HOUSTON -- Tennessee junior Jonathan Hefney is one of 18 semifinalists for the inaugural Randy Moss Return Man Award, GameDay Consultants and Gulf Coast Events announced in a Tuesday release.
In alphabetical order, the semifinalists are: Ray Baum, Iowa St; Darrell Blackman, North Carolina State; Ross Dickerson, Hawaii; Chris Garrett, Ohio; Jonathan Hefney, Tennessee; Jessie Henderson, Southern Methodist; Mikey Henderson, Georgia; DeSean Jackson, California; Grant Jones, Oklahoma State; Kevin Marion, Wake Forest; Damon Nickson, Middle Tennessee; Ean Randolph, South Florida; Lowell Robinson, Pittsburgh; Jeff Smith, Boston College; Sammie Stroughter, Oregon State; Marcus Thigpen, Indiana; Jeremy Trimble, Army; and Josh Wilson, Maryland.
"We are extremely excited to announce these fine young men as the best in their field and as semifinalists for our award," said Jerry Ippoliti, president of Gulf Coast Events. "Their work on the field as outstanding return specialists will finally be recognized and we look forward to the best in the country being announced at our game in January for the inaugural Randy Moss Return Man Award."
Hefney, who returns punts in addition to his regular defensive back duties, ranks third in the Southeastern Conference with a 14.3-yard punt return average on 14 attempts. He broke a career-long, 65-yard punt return in the fourth quarter against South Carolina, setting up the clinching score. For his career, Hefney has 50 punt returns for a 9.3-yard average.
The award, voted on by collegiate sports information directors, will be presented for the first time at the 2007 North South All-Star Classic in Houston to the Division I-A athlete who demonstrates exceptional talent and skill in returning punts or kickoffs. Each year, the field of nominees will be the previous year's leaders or finalists who have remaining eligibility and excelled during the course of that season. These individuals should also represent their team and universities with the highest standards of character. Every week during the season, a "watch list" of candidates will be identified who have displayed outstanding statistics to support their candidacy.
The selection of the finalists will be Dec. 13, with the winner being announced and presented at the North South All-Star Classic being played Jan. 13 in Houston. The game, featuring 90 of the nation's finest collegiate seniors, is set for 11 a.m. Central time and will be broadcast live on ESPN2. Head Coaches for the 2007 game are Mike Leach of Texas Tech (South) and Dick Tomey of San Jose State (North).
TUESDAY MEDIA DAY COMMENTS FROM HEAD COACH PHILLIP FULMER
"We started practice (Monday) with a really good demeanor. I think the team has shown some resiliency, which we expected them to have. They look forward to playing again, and they went back to work (Monday). That's what I wanted to see from them.
"It's important for us right now to get our dynamics of our football team back to where we were when we played against California, or during the early part of our year or during our five-game winning streak. We've had a tough couple weeks, and as I told our team, if you want something to change, you've got to change it. I believe they've taken that to heart, and they are working to get started on Vanderbilt, but also to get back our good practice habits back on the field again. We've been a pretty good practice team for the most part, and we're making sure that we're going to take that to the game field.
"As far as (quarterback) Erik Ainge is concerned, I expect him to be there (on the field Saturday). He's probably upgraded to probable at this point. He practiced the whole time (Monday), did all the drills, and that was encouraging. With that, it will be important for him to follow that with the same kind of work here in the next couple of days. Jonathan Crompton will certainly be ready and available, and I think with as much as Vanderbilt does defensively, it will be a real plus to have Erik out there for us.
"Vanderbilt has a good team. Their quarterback (Chris Nickson) is a real operator, just an excellent player. Their scheme is good, and we have to contain the quarterback as we get ready for them, along with their outstanding receivers. They have a solid group of receivers, with Earl Bennett being the guy that is certainly a dynamic football player.
"Their defense gives you lots of looks. They really make you work at finding the pressure, and they're a big pressure team. It's nothing that we haven't seen probably most of the year, just more of it as we prepare for them.
"Kicking-wise, our kicker (James Wilhoit) and punter (Britton Colquitt) are real important in this ballgame, along with our coverage and our return teams.
"As I said in the beginning, I'm looking for the focus and demeanor on the practice field that we create our good habits and carry those over into the game. Our focus is 100 percent on Vanderbilt and being the best Tennessee team that we can be. Our alignments, our assignments, our reactions to plays, our ability to run the ball, our ability to play-action pass or drop-back pass, our ability to stop the run, to play zone coverage, to play man coverage, all those things are going to be real important to us as we go into this Vanderbilt game."
(E-mail Stan Crawley at email@example.com)