Illinois State star named one of three finalists as top FCS defensive player

Freeport High School product Zeke Vandenburgh is the first Illinois FCS player to be named a Buchanan Award finalist since Western Illinois linebacker Brett Taylor in 2017. (Photo by

By Dan Verdun

For the first time in five years, a player from an Illinois school has been named one of the three finalists for the top FCS defensive award.

Illinois State’s Zeke Vandenburgh, a sixth-year redshirt senior, is joined by outside linebacker John Pius of William & Mary and defensive end David Walker of Central Arkansas as the top three vote getters for the Buck Buchanan Award, given annually to the best defensive player at the Division I FCS level.

The three finalists were announced Tuesday morning, along with the fourth-place through 30th-place vote getter. Elon defensive back Marcus Hillman finished fourth; Sacramento State defensive back Marte Mapu was fifth.

The recipient will be announced at the FCS National Awards banquet Jan. 7 in Frisco, Tex. A 54-member panel voted on the 36th annual award following the regular season.

Western Illinois linebacker Brett Taylor finished third in the 2017 Buchanan Award balloting.

Two other WIU Leathernecks — James Milton (1998) and Edgerton Hartwell (2000) — previously won the Buchanan Award.

Illinois State linebacker James “Boomer” Grigsby is the only player in the history of the Buchanan Award to finish in the top three for three consecutive years (2002-04).

On Tuesday, Grigsby — a three-time MVFC Defensive Player of the Year and the all-time FCS leader in tackles — was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Vandenburgh is also be one of 14 FCS players invited to the Hula Bowl, recognized as one of the nation’s top college football all-star games. The game will be played Jan. 14 in Orlando, Fla.

Playing a hybrid linebacker position dubbed “Jack” on the ISU defense, Vandenburgh was named the Missouri Valley Football Conference Defensive Player of the Year last week.

Listed at at 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, Vandenburgh led the MVFC in sacks (14) and tackles for loss (21), and he was third in the league in tackles (100).

Vandenburgh, a Freeport High School graduate, ranked No. 1 in the FCS in sacks per game and tackles for loss per game.

Barry Bottino profiled Vandenburgh following Illinois State’s season-ending victory over rival Western Illinois last month.

2022 Buck Buchanan Award Voting Results

(Courtesy of

Following is a breakdown of the voting results. A first-place vote was worth five points, a second-place vote four points, a third-place vote three points, a fourth-place vote two points and a fifth-place vote one point. The final number is the combined point total.

1. TBA, Jan. 7

2. TBA, Jan. 7

3. TBA, Jan. 7

4. Marcus Hillman, DB, Elon: 1-5-7-5-3-59

5. Marte Mapu, DB, Sacramento State: 4-2-4-1-1-43

6. Ty French, DL, Gardner-Webb: 1-1-4-2-8-33

7. Joe Andreessen, LB, Bryant: 0-2-3-5-3-30

8.(tie) Aubrey Miller Jr., LB, Jackson State: 2-2-2-1-1-27

8.(tie) Caleb Sanders, DL, South Dakota State: 2-1-2-2-3-27

8. (tie) Jay Person, DL, Chattanooga: 1-3-1-3-1-27

11. Johnny Buchanan, LB, Delaware: 0-1-4-3-2-24

12. Alijah Huzzie, DB, ETSU: 0-1-3-1-5-20

13. Spencer Waege, DL, North Dakota State: 0-2-2-2-1-19

14. BJ Davis, LB, South Carolina State: 2-1-0-1-2-18

15. Robby Hauck, DB, Montana: 1-0-0-3-3-14

16. Rodney Dansby, LB, Houston Christian: 0-2-0-1-3-13

17. Malik Hamm, DL, Lafayette: 2-0-0-1-0-12

18. Winston Reid, LB, Weber State: 0-0-1-3-1-10

19. Tristan Wheeler, LB, Richmond: 0-1-0-2-1-9

20. John H. Ford II, LB, UT Martin: 0-0-1-1-3-8

21. Bryce Norman, LB, Southeast Missouri: 0-1-0-1-1-7

22. Antoine Williams, LB, Austin Peay: 0-0-1-1-1-6

23. Kelechi Anyalebechi, LB, UIW: 1-0-0-0-0-5

24.(tie) Khalil Baker, DB, North Carolina Central: 0-0-0-1-2-4

24.(tie) Ryan Greenhagen, LB, Fordham: 0-0-0-2-0-4

26. Kavian Gaither, LB, Sam Houston: 0-0-0-0-1-1

27.(tie) Luke Glenna, DB, St. Thomas: 0-0-0-0-0-0

27.(tie) Jake Heimlicher, DL, Penn: 0-0-0-0-0-0

27.(tie) Stone Snyder, LB, VMI: 0-0-0-0-0-0

27.(tie) Chizi Umunakwe, LB, Central Connecticut State: 0-0-0-0-0-0

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