Butkus Award adds its float to watch list parade

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(Don’t worry folks.  There are only three more of these — Davey O’Brien, Doak Walker, Walter Camp — to go.  Hang in there.  We’ll get through this.)

The Butkus Award Thursday was the latest in a long line of awards/trophies releasing their preseason watch lists for 2011, with 51 linebackers from across the country receiving recognition by the award that annually honors the best player at their position.

Luke Kuechly of Boston College is the only returning finalist, while Dont’a Hightower of Alabama, Sean Spence of Miami (Fla.), Travis Lewis of Oklahoma, Keenan Robinson of Texas and Manti Te’o of Notre Dame are returning semifinalists.

The SEC and ACC topped all conferences with nine nods apiece, followed by the Big 12 with eight and five each for the Big Ten and Pac-12.

As far as individuals schools are concerned, Alabama was tops with three — Hightower, Nico Johnson and Courtney Upshaw.  Florida, Miami, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Southern Miss, TCU, Texas and Wisconsin all had two players apiece named to the list.

The Butkus Award is named in honor of Dick Butkus, the former Illinois and Chicago Bears linebacking great.  The 51 players on the initial watch list represent the number Butkus wore throughout his Hall of Fame career.

Semi-finalists will be named October 24, finalists November 22, and winners will be notified on or before December 7.  Last year’s winner was Texas A&M’s Von Miller.

Here is the complete list of 2011 preseason Butkus watch listers:

Dont’a Hightower, Alabama
Nico Johnson, Alabama
Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
Vontaze Burflict, Arizona State
Jerry Franklin,Arkansas
Luke Kuechly, Boston College
Dwayne Woods, Bowling Green University
Mychal Kendricks, Cal
Jon Bostic, Florida
Jelani Jenkins, Florida
Nigel Bradham, Florida State
Corey Paredes, Hawaii
Tyler Nielsen, Iowa
Jake Knott, Iowa State
Arthur Brown, Kansas State
Danny Trevathan, Kentucky
Ryan Baker, LSU
Kenny Tate, Maryland
Ramon Buchanan, Miami (Fla.)
Sean Spence, Miami (Fla.)
Zaviar Gooden, Missouri
Lavonte David, Nebraska
James-Michael Johnson, Nevada
Carmen Messina, New Mexico
Zach Brown, North Carolina
Kevin Reddick, North Carolina
Audie Cole, North Carolina State
Darius Fleming, Notre Dame
Manti Te’o, Notre Dame
Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
Tom Wort, Oklahoma
Josh Kaddu, Oregon
Michael Mauti, Penn State
Max Gruder, Pittsburgh
Miles Burris, San Diego State
Jamie Collins, Southern Miss.
Korey Williams, Southern Miss.
Shayne Skov, Stanford
Tanner Brock, TCU
Tank Carder, TCU
Tahir Whitehead, Temple
Emmanuel Acho, Texas
Keenan Robinson, Texas
Garrick Williams, Texas A&M
Marvin Burdette, UAB
Chris Galippo, USC
Bobby Wagner, Utah State
Chris Marve, Vanderbilt
Bruce Taylor, Virginia Tech
Chris Borland, Wisconsin
Mike Taylor, Wisconsin

Iowa LB Aaron Mends to miss extended time with injury

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Talk about a hard-luck story.

After never starting a game at Iowa, Aaron Mends (pictured, blocking punt) had earned a starting job at outside linebacker during practice this spring.  With football being the cruel mistress that it can be at times, the Hawkeyes announced Friday night that Mends “will miss an extended period of time due to injury.” The program offered no details as to the specific nature of the injury, although it’s believed to involve the knee.

According to the school’s release, the fifth-year senior suffered the injury during the final week of Iowa’s spring drills.

Mends was a three-star member of the Hawkeyes’ 2014 recruiting class.  He was the highest-rated linebacker in Iowa’s class that year.

After taking a redshirt as a true freshman, Mends has played in 38 games the past three seasons.  A baker’s dozen of those appearances came during the 2017 season.

Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, James Franklin and Clay Helton among 15 CFB coaches attending NFL Draft

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We’re less than a week away from former college players officially finding out their new homes with the start of the 2018 NFL Draft and the excitement is palpable no matter if you’re a Cleveland Browns fan or somebody who dons the cardinal and gold of USC.

Naturally this is a big deal for the players’ former programs as well and their recent head coaches will be taking full advantage of the marketing opportunity to future recruits by stopping by the draft itself at AT&T Stadium for the festivities. The NFL released a list of 14 college football coaches and one recent one on Friday as being confirmed to attend the event and there are a few notable names beyond the big ones we’re used to seeing every year:

In addition, Stanford head coach David Shaw will serve as a draft analyst on NFL Network for a seventh year in a row and even ESPN’s College GameDay is getting involved with a pregame show outside the stadium they are quite familiar with from big games over the years.

Georgia DB Mark Webb tears meniscus in practice but expected back before fall camp

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Georgia’s injury luck this spring isn’t getting much better as the defending SEC champions move toward their annual G-Day spring game over the weekend.

Head coach Kirby Smart confirmed with reporters after Thursday’s practice that sophomore defensive back Mark Webb suffered a knee injury earlier in the week and tore his meniscus. He already had the knee scoped and is expected back before fall camp after the rather minor procedure.

Webb originally landed in Athens as a wideout but made the move to the secondary just as the season was getting going. He appeared in 13 games in 2017, mostly on special teams, but was expected to challenge for one of the starting spots at cornerback heading into the upcoming campaign.

The absence of Webb in the lineup for the final week of spring adds to a growing list of injuries for the team during practice as they do a little bit of roster building toward the future. Receiver Michael Chigbu’s career may be over due to lingering injuries and defensive back Divaad Wilson tore his ACL not long after enrolling this semester.

Safe to say that G-Day on Saturday might not be as physical as Smart and the coaching staff would otherwise like as a result of trying to keep the team healthy as they prepare to head into a big offseason.

Old Dominion announces remodel, expansion plans for S.B. Ballard Stadium

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Old Dominion is making sure the first word in the school’s name is not the first thing you think of when you are playing against the Monarchs, joining a long list of their FBS peers with some significant upgrades for their home venue over the coming years. In plans approved this week by the university, ODU released renderings and an updated timeline on a $65 million remodel of S.B. Ballard Stadium that is set to begin as soon as this summer.

“We are excited to begin Phase 1 reconstruction,” said Greg DuBois, the school’s vice president for administration and finance. “Fan comfort and high-quality amenities are the primary focus of this phase. The project will help us create the type of game-day experience fans want and will set us up for future expansions.”

The stadium, some 81-years-old, will undergo a nearly complete teardown over the next two years in order to transform the place most know as Foreman Field. Both the east and west stands will be demolished and rebuilt, complete with new seating and a new press box. There will naturally be more restrooms and concession stands as part of the plan that includes plenty more bells and whistles for the Conference USA program. Seating is expected to grow beyond 21,000 or so capacity the current venue seats.

While construction will get started in the coming months, the bulk of activity will take place after the 2018 campaign is wrapped up at home and before kickoff of the opener in 2019. The Virginian-Pilot reports that funding will not utilize state funds but that the school is requesting that the legislature approve an added $10 million to the cost structure as a result of rising prices beyond the original $55 million forecasted.

2018 will be just the 10th season for the Monarchs (and fifth in FBS) since the football program was reinstated and it goes without saying that the new digs will be some of the nicest in CUSA when all is said and done. Few programs have been able to successfully navigate the transition as well as ODU has and it seems an updated stadium in the near future is the reward for head coach Bobby Wilder and others in Norfolk.