LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Gabriel Watson of the University of Sioux Falls Football Team, who leads NCAA DII in four rushing and scoring categories, is one of nine student-athletes nationally who have been nominated for the 2018 Harlon Hill Trophy as the Division II College Football Player of the Year.
Following regional voting, the Little Rock Touchdown Club, in conjunction with the Great American Conference, revealed the nine finalists for the 2018 Harlon Hill Trophy, the NCAA Division II College Football Player of the Year.
Watson was one of two players from Super Region 4. Marcus Jones, a defensive end from Angelo State, was the other finalist. The two finalists from Super Region 1 include Jaleel McLaughlin, a freshman running back from Notre Dame College; and Chance Stewart, a senior quarterback from Hillsdale (Mich.). From Super Region 2, finalists include senior quarterback Amir Hall of Bowie State (Md.) and sophomore quarterback Rogan Wells of Valdosta State. From Super Region 3, finalists for the award include junior quarterback Jayru Campbell of Ferris State, senior wide receiver Ka’Ronce Higgins of Southern Arkansas and senior quarterback Braxton Marstall of Emporia State.
“Gabriel Watson is an extraordinary and humble young man,” said USF Head Coach Jon Anderson. “He loves to play the game of football and is already training for next year. He always places his teammates first and always points to everyone on the team as key to his success. While he is an outstanding running back, he is a better person who excels in the classroom. We are exceptionally proud of Gabriel,” he said.
The sports information directors at the 166 NCAA Division II football-playing institutions nominate and vote on the award. The 37 initial candidates were placed on regional ballots and the top two players from each of the four NCAA regions have advanced to the national ballot. The winner is determined in a nation-wide vote of the Division II sports information directors. The winner of the 2018 award will be announced on Friday, December 14 and the winner will be honored at the Little Rock Touchdown Club awards banquet on January 10, 2019.
Watson is the first student-athlete at USF to advance into the finalist group. Named the NSIC 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 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.
What is remarkable about the USF running back is that 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. He followed up that 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.
The Hill Trophy is named for the late Harlon Hill - the former University of North Alabama standout - who excelled with the Lions from 1950-53 before going on to fame in the National Football League with the Chicago Bears.