Fresno State

Who’s the nation’s best defender? Fresno State football in elite company with two nominees

Versatility key for Bulldogs’ Mykal Walker

Fresno State defensive line coach Jamar Cain dives into the versatility of defensive end Mykal Walker, the Mountain West defensive player of the week after the Bulldogs beat Toledo. Walker had 2.5 TFLs and returned an interception for a TD.
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Fresno State defensive line coach Jamar Cain dives into the versatility of defensive end Mykal Walker, the Mountain West defensive player of the week after the Bulldogs beat Toledo. Walker had 2.5 TFLs and returned an interception for a TD.

Fresno State kicked off the countdown to college football season on Monday with linebacker Mykal Walker and safety Juju Hughes selected to the watch list for the 25th Chuck Bednarik Award, which is presented annually to the top defensive player in the nation.

The Bulldogs were one of 17 teams to have two players on the Bednarik list.

Fresno State last season had one of the best defenses in the nation, ranking first in the Mountain West Conference and third in the nation in scoring defense (14.1 points per game) and first and 17th in total defense (321.6 yards per game).

Walker and Hughes both were instrumental in that success and this season Walker is moving from one action spot in the Bulldogs’ defense to another.

He will play the middle linebacker spot Jeff Allison held down last season when he was named Mountain West defensive player of the year.

As a junior defensive end last season, Walker averaged 6.1 tackles per game and was named first-team all-conference and was the most valuable defensive player in the Mountain West championship game win over Boise State, racking up 12 tackles including 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

Defensive back Juju Hughes is entering his senior season at Fresno State and will look to lead the defense in the 2019 season.

Hughes, who has started 28 consecutive games headed into his senior season, led a Bulldogs secondary that last year ranked first in the conference and 23rd in the nation in passing defense (189.4 yards per game).

He had four interceptions, tying for the most in the Mountain West, and was a second-team all-conference selection

The semifinalists for the Bednarik Award, presented by the Maxwell Football Club, will be announced on Oct. 29, and the finalists on Nov. 25.

The winner will be announced Dec. 12 as part of the Home Depot College Football Awards Show.

Alabama, Clemson, Colorado, Florida, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Penn State, Syracuse, TCU, Utah and Utah State were the other teams with two players on the watch list. There are 80 players from 63 teams on the Bednarik list.

The Maxwell Award, presented by the Maxwell Football Club to its player of the year in college football, also released its watch list.

The watch list for the Davey O’Brien Award (top quarterback) will be released on Tuesday, with the Doak Walker Award (running back) on Wednesday, the Biletnikoff Award (receiver) on Thursday and the Mackey (tight end) and Rimington (center) awards on Friday.

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
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