Six University of Hawai‘i football players were named to Phil Steele's Postseason All-Mountain West team this week, officials from the national football publication announced.
Two Rainbow Warriors were named among the all-MW second-teamers – offensive lineman Ben Clarke and defensive end Kennedy Tulimasealii – while four others were listed on the third team – running back Paul Harris, linebacker Julian Gener, punt returner/cornerback Nick Nelson and punter/kicker Rigoberto Sanchez.
Ben Clarke, a senior from Littleton, Colorado, was named to the second team and was previously on Steele’s Preseason All-Mountain West Team. Clarke was named to Steele’s third team in each of the previous two seasons. Recognized as the UH Most Valuable player during the team’s football awards, Clarke anchored the UH line at left tackle, despite battling through a broken foot in game two at Ohio State, which left him unable to practice for several weeks. Despite the injury, Clarke started every contest and finished his career with 50 straight starts – every game of his collegiate career. He graded out in a tie for top offensive lineman at 89 percent, recording a team second-best 46 knockdowns with four sacks allowed.
Named to the second team as well, Kennedy Tulimasealii also received first-team all-conference honors from the league’s 12 head coaches and a select media panel. A Polynesian Player of the Year watch-lister, Tulimasealii led the Mountain West in tackles for loss with a season total of 18.5, tying for the seventh-most stops behind the line in the NCAA. The junior from Wai‘anae racked up 63 tackles this season, including a team third-best 42 solo stops, Tulimasealii ranked fifth on team in total tackles. He also stands at third in tackles among MW defensive linemen. Coming off the edge, if he didn’t get the sack, he disrupted the play, topping UH and ranking second in the MW with eight quarterback hurries.
Leading off the third team selections, inside linebacker Julian Gener led UH with a MW sixth-ranked (46th NCAA) 95 total tackles, including a MW third-best (28th NCAA) 62 for loss, posting 2.5 sacks. Overcoming injuries which limited him to playing only 11-of-13 games, the West Covina, California senior also forced two fumbles and intercepted a pass. He tied a UH program record against Fresno State, making 5.0 tackles of his 17 for loss, and recorded the second-most tackles among Mountain West defenders in a game, with 19 stops against conference champion San Diego State – tying for 11th in the nation. For his efforts, he was named UH’s Defensive Player of the Year at the football awards and also all-MW honorable mention by the conference.
Another big-play athlete, but on the offensive side of the ball, Paul Harris was also named to the third team. Harris led UH with 197 carries for 1,132 yards through 12 games, becoming the first 1,000-yard rusher since 2010 and only the second since 1992. His season total is the fourth-most rushing yards in a season for a UH back. The Columbus, Ohio junior ranked fifth in the Mountain West and 44th nationally with a 5.7 yards per carry average and he averaged 94.3 yards per game while tying for the team lead with six rushing touchdowns. He tied the program record for consecutive 100-yard rushing games with four, but has the opportunity to claim the record in 2016, and also broke a 60-year old record for longest touchdown rush – a 95-yarder against UC Davis. Harris was named UH’s Offensive Player of the Year at the football awards.
Adding to his 2015 accolades, Forestville, Maryland sophomore Nick Nelson was listed among third-team special teamers, logging 19 returns for a Mountain West third-best (42nd NCAA) 7.4 yards per return as UH’s primary punt returner. Nelson had a career-best 37-yard return at Nevada, en route to a 60-yard day. He was named all-MW honorable mention as a defensive back, posting 15 pass breakups; the second-most in the Mountain West and eight-most in the NCAA, in addition to 53 total tackles,1.5 for loss, one sack and one forced fumble.
Rounding out the group with an appearance on Steele’s third team, Hamilton City, California junior Rigoberto Sanchez registered 74 punts for 3,335 yards and a MW second-longest 45.1-yard average, ranking ninth in the NCAA and earning him a spot on the Ray Guy Award watch list. He kicked 25 punts over 50 yards, including a 73-yarder against Air Force, which tied for the fifth-longest in school history and earned him national RGA Punter of the Week honors. He only punted twice for touchback, successfully dropping 28 kicks inside the opposing 20-yard line and forcing 18 fair catches. In addition to his punting duties, Sanchez was one of only five players nationally to handle all four kicking jobs, boasting a 23-of-25 extra point rate, going 8-of-11 on field goals with a long kick of 50 yards, while also kicking off 22 times for a 64.2-yard average and 14 touchbacks. Sanchez earned UH’s Special Teams Player of the Year Award and was named honorable mention all-MW by the conference.
Of the six players, only two were seniors in 2015, with the remaining four projected to return to action in 2016.
(University of Hawaii Press Release)