SIOUX FALLS – Harlon Hill finalist Gabriel Watson of the University of Sioux Falls Football Team has been selected to the American Football Coaches Association DII All-American First Team, according to an announcement today by the AFCA.
Watson, who led NCAA DII in regular season rushing yards with 1,957 and had a DII-best 26 touchdowns, becomes USF's 11th (10 total student-athletes) AFCA All-American. It is Watson's first All-American honor. The school's first AFCA All-American was offensive lineman Vinnie Olson in 2004 when the AFCA had a combined DII-NAIA squad.
For the fifth straight year, USF has had a student-athlete named to the AFCA All American Team. A year ago linebacker Dennis Gardeck, who is now with the Arizona Cardinals in the National Football League, was a second-team selection at linebacker. Two years ago, Max Mickey was selected a second-team running back. In 2015, Solomon St. Pierre, who set school and NSIC records with 22 career interceptions, was named for a second straight year (2014, 2015) to the AFCA first team. Gardeck, Mickey and St. Pierre (twice, 2014, 2015) represent the Cougars as DII selections on the AFCA Team.
Aside from Watson and St. Pierre, USF's other first-team All-Americans included wide receiver Dustan Hovorka in 2006; quarterback Chad Cavender in 2007; offensive lineman T.J. Wendt in 2008; quarterback Lorenzo Brown in 2009 and wide receiver Jon Ryan in 2010. In total, the Cougars have had 45 first-team All-Americans (NAIA, NCAA DII) with kicker Brian Hansen the first in 1982. USF has had a combined 76 first or second team All-Americans plus another 28 named honorable mention All-American.
"Gabriel Watson had an outstanding season, who simply loves to play the game. He is modest and a great team guy who excels in the classroom. We are blessed to have him at USF and look forward to another year with him on campus," said USF Head Football Coach Jon Anderson, whose team finished 7-4 and tied for second in the NSIC South Division "He is in the running for the Harlon Hill Trophy as the DII Player of the Year for his resilience and focus plus hard work. He is always working and finding ways to get better," Anderson said.
The AFCA, which has selected an All-America team since 1945, currently selects teams in all five of its divisions. What makes these teams so special is that they are chosen by the coaches. The AFCA DII All-American Selection Committee is comprised of three head coaches from each of the AFCA's seven districts.
Recently, Watson was named the D2 Conference Commissioner's Association (D2 CCA) All-Super Region 4 Offensive Player of the Year. Watson, who was earlier named the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Player of the Year, was also named to the D2CCA first team all-region squad.
Watson is the first student-athlete at USF to advance into the Harlon Hill (DII Player of the Year) finalist group and the first to be named D2CCA Super Region 4 Offensive Player of the Year. He had a school-record 11 straight games of 100 yards or more rushing while churning for a regular season NCAA-high and school single season mark of 1,957 yards on 269 carries with an NCAA DII-high 26 TDs. The 1,957 yards by Watson ranks second overall nationally but was the top total for the regular season. He still owns the top per game average of 177.8 yards per carry in DII.
In 2018, Watson had 200 yards rushing and three touchdowns in the first game he played at USF, which was a 27-24 win over Concordia-St. Paul in the home opener. A junior exercise science major, Watson followed up that opening game performance with games of 172 yards and 193 yards. Against Minot State, he accumulated 205 yards rushing on 15 carries with two touchdowns and played just one half.
Originally of Piedmont, Calif., Watson had a breakout season in his first year with USF. The first-team All-NSIC honoree set eight school records and averaged 7.3 yards per carry, which currently ranks seventh in DII. He was named the D2Football.com National Player of the Week after setting a single game USF record of 320 yards on 19 carries with five TDs against MSU Moorhead. A three-time NSIC Player of the Week, he recorded seven games of 150 yards or more with three games of at least 200 yards or more. Watson scored two or more TDs in a game eight times and had at least three TDs four times.