from Morgan State (where he was a defensive back), the multi-talented Meggett rushed for 1,658 yards, had 788 receiving yards, amassed 957 return yards, and scored 30 touchdowns in only 18 games. The All-American's 189.1 per game all-purpose average still ranks in the FCS career Top 10. Meggett was a fifth round draft choice of the NFL New York Giants in 1989, and played 10 pro seasons with the Giants, New England Patriots, and New York Jets. During his career, Meggett was a two-time Pro Bowl selection (1989, 1996) and scored eight special teams touchdowns. Meggett ranks second in NFL history with 3,708 punt return yards. Meggett gained 14,005 all-purpose yards and scored 29 touchdowns.
1987, Kenny Gamble, RB, Colgate
-- Gamble concluded an outstanding collegiate career by rushing for 1,411 yards and 11 touchdowns in 1987, and was the inaugural recipient of the Walter Payton Award. Gamble led the Red Raiders to a 7-4 season, a mark that included losses to FBS opponents Duke and Syracuse. For his career, the tailback bolted for 5,220 yards and 55 touchdowns, rushing for more than 200 yards in a game six times and more than 100 yards 29 times during his tenure. The 55 touchdowns were an all-time FCS best, and Gamble's 342 career points still rank in the division's Top 10. Gamble was selected in the 10th round of the 1988 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs, and played parts of three seasons with the Chiefs. In August of 2002, the three-time All-American was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.