CHARLOTTE, N.C. (FWAA) – Four finalists for the 2022 Bronko Nagurski Trophy, one of them last year’s winner, another representing the top team in the current College Football Playoff rankings, two of the nation's sack leaders and a top safety were named Wednesday by the Football Writers Association of America and the Charlotte Touchdown Club as candidates for the award honoring the nation’s top defensive player.
In alphabetical order, the finalists are Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr., Pitt defensive tackle Calijah Kancey, Georgia safety Chris Smith and USC defensive end Tuli Tuipulotu.
The Bronko Nagurski Trophy recipient will be chosen from these four finalists. The FWAA All-America Committee, after voting input from the association's entire membership, selects the defensive player of the year who is part of the 2022 FWAA All-America Team and presented with the trophy at the Bronko Nagurski Awards Banquet on Dec. 5 at the Charlotte Convention Center. N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren will be the keynote speaker.
Here is more information on the 2022 finalists:
Will Anderson Jr., LB, Alabama (6-4, 243, Jr., Hampton, Ga.): The 2021 Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner will have a chance to match Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern (1995-96) as the Trophy's only repeat winner. The junior linebacker has had another standout season for the Crimson Tide. He leads Alabama in tackles for loss (14.0, t-11th in FBS) and sacks (8.0, t-12th) with combined losses totaling 103 yards. Anderson led the nation in both categories last year at 17.5 sacks and 34.5 TFL’s (an NCAA record since 2000). He is currently in the top three of Alabama’s career lists in both categories. He has recorded at least one tackle for loss in 28 of his 38 career games. Anderson is tied for seventh on the team with 42 overall tackles (18 solos), has an interception with a 25-yard return for a touchdown, and owns 10 quarterback hurries.
In addition to Anderson in 2021, Alabama’s other Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner was defensive end Jonathan Allen in 2016. The Crimson Tide has now had finalists in 11 of the last 12 seasons.
Calijah Kancey, DT, Pitt (6-0, 280, Jr., Miami, Fla.): Kancey has already topped his 2021 statistical numbers in leading the Panthers’ defense with 14.0 tackles for loss (t-11th in FBS) and 7.0 sacks (t-26th). His career highs of 3.0 sacks (vs. Virginia 11/12) and 3.5 TFL’s (vs. Georgia Tech 10/1) have come within Pitt’s last six games. Kancey – pronounced Kah-LIE-jah and rhymes with ‘Elijah’ – is seventh on the Panthers’ defense with 29 total tackles with 17 solos. Bolstered by Kancey, Pitt leads the nation in sacks with 3.7 per game.
Pitt already boasts a defensive tackle as a former Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner – Aaron Donald won the award in 2013 and is the only Pitt player to reach finalist status. Three of Pitt’s five FWAA All-Americans over the past four seasons – Jaylen Twyman on the 2019 second team, Rashad Weaver on the 2020 first team and now Kancey – have come from its defensive line.
Chris Smith, FS, Georgia (5-11, 195, Sr., Atlanta, Ga.): Known as a big-game player, Smith is fourth on the team with 37 tackles, 26 solos, and has 4.0 tackles for loss and a sack. His two interceptions include 29 yards in returns, including a 22-yarder that set up a score in Georgia’s season-opening win over Oregon. His career single-game high of seven tackles came in the win over arch-rival Florida. With Smith as its anchor in the secondary, Georgia’s defense is second nationally, giving up just 11.6 points per game. and is one of the most stout on third downs, giving up first downs only 27 percent of the time, third nationally.
Georgia is well represented in Bronko Nagurski Trophy history. Cornerback Champ Bailey won the award in 1998. Georgia has now had a finalist in four of the last six seasons (defensive tackle Jordan Davis in 2021; safety J.R. Reed in 2019; linebacker Roquan Smith in 2017) and now eight finalists overall.
Tuli Tuipulotu, DE, USC (6-4, 290, Jr., Hawthorne, Calif.): Tuipulotu is the nation’s second-leading sack man with 11.5 on the season (1.15 per game). He is also the Pac-12 leader and is fourth nationally with 1.8 tackles for loss per game (17.5 total). Those combine for 167 yards lost to opposing offenses. Tuipulotu’s 11.5 sacks are the most in a single season at USC since Kenechi Udeze set the Trojans’ record with 16.5 in 2003. Tuipulotu – pronounced TOO-ee-poo-LOE-too – is sixth on the team with 32 tackles, 23 of them solo. He has three pass breakups at the line, two quarterback hurries – one of which turned into an intentional grounding penalty for a safety against Colorado – and has forced two fumbles.
Tuipulotu is USC’s second Bronko Nagurski finalist and first in 14 seasons. The other came in 2008 and linebacker Rey Maualuga. As of today’s announcement, Tuipulotu is USC’s first FWAA All-American on defense since 2014 when defensive lineman Leonard Williams made the second team.
The FWAA All-America Committee, after voting input from the association's entire membership, selects a 26-man All-America Team and eventually the Bronko Nagurski Trophy finalists. The committee members then select the winner as the best defensive player in college football.
The FWAA has chosen a National Defensive Player of the Year since 1993. In 1995, the FWAA named the award in honor of the legendary two-way player from the University of Minnesota. Nagurski dominated college football then became a star for professional football's Chicago Bears in the 1930s. Bronislaw "Bronko" Nagurski is a charter member of both the College Football and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
The Bronko Nagurski Trophy is a member of the National College Football Awards Association (NCFAA), which encompasses college football’s most prestigious awards. The NCFAA’s 25 awards have honored more than 800 recipients since 1935. Visit NCFAA.org for more information.
Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America consists of journalists, broadcasters, publicists, photographers and key executives in all areas of college football. The FWAA works to govern media access and gameday operations while presenting awards and honors, including an annual All-America team. For more information about the FWAA and its programs and initiatives, contact Executive Director Steve Richardson at 214-870-6516 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Charlotte Touchdown Club
The Charlotte Touchdown Club is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded in 1990 for the purpose of promoting high school, collegiate, and professional football in the Charlotte, North Carolina region. Since its inception, the club has grown as well as diversified, boasting a sponsor team of more than (80) companies. The Club's activities and services focus community attention on the outstanding Citizenship, Scholarship, Sportsmanship, and Leadership of area athletes and coaches. Through individual and corporate support, nearly $3,000,000 has been raised and donated to benefit the Touchdown Club's scholarship efforts. For more information call 704-347-2918 or touchdownclub.com.