The most coveted award for a defensive player in FCS college football is the Buck Buchanan, which celebrates its 25th anniversary season in 2019.
As a senior, Southeast Missouri linebacker Zach Hall will seek to join Appalachian State linebacker Dexter Coakley (1995-96) as the second two-time winner of national defensive player of year honors.
The competition, though, is strong, particularly at the linebacker position.
Following are Athlon Sports' top five favorites for the 2019 Buchanan Award (listed alphabetically):
Jabril Cox, North Dakota State
LB, R-Jr., 6-3, 233
2018 Statistics: 91 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 4 INTs (2 TDs) for 147 return yards, 3 PBU, 7 QB hits (15 games)
The 2018 Missouri Valley defensive player of the year is a future NFL player. A key member of NDSU’s national championship squads in the last two seasons, he is an athletic playmaker. He returned interceptions for touchdowns in consecutive games, which hadn’t happened with the Bison in 51 years.
Zach Hall, Southeast Missouri
LB, Sr., 6-0, 230
2018 Statistics: 168 tackles, 12 TFL, 2 sacks, 4 INTs, 2 PBU, 2 FR, 4 FF, 1 blocked kick, 1 safety (13 games)
Hall was an absolute beast in winning the 2018 Buchanan, leading the FCS with 168 tackles and contributing six takeaways. He reached double figures in tackles in 10 of 13 games, including a career-high 22 against Arkansas State. The Redhawks have big early-season games at Montana State and Missouri.
Dante Olson, Montana
LB, Sr., 6-3, 237
2018 Statistics: 151 tackles, 11 TFL, 6 sacks, 2 INTs, 3 PBU, 5 QB hits, 3 FF (11 games)
Shattered the school record with 151 tackles in 2018, ranking No. 1 in the FCS with 13.7 tackles per game. He finished third in the Buchanan Award voting. The NFL prospect's father Jeff was the head coach at Southern Oregon from 1996-2004.
Aaron Patrick, Eastern Kentucky
DE, 6-4, 245, R-Sr.
2018 Statistics: 53 tackles, 12 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 15 QB hits (11 games)
Here's a little bit of a surprise contender, but a closer look suggests a huge senior season. Patrick was on the All-Ohio Valley Conference first team in 2016 and '18 with an injury-shortened season in between. The last two Buchanan winners played in the OVC (Jacksonville State's Darius Jackson in 2017; Hall last season).
Christian Rozeboom, South Dakota State
LB, Sr., 6-2, 225
2018 Statistics: 105 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 2 INTs, 2 PBU, 2 QB hits, 1 FR, 3 FF (13 games)
A three-time All-Missouri Valley Football Conference first-teamer, Rozeboom leads all active FCS players with 364 career tackles. Strangely, he has only four sacks and none as a junior. South Dakota State has advanced to the FCS semifinals in the last two seasons and remains a national title contender this year.
Other Leading Candidates: Manny Patterson, CB, Maine; Isiah Swann, CB, Dartmouth; Chris Terrell, DE, Central Arkansas
— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.
(Photo courtesy of Southeast Missouri Athletics)