Kentucky's Hairston is Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week

DALLAS (FWAA) – Kentucky cornerback Maxwell Hairston set a school record and tied a Southeastern Conference record with two interception returns for touchdowns Saturday in the Wildcats’ 45-28 win at Vanderbilt. For the 29- and 54-yard scoring returns plus an all-around game that included four tackles and three pass breakups, Hairston earned the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week honor for games during the weekend of Sept. 23, as selected by the Football Writers Association of America.

Each week during the regular season, the FWAA has selected a Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week since 2001. The FWAA and the Charlotte Touchdown Club will announce finalists for the 2023 Bronko Nagurski Trophy on Nov. 15. The national defensive player of the year will be chosen from those finalists who are part of the 2023 FWAA All-America Team and presented with the trophy at the Bronko Nagurski Awards Banquet on Dec. 4 at the Charlotte Convention Center.

Players may be added or removed from the Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch list during the course of the season. If not already on the watch list, each week’s honored player, including Hairston this week, will be added at that time.

The scoring plays were a bit of payback for Hairston, a 6-1, 181-pound sophomore from West Bloomfield, Mich. Hairston, a freshman at the time inserted in reserve of an injured starter, gave up a long pass that set up the winning touchdown in Vanderbilt’s upset 24-21 win last season. Hairston’s revenge struck twice on Saturday.

On Vanderbilt’s second possession Hairston broke on a floating pass near the sideline for his first interception and easily raced 29 yards untouched for the touchdown that gave Kentucky a 14-0 lead. In the fourth quarter, he snatched a pass near the same sideline and weaved his way 54 yards to the end zone that sealed the Wildcats’ win.

Two of Hairston's three breakups came on series that ended in punts. Hairston also helped keep short completions from turning into long plays, as all four of his tackles came on plays of 11 yards or less. Hairston’s two picks were among three Kentucky takeaways. On the season, Hairston has 23 tackles, one tackle for loss, three interceptions, three pass breakups and a forced fumble.

Kentucky has a recent winner of the Bronko Nagurski Trophy in linebacker Josh Allen from the 2018 season. He is the Wildcats’ lone player to earn the award or be a finalist, and is the last Kentucky defensive player to earn FWAA All-America honors. The previous Kentucky defender to earn FWAA All-America honors prior to Allen was defensive lineman Art Still in 1977 – ironically, both players were recruited from New Jersey.

The FWAA All-America Committee, after voting input from the association’s full membership, selects a 26-man All-America Team and eventually the Nagurski Trophy finalists. The Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner will be chosen from the five finalists named in November. Committee members, by individual ballot, select the winner they regard 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. Founded in 1997, the NCFAA includes college football’s most prestigious awards and its 24 awards have honored more than 900 recipients dating back to 1935. This season, 12 NCFAA awards will honor national players of the week each Tuesday. For more information about the NCFAA and its award programs, visit the redesigned or follow on Twitter at @NCFAA.

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