Chattanooga, TN (Sports Network) -
Eastern Illinois quarterback Tony Romo was named the 16th winner of the Walter Payton Award Thursday at the FCS College Football Awards, on the eve of the national championship game.
The award is given annually to the most outstanding college football player on the FCS level.
The senior passed for 2,950 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2002, completing 237 of 363 passes (65.3 percent) in leading Eastern Illinois to an 8-3 record, the Ohio Valley Conference co-title, and a FCS playoff berth.
Romo headed one of the most prolific offenses in the nation during the 2002 season, as the Panthers averaged 37.7 points per game despite the presence of two FBS opponents and no sub-FCS competition on its ?02 slate. The Burlington, WI native finished his career with 84 touchdown passes, shattering the previous school mark of 75 held by current New York Giants offensive coordinator Sean Payton.
"Walter Payton exemplified what dedication and commitment can accomplish," said Eastern Illinois coach Bob Spoo. "Tony is a classic example of what can be achieved by following Payton?s qualities. Tony earned the respect of his teammates by his work ethic. No matter how much individual success he achieved, he still was one of the hardest working players right up to his final collegiate game. That work ethic and leadership resulted in his teammates expecting to succeed. Tony is a quality young man who led his team to victories."
Romo began his 2002 campaign by passing for 319 yards and four touchdowns against FBS Hawaii, and followed that performance by completing 23 of 35 passes against Big 12 power Kansas State. In OVC play, Romo retained his form, completing 28 of 38 for 373 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Tennessee Tech, and came back the next week with 359 yards and two touchdowns against Eastern Kentucky. In the latter game, Romo made perhaps the biggest rush of his career, bolting for an eight-yard touchdown as time expired to give EIU a 25-24 win. The 6-3, 224-pounder wouldn't slow down after that, throwing for a combined 919 yards and 11 touchdowns against league foes Southeast Missouri, Tennessee State and Murray State. For his efforts, Romo was named OVC Offensive Player of the Year, becoming the first player in league history to win three straight such honors.
Romo is the seventh quarterback to win the Payton Award, and the first since Montana's Dave Dickenson in 1995. The senior became the first player from the Ohio Valley Conference to win the Payton, and only the second from the league to capture a major I-AA Award. Murray State's Houston Nutt, now the head coach at Arkansas, won the Eddie Robinson Award in 1995.
Romo received 24 first-place votes and 268 points from the panel of 109 FCS sports information directors and selected media. Following Romo in the voting were Villanova quarterback Brett Gordon, who earned 18 first-place votes and 245 total points, and Grambling State's Bruce Eugene, who had 21 first-place votes and 234 total points.
The Walter Payton Award was established in 1987 by The Sports Network.