Southeastern Louisiana quarterback Cole Kelley considers winning the 2020-21 Stats Perform FCS Walter Payton Award as much a reflection on his team’s offense as it is on him.
That kind of mind-set defines the offensive player of the year in college football’s Division I subdivision, according to Southeastern head coach Frank Scelfo.
“Cole’s statistics speak for themselves and I’ll put his numbers against anybody’s in the country,” Scelfo said. “But to understand his real value to our program, you have to go beyond the box score. It’s Cole’s leadership and command of the locker room, the way he’s developed those traits is what has allowed him to develop into such a special player and someone who deserves to win the Walter Payton Award.”
Kelley received the 34th annual Payton Award on Saturday, edging Eastern Washington quarterback Eric Barriere in a vote of a 40-member national media panel following the 2020-21 regular season, which spanned the fall and spring semesters. The fifth-year senior received 137 points to Barriere’s 131, with Sacred Heart running back Julius Chestnut finishing third among 16 finalists with 84 points.
The 6-foot-7, 260-pound Kelley, a native of Lafayette, Louisiana, literally towered over the competition. In seven regular-season games, the Southland Conference offensive player of the year led the FCS in passing yards (2,662), completions (210), total offensive yards (2,708) and total touchdowns (27 with 18 passing, seven rushing and two receiving). He also was in the top five in pass attempts (305, second), TD passes (18, tied for third) and completion percentage (68.9, fifth).
Barriere, a 6-foot, 200-pound senior, ranked in the top five nationally over a six-game regular season in passing yards (2,193, fourth), passing yards per game (365.5, fifth), attempts (265, fifth), completions (166, fifth), touchdown passes (18, tied for third) and total offensive yards (2,328, third). The Big Sky Conference offensive player of the year went on to pass for 246 yards and a touchdown in a playoff loss.
Chestnut, a 6-1, 215-pound junior, was the Northeast Conference offensive player of the year, finishing a four-game regular season as the FCS leader in rushing yards per game (179.3) and all-purpose yards per game (222.0), ranked second in points per game (17.0) and fourth in yards per carry (7.7). He added 138 rushing yards and a touchdown in a playoff loss.
Kelley is the third Payton Award recipient from the Southland, joining Jeremy Moses in 2010 and Jeremiah Briscoe in 2016 and ‘17. Other past recipients of the Heisman of the FCS include Steve McNair, Tony Romo, Brian Westbrook, Jimmy Garoppolo, Cooper Kupp and Trey Lance.
2020-21 Walter Payton Award 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.
1. Cole Kelley, QB, Southeastern Louisiana: 16-8-4-6-1-137
2. Eric Barriere, QB, Eastern Washington: 13-10-5-4-3-131
3. Julius Chestnut, RB, Sacred Heart: 7-4-7-6-0-84
4. Jakob Herres, WR, VMI: 1-4-5-2-4-44
5. Otis Weah, RB, North Dakota: 1-1-5-2-5-33
6. Aqeel Glass, QB, Alabama A&M: 1-1-2-4-7-30
7. Dejoun Lee, RB, Delaware: 0-4-1-1-1-22
8.(tie) Juwon Farri, RB, Monmouth: 0-2-1-2-5-20
8.(tie) Pierre Strong Jr., RB, South Dakota State: 0-2-1-3-3-20
10. Liam Welch, QB, Samford: 0-1-3-1-4-19
11.(tie) Percy Agyei-Obese, RB, James Madison: 1-0-2-1-1-14
11.(tie) Tyler Hudson, WR, Central Arkansas: 0-1-1-2-3-14
13. Quay Holmes, RB, ETSU: 0-1-2-1-1-13
14. Keith Pearson, WR, Presbyterian: 0-0-0-4-1-9
15. DeAngelo Wilson, WR, Austin Peay: 0-1-1-0-1-8
16. Tim DeMorat, QB, Fordham: 0-0-0-1-0-2