Patrick Willis Honored with Conerly Trophy


Associated Press Writer

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Ole Miss' Patrick Willis picked up his first piece of hardware Wednesday when he won the Conerly Trophy, given to the best college football player in the state.

The linebacker is also a finalist for the Butkus and Nagurski awards, and a likely all-America pick. He'd like more trophies.  "I hope so," Willis said of the possibility of more accolades after the award presentation at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame & Museum. "I'm just going to take them one at a time and not ever think that I don't have a chance, but at the same time don't think that I have it wrapped up. I'm just going to sit there in a modest way and hope that I can (win). If not, then it's always a blessing and a pleasure to just be sitting up there."  Willis beat out Scott Eyster of Delta State and Southern Miss' Damion Fletcher for the award.  The 6-foot-3, 230-pound senior from Bruceton, Tenn., led the Southeastern Conference in tackles for the second straight season. This year he was the only SEC defender to average more than 10 tackles a game with 11.4. His 137 stops rank sixth in the nation and he's third in solo tackles with more than seven a game.  "I couldn't believe it, I really couldn't," Willis said. "I thought Scott Eyster was going to get the award. If he would've gotten it I wouldn't have been bitter because he sweated and bled just like I have."  Eyster, a 6-foot-3 senior from Hammond, La., is a four-time finalist for the award. He will lead the Statesmen against North Alabama in the Division II quarterfinals Saturday. He has 3,375 yards passing this season and 31 touchdowns. He has passed for 13,336 yards and 111 touchdowns in his career.  Eyster was named the Gulf South Conference offensive player of the year this season and is a national finalist for the Harlon Hill Award, presented annually to the nation's Division II player of the year.  Fletcher, a freshman tailback who ranks 11th in the country, did not attend the awards because Southern Miss is preparing to play Houston in the Conference USA championship game Friday.  The Biloxi native set a record this year with 1,240 yards rushing, the most by a freshman in Conference USA history. He is the second Golden Eagles freshman to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.  The winner of the Conerly Trophy, named for former quarterback Charlie Conerly, a Clarksdale native who starred for Ole Miss and the New York Giants, is awarded by a panel of 60 Mississippi media representatives. It was first awarded to Delta State running back Treg Thomas in 1996. Cellular South sponsors the award.


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