YUMA, Ariz. – What a year! The Arizona Western football team will cap an outstanding campaign with the best reward of all: 26 student-athletes are expected to sign and transfer to a four-year school or university.
Linebacker Patrick Macon (Oklahoma State) dominated offenses all season on the way to being named the NJCAA Defensive Player of the Year. He led the nation with 27.5 tackles for loss and added nine sacks to go along with 122 tackles as the leader of one of the best defenses (9.4 points per game allowed) in the nation. Linebacker Abe Thompson also played a critical role all season by using his speed to help cover receivers, tight ends and running backs. He is currently mulling over his options that includes an offer from Murray State.
An incredible seven players along the Matador defensive line have signed to continue their education. Craig Evans (Oregon State), Josh Curry (Arkansas State), Devin Webster (Northern Illinois), Matt Leo (Iowa State) and Anthony Love (Missouri Southern) all worked on the interior of one of the best defenses in the nation. Evans was named an NJCAA All-American Honorable Mention by finishing fourth on the team with 58 tackles and third on the team with 18.5 tackles for loss.
At defensive end, Chris Favoroso (Montana) and Rob Jones (Miles College) are headed to new places next season. Favoroso was a holy terror off the edge and racked up 10.5 sacks and 22 tackles for loss while finishing third on the team with 65 tackles. Meanwhile Jones pulled double duty by suiting up for the conference champion Matador basketball team after football season ended.
In the secondary, three Mats are moving on. Keisean Nixon (South Carolina), Matthew Boateng (Fresno State) and Kamau Farrell Burke (Middle Tennessee State) all were part of a ball-hawking secondary that picked off 22 passes this season. Nixon was named an NJCAA Second Team All-American after leading the Mats as a shutdown corner while grabbing six interceptions. Plus, he returned back-to-back kickoffs for touchdowns in a pivotal first half at Mesa. Boateng and Farrell Burke both ended the season with two interceptions as well.
Along the offensive line, Yasir Durant (Missouri), Irving Schuster (Idaho) and Shawn Best (Tarleton State) have all signed. Jason Linden is still weighing offers from a couple of schools (including Southeast Missouri and Murray State). All four helped contribute to a punishing ground attack. AWC averaged 242.1 rushing yards per game (sixth in the nation) and 5.5 yards per rush (ninth).
A deep, talented tight end group are all expected to move on. Sophomore tight end Jeremy Patton, the nation’s top-ranked junior college tight end, signed with Arkansas, and he led the team with six touchdowns and was the El Toro Bowl Runner-Up Offensive MVP after catching a TD in the NJCAA National Championship game. David Lucero (University of Texas-El Paso) and Josiah Maglente-Tonu (Southern Oregon) also signed, and Austin Applebee is set to walk on at USC. All four tight ends also played an important role in paving the way for the Matador ground game.
Wide receiver Jefferie Gibson is headed to Arkansas State after grabbing five touchdowns for the Mats this season. He broke through in a big way when he turned two of his first four catches into TD’s against Eastern Arizona last September.
Running back Trey Rodriguez (Marshall) and fullback Devin Rothrock (University of Texas-San Antonio) both had a big hand in the Matador rushing attack. Rodriguez was fourth in the nation with 16 rushing touchdowns while grinding out 944 yards at 4.9 yards per carry. Rothrock helped lead the way for both Rodriguez and freshman Greg Bell III throughout the season as the two backs combined for more than 2000 yards.
Kicker Brady Viles (University of Texas-El Paso) spent the season handling kickoff duties for AWC, and he excelled. With 36 touchbacks on 71 kicks, he sent more than 50% of his chances too deep to be returned. Plus he went 3-3 on extra points.
A pair of quarterbacks round out the class for the Mats. Alex Ogle signed with Tusculum College while Austin Kafentzis is set to walk on at BYU next season. The two backed up Emanuel Gant during the season. Ogle finished with four touchdowns and threw for 121 yards in the team’s win at Scottsdale to close the regular season. Kafentzis provided options as a runner in the team’s goal line packages and ran for a touchdown.
AWC wrapped up the year 11-1 after falling in an instant classic in the NJCAA National Championship. Under head coach Tom Minnick, the Mats have been to eight straight bowl games and two national championship games. Minnick has had 188 players sign with four-year schools since 2008 and has had players consistently succeed at the next level.
Arizona Western College is one of the top community colleges in Arizona. The college boasts partnerships with all three state universities that include face-to-face classes in Yuma. AWC leads the state in enrollment growth over the past 10 years and handed out more than 2,400 certificates and degrees in 2015-16.