Brandon Lawrence - FCS Assoc. Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Five weeks into the FCS season, the picture of which players stand out above the rest in terms of both statistics and value is coming into focus.
With strong performances this season, three running backs have dashed their way into the spotlight and onto the Walter Payton Award Watch List. The Payton Award is given to the outstanding player at the FCS level following the regular season.
Cyrus was a strong substitute last season to Payton Award finalist Isaiah Crowell at Alabama State, but now he has the backfield all to himself. The senior ranks third in the nation with 722 rushing yards through five games, and has scored four rushing touchdowns on 101 carries. That's an average of 144.4 rushing yards per game, good for fifth in the FCS. He's proven to be a multi- talented back in the passing game, accounting for 160 yards and one touchdown on 10 receptions. The Hornets are in first place in the Southwestern Athletic Conference's East Division.
Khairi Dickson, Saint Francis (Pa.), RB, Jr., 6-0, 182, Cleveland
Much like Cyrus, Dickson is coming off a 2013 season in which he lived in the shadow of another Payton Award finalist. Kyle Harbridge was an All-American rusher last year, but it's Dickson's turn to shine this season. The junior ranks first in the country in total rushing yards (916) and rushing yards per game (183.2), and is tied for the nation's lead with nine rushing touchdowns. His nine touchdowns (on 136 carries) through five games mean Dickson is responsible for 10.8 points per game for his Northeast Conference team - tied for the sixth-best in the FCS.
Gus Johnson, Stephen F. Austin, RB, Sr., 5-10, 224, Gilmer, Texas
The Lumberjacks have long been a pass-happy offensive team out of the Southland Conference. But with new coach Clint Conque at the helm, Johnson is enjoying a breakout season. The senior running back has carried the ball 58 times in four games, gaining 492 yards (ranked 16th nationally) and nine touchdowns (tied for the national lead). And he's done it in one fewer game than both Dickson and Cyrus. Johnson is averaging 123 rushing yards per game and a blistering 8.5 yards per carry, and ranks third in the nation in averaging 13.5 points per game.
Other players on the Walter Payton Award Watch List are quarterbacks Vernon Adams of Eastern Washington, Bryan Bennett of Southeastern Louisiana, Quinn Epperly of Princeton, Jacob Huesman of Chattanooga, Jordan Johnson of Montana, Michael Nebrich of Fordham, John Robertson of Villanova, Alex Ross of Coastal Carolina and Michael Strauss of Richmond; running backs Rob Hollomon of Central Connecticut State, DaMarcus James of Jacksonville State, David Johnson of Northern Iowa, Keshaudas Spence of Sacred Heart and Zach Zenner of South Dakota State; wide receivers Sam Ajala of Fordham, Kenny Cook of Gardner-Webb, R.J. Harris of New Hampshire and Cooper Kupp of Eastern Washington; and tight end MyCole Pruitt of Southern Illinois.
The Walter Payton Award Watch List can undergo revision during the 2014 season. Ballots will be sent to a national panel of over 150 sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries following the regular season. The top three vote-getters will be invited to the presentation of the award.
The Sports Network also presents the Buck Buchanan, Jerry Rice and Eddie Robinson awards. The Buchanan Award honors the outstanding defensive player in the FCS, the Rice Award goes to the FCS freshman of the year and the Robinson Award is bestowed upon the FCS coach of the year.