On Friday evening, Portland State football staff attended the FCS National Awards Banquet in Frisco, TX. Head Coach Bruce Barnum accepted the FCS Coach of the Year Award and senior Patrick “Peanut” Onwuasor was named runner-up for National Defensive Player of the Year; Onwuasor took second by a margin of only two votes.
Barnum was supported by a contingency of family and fellow football staff members that traveled cross-country to attend the event.
“It made it a more special night,” Barnum said. “Just sitting down there and knowing all the people that got [me] there from when I was born to when I was hired, [and seeing] the guys that I hired … that made it special to me.”
A memorable evening
The ceremony featured Super Bowl XXII MVP Doug Williams, an alumni of Grambling State University, and Dexter Coakley, a former NFL linebacker and alumni of Appalachian State.
“A bunch of vets came back and talked to us before we got our awards,” Onwuasor said. “They told us that if we want to keep going [to play professionally] we need to keep pushing and fight hard. They said a lot of great things.”
Onwuasor also got the opportunity to meet more of Barnum’s family. “It was really great to see him one last time before pro day,” Onwuasor said.
Big Sky domination
The Big Sky Conference dominated the stage, collecting four of the evening’s five awards.
Eastern Washington’s Cooper Kupp was named Offensive Player of the Year and Montana defensive end Tyrone Holmes took home Defensive Player of the Year honors. The Big Sky also boasted the Freshman of the Year, quarterback Case Cookus of Northern Arizona.
Life-size cutouts of all the finalists decorated the banquet hall, instigating a storm of selfies by attendees. Though Barnum expressed subdued enthusiasm at the prospect of bringing the props home, he did note that his staff and family were campaigning for the souvenirs be placed in the football office.
Bursting onto the national stage
PSU Associate Athletics Director Mike Lund explained that in a world dominated by watch lists and carefully cultivated branding, the Vikings should be especially proud of their recipients.
“What was really remarkable was that in one season, both guys went from essentially being unknown on a national level to being recognized as the best in the country,” Lund said. “Two well-deserving people.”
Lund was among three PSU administrators who made the trip to Frisco; also in attendance were Athletics Director Mark Rountree and Deputy Athletics Director Matt Billings.
Looking to the future
With a major award in-hand, Barnum now has his sights on a season even more successful than the Vikings record-breaking campaign of 2015. Barnum took his staff to watch the FCS championship game on Saturday afternoon in preparation for next season.
“I wanted my coaches to see where we have to be. I don’t want to just get to the playoffs. The goal is to be in that game and win it, otherwise why are we doing it?” Barnum said.
The Vikings now head into the final stretch of recruiting before signing day on Wednesday, February 3rd.
For graduating seniors like Onwuasor, pro day is the next step towards realizing dreams of professional play. PSU will host a pro day in March, giving eligible players the opportunity to perform in front of scouts and other professional team personnel before the NFL draft.
The Vikings football team will return to action later this year in their annual Spring Game.
Good luck this year! I’ll be watching.