Senior quarterback Jason Murrietta has been named one of three finalists for the Walter Payton Award, presented annually to the top player in Division I-AA football.
The finalists were announced Monday by The Sports Network, I-AA college football’s most widely recognized information service. Murrietta was selected along with New Hampshire quarterback Ricky Santos and Southern Illinois running back Arkee Whitlock.
The 20th Walter Payton Award will be presented at the annual I-AA College Football Awards on Dec. 14 in Chattanooga, Tenn., on the eve of the 2006 I-AA National Championship.
“I am on cloud nine,” Murrietta said. “It made my day to hear that I was recognized nationally as one of the top three players in the nation. It is an exciting time in my life, and I am looking forward to the process.”
Voting, based on regular season performance only, was conducted among 112 media members and media relations professionals covering I-AA/FCS. The three finalists are invited to attend the presentation of the awards.
“Jason deserves to be recognized among the nation’s best players,” said Lumberjack head coach Jerome Souers. “He reflects the values of the program and has been a great representative of our program on the field, in the classroom and in the community. His hard work and determination were showcased in a solid and productive senior season that will be remembered for a long time in the history books.”
Murrietta, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior from Glendale, completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,827 yards with a school-record 34 touchdowns and just five interceptions in 2006. Murrietta, who won the Big Sky Conference Offensive MVP for the second time in his career, had an efficiency rating of 168.3, the fourth-best total in the nation. In eight conference games, Murrietta threw 28 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He finished his career second on the conference career list with 94 touchdown passes and sixth on with 10,726 yards.
The Sports Network established the Walter Payton Player of the Year Award in 1987. The winner is chosen by a nationwide panel of media and college sports information directors from the division. Looking to aid the Murrietta’s candidacy, members of the NAU football team conducted a telethon to voters for the national award.
Former Lumberjack Archie Amerson won the Walter Payton Award in 1996 and enjoyed a nine-year career in the Canadian Football League. Former winners of the Payton include current NFL players Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys (Eastern Illinois), Brian Westbrook of the Philadelphia Eagles (Villanova), Adrian Peterson of the Chicago Bears (Georgia Southern) and Steve McNair of the Baltimore Ravens (Alcorn State).