Erasmus James was named the Big Ten’s consensus Defensive Player of the Year Tuesday, when the league announced its annual football awards, as voted on by league coaches and media.
James, a senior defensive end, also earned the coaches’ Defensive Linemen of the Year and was the only unanimous selection on the media’s first-team defense.
James was joined on the consensus first-team by three of his Badger teammates: seniors guard Dan Buenning, free safety Jim Leonhard and defensive tackle Anttaj Hawthorne. Senior cornerback Scott Starks was named to the coaches’ first team but the media’s second team.
Starks was also named Wisconsin’s honoree for the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award, making him a candidate for the all-sports Big Ten Sportsmanship Award. The conference will select one male and one female student-athlete from each institution at the end of the school year.
All told 16 Badgers received some all-conference honors.
Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards was the consensus Offensive Player of Year, Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz was named Coach of the Year by the media and the coaches tabbed Michigan’s David Bass as Offensive Lineman of the year. Wolverine tailback Michael Hart was the consensus Freshman of the Year and a consensus first-team selection.
James led the Badgers’ contingent, as he led the Wisconsin defense for most of the season. He tallied 34 tackles, 11.5 for loss and had a conference-leading eight sacks. He also had three pass breakups, two forced fumbles and seven quarterback hurries.
Twice named the conference Defensive Player of the Week, James anchored a defense that led the Big Ten and ranked in the top ten nationally in scoring (tied-seventh, 14.6 points), total (eight, 275.9) and passing (sixth, 158.5) defense. He is a finalist for the Lombardi Award, Nagurski Trophy and Hendricks Award.
James earned the first-team honors for the first time in his career, a career that was almost cut off prematurely when a hip injury held him out all of last season. Wisconsin has now produced the conference’s Defensive Lineman of the Year in four of the last seven seasons. Wendell Bryant claimed the honor in 2000 and 2001 and Tom Burke also coupled that acclaim with Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1998. Cornerback Jamar Fletcher collected Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2000.
With a bowl game left to be played, James has 127 tackles and 18 sacks in his career.
Leonhard became the first Badger to earn first-team acclaim in three consecutive seasons since Bryant did so from 1999-2001. This season, Leonhard has 65 tackles, second most on the UW squad. He has broken up 10 passes and intercepted three more, tying Fletcher’s Badger career record (21) in the process. He also established a new Big Ten record for punt return yardage with 1,313 yards on just 102 attempts.
Hawthorne joined Leonhard as a repeat first-team honoree. He has 39 tackles this year, including 11 for loss and four sacks. In his four-year career, Hawthorne has 198 tackles, 42 for loss.
Buenning made his 48th start Saturday at Iowa, while playing in his 50th game in a Badger uniform. He was named second-team all-conference last season.
Starks has 41 tackles, four for loss, one sack, nine pass breakups and one interception. He also recovered two fumbles, returning one for a game-winning 40-yard touchdown at Purdue. He served as Wisconsin’s kick returner early in the season (six returns, 119 yards), and was a dynamic weapon as a sprinter on the punt coverage team, helping freshman Ken DeBauche drop 15 of his 47 punts inside the 20, with only six touchbacks.
Wisconsin senior tailback Anthony Davis was a consensus second-team selection. Davis battled injuries for the second consecutive season, garnering 894 yards and 11 touchdowns on 180 attempts in seven games. He moved up to sixth on the Big Ten’s all-time rushing list with 4,597 career yards.
Senior guard Jonathan Clinkscale was the only other Badger on the coaches’ second team. The owner of 43 starts at UW, Clinkscale was named honorable mention by the media.
Junior tight end Owen Daniels, senior defensive tackle Jason Jefferson, senior defensive end Jonathan Welsh, junior linebacker Dontez Sanders, junior center Donovan Raiola, sophomore offensive tackle Joe Thomas and junior receiver Brandon Williams were named consensus honorable mention all-conference. The media also tabbed sophomore linebacker Mark Zalewski for honorable mention and the coaches named junior cornerback Brett Bell honorable mention.
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