Brandon Lawrence, National Contributor | December 08, 2015
2015 Freshman Player Of The Year
Jabari Butler – CB, Abilene Christian
In a league like the Southland Conference, where offense generally runs rampant, it’s always a good idea for programs to reinforce the defense with young talent. That’s what Abilene Christian has done with a player like Butler, who contributed heavily in his inaugural season with the Wildcats.
Butler recorded 40 tackles in his first season, but did most of his damage keeping opposing quarterbacks from completing passes to their intended targets. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound freshman broke up nine passes this season and recorded six interceptions, also adding one fumble recovery in 11 games played. Butler ranked first in the Southland Conference in interceptions and second in passes defended with 1.36 per outing.
Case Cookus – QB, Northern Arizona
The way Cookus played in his first season, one would think he’s been at Northern Arizona for a number of years and is a veteran competing against Big Sky competition. The comfort level for Cookus taking over a Lumberjacks team that seems to be a perpetual contender in the conference was mind blowing, and his numbers support that. The freshman completed 222-of-322 passing in his first season for 3,111 yards and 37 touchdowns (an NAU and FCS freshman record) against only five interceptions.
Cookus completed a whopping 68.9 percent of his passes in 2015 and earned a 184.9 passer efficiency rating after averaging 282.8 passing ypg. For good measure, the signal caller added 90 rushing yards and three ground scores for 40 total touchdowns on the season. His 3,111 passing yards n a season ranks sixth in school history and ranked first in the entre FCS in terms of passing touchdowns.
John Santiago – RB, North Dakota
Unfortunately for Cookus, the freshman player of the year honor in the Big Sky Conference wasn’t a total runaway thanks to the efforts of Santiago, who was named the co-Freshman Player of the Year after an outstanding and explosive effort in which he rushed 223 times for 1,459 yards and 16 touchdowns, helping his North Dakota squad finish with a 5-3 overall record and a near miss on the FCS playoffs.
Santiago averaged 6.5 rushing yards per attempt, and gained 132.6 ypg on the ground in his first season. He also added five catches for 81 yards in 11 contests, and served as the team’s primary kickoff returner, boosting his all-purpose yardage to 196.3 ypg – good for third in the FCS in the category. Not bad for a rook.
Andrew Van Ginkel – DE, South Dakota
The Missouri Valley Conference is widely regarded as the best and deepest at the FCS level, and for a program like South Dakota that hasn’t been among the league’s annual giants in recent years, it’s important to build talent from the ground up to climb to that upper echelon. Van Ginkel gave the Coyotes a glimpse into the future with a strong freshman campaign in 2015, so much so that his efforts landed him among the freshman player of the year candidates.
Van Ginkel registered 54 total tackles for South Dakota – 18 of them were for a loss. The 6-4 lineman filled up the stat sheet with nine sacks, six quarterback hurries, two pass breakups, three fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles, and added a blocked kick in 11 games played for a defense that surrendered 25.5 ppg to opponents.
Micah Wright – WR, Maine
It was a down year for the Black Bears in what many believe was a down year for the Colonial Athletic Association as a whole. But Wright provided a bright spot and gave coaches an exciting look at a potential star in his first season in Orono. Wright hauled in 61 receptions for the Bears for 818 yards (ranked 43rd in the FCS) and five touchdowns, averaging 74.4 receiving ypg.
Wright’s ypg average and 13.4 yards per catch were both team bests for the Black Bears. The freshman added three carries for 34 yards, and had one punt return during the season advertising his versatility. His five receiving touchdowns ranked fifth among FCS freshmen, and his 61 receptions were best among first years in the CAA.