IRVING, Texas — Quarterback Mike White and kick returner Kylen Towner were named
2017 Preseason Conference USA Offensive and Special Teams Player of the Year,
respectively, the league office announced Monday.
Voted on by C-USA head coaches, White becomes the second Hilltopper (quarterback
Brandon Doughty in 2015) to earn Preseason Offensive Player of the Year honors.
Towner, meanwhile, is the first WKU player to snag Special Teams Preseason Player of
the Year distinction since WKU joined the league prior to 2014.
Last season, White ranked in the top 10 nationally in completion percentage (67.3,
eighth), passing yards (4,363, fifth) and touchdowns (37, eighth), while boasting
the third-best passer rating (181.4) and the second-best yards per attempt mark
(10.5). He earned C-USA Offensive Player of the Week honors for a 517-yard
performance in a Week 1 victory vs. Rice, and was recognized for his year-long
success when he was named the league’s Newcomer of the Year. The field general was
recently named to the Maxwell Award Watch list, given to the nation’s best player.
Towner set the FBS single-season record by averaging 40.3 yards per return, with 26
attempts for 1,048 yards and a 93-yard touchdown at Marshall. Against the Thundering
Herd, he became the first Hilltoppers in the FBS Era to return the opening kickoff
for a score. In the process of his stellar season, Towner etched his name as WKU’s
career record holder in return yardage at 2,441 yards, passing Joey Stockton’s mark
of 2,302 from 1994-97.
Overall, the back-to-back defending Conference USA champion Hilltoppers earned a
league-high seven selections to the 2017 Preseason All-C-USA Team. Two players on
offense and a pair on defense are both tied for tops in C-USA, while the Hilltoppers
cleaned up with three of the five special teams spots. Seven selections tied last
year’s Louisiana Tech team for most preseason picks since 2015. However, there were
51 total players honored in 2016 compared to only 29 this season.
On offense, offensive lineman Brandon Ray joins White on the list after helping lead
the nation’s highest-scoring attack in 2016. Ray has started 41-of-41 possible games
the past three seasons on The Hill. He was ranked No. 30 among offensive guards by
Pro Football Focus, while the line as a whole reached as high as No. 8 in 2016.
Two more seniors, defensive lineman Chris Johnson and defensive back Joe Brown, are
featured on the other side of the ball.
Johnson started all 14 games for WKU on the interior and consistently wreaked havoc
in the opposing backfield, as his 12.5 tackles for loss ranked second on the squad.
Among those for loss included four sacks, while recording 43 total tackles, which
led all linemen.
Recently named to the Jim Thorpe Award Watch List, the nation’s top award for a
collegiate defensive back, Brown was an All-C-USA Second Team selection last year.
He led the Hilltoppers with 10 pass breakups, while recording four tackles for loss
and an interception at Marshall.
Punter Jake Collins and punt returner Nacarius Fant were voted in to join Towner as
a trio on special teams.
The lone junior Hilltopper on the squad, Collins recently earned his third straight
Ray Guy Award Watch List designation. He averaged 42.7 yards per kick last season,
which garnered All-C-USA Second Team honors. In 2016, Collins helped hold opponents
to only nine returns for 49 yards over 14 games.
Fant earned Conference USA First Team honors despite missing five of the final six
games, with 11 returns for 172 yards and a pair of scores. He was named to the Paul
Hornung Award Watch list Monday morning, given to the most versatile player in
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