Illinois State linebacker Zeke Vandenburgh (5) turned a career year into the Missouri Valley Football Conference Defensive Player of the Year Award, which was announced Monday. (Photo by GoRedbirds.com)
By Barry Bottino
Four times this season, Illinois State senior linebacker Zeke Vandenburgh earned Missouri Valley Football Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors.
On Monday, he took home the league’s biggest defensive honor when he was named MVFC Defensive Player of the Year.
“I’m very proud of him and how he finished his career here,” ISU head coach Brock Spack said after the team’s season-ending overtime win against Western Illinois earlier this month.
Vandenburgh led the FCS in total sacks (14), sacks per game (1.4) and tackles for loss per game (2.1) while finishing second nationally in total TFLs (21).
His remarkable season for the Redbirds earned him 150 points in voting for the league’s top defensive honor from media members who cover the league, easily outdistancing defensive linemen Caleb Sanders of South Dakota State (94) and Spencer Waege of North Dakota State (91). He also earned a spot on the All-MVFC first team.
Illinois State players have won the MVFC’s top defensive honor eight times, but Vandenburgh is the first to win since linebacker Cameron Siskowic in 2006.
Vandenburgh, who has accepted an invitation to the Hula Bowl all-star game, recently was named one of 30 finalists for the Buck Buchanan Award, which is awarded to the top defensive player in FCS.
Offensive linemen Drew Bones joined Vandenburgh on the All-MVFC first team, while tight ends Bryson Deming and Tanner Taula, and cornerback Deandre Lamont earned honorable mention all-conference.
Illinois schools took home two of the four major MVFC awards for players Monday as Western Illinois junior wide receiver Naseim Brantley won Newcomer of the Year honors, along with a first-team spot.
In his first year at Western after transferring from FCS Sacred Heart, Brantley has 53 catches in 10 games and ranked No. 19 nationally in TD catches (nine) and No. 18 in receiving yards per game (89.3).
He did all that despite playing with three different starting quarterbacks this fall in Macomb.
“As a newcomer that just arrived this summer, he immediately came in and made a huge impact,” WIU head coach Myers Hendrickson said Monday. “Every time the ball goes his way, we have total confidence he is going to make the play.”
Brantley sustained a broken left leg in the team’s final home game in November and missed the season finale against Illinois State.
He edged Illinois State quarterback Zack Annexstad in voting for the top newcomer award, 87 points to 75.
Three WIU players – linebacker Juan DelaCruz, safety T.J. Limehouse and kicker Mason Laramie – were named honorable mention all-conference.
For Southern Illinois, defensive lineman Richie Hagarty earned first-team MVFC honors, while fullback Jacob Garrett, wide receiver Avante Cox, linebacker Branson Combs, defensive back P.J. Jules and running back Javon Williams Jr. earned second-team honors.
SIU offensive lineman Beau Branyan, quarterback Nic Baker and wide receiver D’Ante Cox were named to the honorable mention team.