By COLTER NUANEZ
PARK CITY, Utah — Highlighted by the affirmation of Dakota Prukop as the new alpha dog under center in the league, the Montana State Bobcats placed five players on the Big Sky Conference’s preseason all-conference squad released Monday morning at the Big Sky Kickoff here.
Prukop, Montana State’s electrifying junior quarterback, was named to the preseason All-Big Sky offensive team along with senior left tackle John Weidenaar and junior offensive guard J.P. Flynn. Senior defensive tackle and captain Taylor Sheridan was selected to the preseason All-Big Sky defense and junior running back and captain Chad Newell was named the preseason special teams player.
Idaho State placed a league-high six players on the team. Junior wide receiver Cooper Kupp from Eastern Washington was selected as the preseason Offensive MVP. Southern Utah senior defensive end James Cowser was tabbed as the preseason Defensive MVP.
A select group of media members and sports information directors voted for the 30-player team and award winners.
Kupp, a junior from Yakima, Washington has claimed conference first-team and All-America honors in both of his seasons with the Eagles and opens the season on the STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year watch list. The 2013 Jerry Rice Award Winner had 104 receptions in only 13 games, turning them into 1,431 yards and 16 touchdowns last season while leading the league in all-purpose yards. He set a Big Sky single-season record with 21 TD grabs, and led the nation with 1,691 receiving yards in 2013. In his first 28 career games, he has 197 receptions for 3,122 yards and 37 touchdowns.
Cowser, a senior from Fruit Heights, Utah, earned first-team all-conference and All-America honors at defensive end last year after setting a Big Sky single-season record with 28.5 tackles for loss. The former record of 28 was set by Idaho State standout and current NFL player Jared Allen. The Buck Buchanan Award candidate also registered 11.5 sacks, 85 total tackles and three forced fumbles.
Idaho State led the conference with six selections to the team in senior Xavier Finney (running back), senior Christian Diehm (center), junior Madison Mangum (wide receiver), senior Tyler Kuder (defensive tackle), sophomore Mario Jenkins (outside linebacker) and senior Taison Manu (safety). Finney and Mangum were each named to the first team last season after Finney topped the league in rushing and Mangum led in receiving yards per game.
Cowser and Kupp were two of the five unanimous selections to the team, joining Northern Arizona fullback Nick Butier, EWU offensive tackle Clay DeBord and NAU cornerback Marcus Alford. Both Butier and DeBord were first-team all-conference selections last season. Alford broke up 10 passes and came down with three interceptions last season for the Lumberjacks.
Joining Kupp and DeBord on defending conference champion EWU was guard Aaron Neary and defensive end Samson Ebukam. Neary was a first-team all-conference selection for the Eagles last season. A second-team choice in 2014, Ebukam was fourth in the league with 7.5 sacks and finished with 12 tackles for loss.
A pair of SUU defensive backs in corner LaShaun Sims and safety Miles Killebrew joined Cowser. Both second-team pick last year, Sims and Killebrew each broke up seven passes. Killebrew added three interceptions and was second in the league with four forced fumbles.
NAU had four players selected, as tight end R.J. Rickert and punter Ryan Hawkins joined Butier and Alford. Rickert redshirted 2014 with an injury, but was a first-team choice in 2013 with 22 catches and a touchdown.
Montana also had four players tabbed: wide receiver Jamaal Jones, return specialist Ellis Henderson, outside linebacker Kendrick Van Ackeren and inside linebacker Jeremiah Kose. Van Ackeren was a second-team selection last season after totalling 122 tackles with three fumble recoveries. Kose picked up third-team honors and had 117 total tackles.
Making the team for Sacramento State was wide receiver Nnamdi Agude, placekicker Brad Cornish and inside linebacker Darnell Sankey. Agude was one of five conference receivers to eclipse 1,000 yards last season, while Cornish hit 14 of 17 field goals and finished fourth in the league in scoring.
Rounding out the team was Cal Poly running back Kori Garcia. He rushed for 1,039 yards with seven touchdowns last season for the Mustangs, taking home second-team honors.
2015 Big Sky Preseason All-Conference Team
Offensive MVP – Cooper Kupp, Jr., WR, Eastern Washington
Defensive MVP – James Cowser, Sr., DE, Southern Utah
Pos. Player Year Hometown School
QB Dakota Prukop Jr. Austin, Texas MSU
RB #Xavier Finney Sr. Oceanside, Calif. Idaho State
RB Kori Garcia Jr. Los Angeles, Calif. Cal Poly
FB *#Nick Butier Sr. San Luis Obispo, Calif NAU
TE R.J. Rickert Sr. Gilbert, Ariz NAU
OG #JP Flynn Jr. Bettendorf, Iowa MSU
OG #Aaron Neary Sr. Richland, Wash. EWU
C Christian Diehm Sr. Carson, Calif. Idaho State
OT *Clay DeBord Sr. Asotin, Wash. EWU
OT John Weidenaar Sr. Manhattan, Mont. MSU
WR *#Cooper Kupp Jr. Yakima, Wash. EWU
WR #Madison Mangum Jr. Boise, Idaho Idaho State
WR Nnamdi Agude Sr. Corona, Calif. Sac State
WR Jamaal Jones Sr. Spanaway, Wash. Montana
PK #Brad Cornish Sr. Santee, Calif. Sacramento State
Returns Ellis Henderson Jr. Vancouver, Wash. Montana
Pos. Player Year Hometown School
DE *#James Cowser Sr. Fruit Heights, Utah S Utah
DE Samson Ebukam Jr. Portland, Ore. EWU
DT Tyler Kuder Sr. Payette, Idaho Idaho State
DT Taylor Sheridan Sr. Littleton, Colo. MSU
OLB Mario Jenkins So. Nampa, Idaho Idaho State
OLB Kendrick Van Ackeren Sr. Bellevue, Wash. Montana
ILB Darnell Sankey Sr. San Jose, Calif. Sac State
ILB Jeremiah Kose Sr. Oceanside, Calif. Montana
CB *#Marcus Alford Sr. Oxnard, Calif. NAU
CB LeShaun Sims Sr. Las Vegas, Nev. S Utah
S Taison Manu Sr. Pocatello, Idaho Idaho State
S Miles Killebrew Sr. Henderson, Nev. S Utah
P Ryan Hawkins Sr. Peoria, Ariz. NAU
Special Teams – Chad Newell Jr. Billings, Mont. MSU
#2014 First Team All-Conference