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Brian Westbrook wins 2001 Walter Payton Award
Villanova running back honored as the most outstanding player in FCS college football
The senior rushed for 1,603 yards, caught 59 passes for 658 yards, and scored 29 touchdowns in leading 8-3 Villanova to an Colonial Athletic (formerly Atlantic 10) co-title. Also a fixture in the punt and kickoff return games, Westbrook paced FCS during the 2001 season in all-purpose yards (256.64 per game) and scoring (16.7 points per game). Westbrook's 145.7 yards per game were third-best in the division, and he was also seventh in FCS in points responsible for. The Fort Washington, MD native graduated as the NCAA's all-divisions all-purpose yardage leader, with 9,512 total yards to his credit during his four-year career.
Said Villanova coach Andy Talley: "Many people have asked me what player Brian is most like, and Walter Payton comes to mind immediately. Brian has that incredible versatility, the ability to run and catch, and make would-be tacklers miss. His work ethic, drive and perseverance are unmatched. He has made Villanovans everywhere proud. Having Brian Finneran win the Payton in 1997 and now Westbrook in 2001 is beyond what any football program could dream."
Westbrook, just two years removed from major knee surgery, began his season bolting for 146 yards on just 13 carries, catching eight passes for 75 yards, and mustering a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in a 38-14 win over Colgate. On the night, Westbrook scored all five of the team's TDs. After a 100-yard rushing day against Northeastern the following week, Westbrook showed his versatility to the tune of a 128-yard receiving effort in a 31-30 upset at Richmond. Against James Madison a week later, Westbrook rushed for 228 yards in an overtime win. Two weeks later versus Maine, it was 181 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns. Westbrook would finish his career by rushing for 100 yards or better in his final five games, including a 287-yard effort against third-ranked Hofstra and a 233-yard performance in the season finale versus William & Mary.
Westbrook is the eighth running back to win the Payton Award, and the fourth consecutive. The senior became the second player from Villanova to win the Payton, after current Atlanta Falcon Brian Finneran became the first wide receiver to win the Award in 1997. Westbrook is the third player from the Atlantic 10 Football Conference to claim the Payton, after Finneran and New Hampshire running back Jerry Azumah (1998).
Westbrook received 31 first-place votes and 320 points from the panel of 103 FCS sports information directors and selected media. Following Westbrook in the voting were Hofstra's Rocky Butler, who earned 22 first-place votes and 267 total points, and Georgia Southern's Adrian Peterson, who finished in the top three of the voting for the fourth consecutive year. Furman's Louis Ivory finished fifth in this year's voting.
The Walter Payton Award was established in 1987 by The Sports Network.