Fresno State is one of just eight FBS programs in the nation to have two players on the watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award that goes annually to the nation’s top defensive back, and linebacker Mykal Walker is on the list for the Butkus Award that honors the best linebacker.
Cornerback Jaron Bryant and safety Juju Hughes, two standouts on a defense that a year ago led the Mountain West Conference and was No. 4 in the nation allowing opponents to complete only 51.8 percent of their passes, made the Thorpe list.
Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Eastern Michigan, Georgia Southern, Michigan, Ohio and Utah also had two players on the watch list, which includes 46 players from 38 teams.
For Hughes, it is his second major award watch list. The senior from Hanford also is on the watch list for the Bednarik Award (top defensive player), along with Walker.
The Bulldogs also have tight end Jared Rice on watch lists for the Mackey Award (tight ends) and the Biletnikoff Award (receivers) and running back Ronnie Rivers on the watch list for the Doak Walker Award.
Bryant, a senior from Fort Worth, Texas, was an honorable mention All-Mountain West selection last season after defending 12 passes, second most on the team. He was the conference’s special teams player of the week of Sept. 3 after becoming the first player in history to return two blocked field goals for touchdowns in a rout of Idaho.
Hughes, a second-team all-conference selection last season, had four interceptions, tying for most in the Mountain West with teammate Tank Kelly, Dakari Monroe (San Jose State), Javin White (UNLV), Aaron Wade (Utah State) and D.J. Williams (Utah State).
Walker, a first-team All-Mountain West selection as a defensive end, is moving this fall to the middle linebacker spot that Jeff Allison played the past two seasons.
Bryant and Hughes are the first Bulldogs to make the Thorpe Award watch list since 2014 with safety Derron Smith and cornerback L.J. Jones.
Safety Phillip Thomas was a finalist for the award in 2012.
The winner of the 2019 Jim Thorpe Award will be presented Dec. 12 at the Home Depot College Football Awards show. The Butkus Award will select semifinalists on Nov. 4, finalists on Nov. 25 and the winner will be announced on or before Dec. 10.