DeKALB – Sutton Smith always has been a team-first guy.
So even when the Northern Illinois defensive end found out he was named the 2017 Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Smith thanked his teammates first.
“This award means a lot and is great, but I wouldn’t have what I have without the guys next to me,” Smith said. “If it were just about me, I’d lose a lot of games.”
Smith, a sophomore from St. Charles, Missouri, led 11 Huskies who earned All-MAC team and specialty awards, which were announced by the league Wednesday. Quarterback Marcus Childers also was named MAC Freshman of the Year.
“‘I’m not trying to impress anyone,” Childers said. “I’m just trying to help my team win games. You’ve got to give a lot of credit to my guys.”
Smith was one of four NIU players named to the All-MAC first team, along with senior cornerback Shawun Lurry, junior offensive tackle Max Scharping and senior tight end Shane Wimann. Senior linebacker Bobby Jones IV and junior Jawuan Johnson were named to the All-MAC second and third teams, respectively, with senior tailback Jordan Huff, sophomore offensive guard Jordan Steckler, junior defensive end Josh Corcoran and sophomore receiver Spencer Tears joining Johnson on the third unit.
“Overall, I’m really pleased with all of the guys who made the All-MAC team and especially pleased to see that, including Marcus, there were seven underclassmen on the list,” NIU coach Rod Carey said. “For the seniors, it’s a great way to close out their careers and for the seven who are coming back, it’s a challenge to build on what they were able to do this year individually, and on what we have been able to do as a team so far going forward.
“That can start with the bowl game for both the seniors and the young guys with this team getting one more chance to play together.”
Smith leads all FBS players in tackles for loss (28.5) and sacks (14). Both numbers mark NIU single-season records.
“Sutton is certainly deserving of [Defensive Player of the Year], if not more, and I hope there are more postseason awards to come for him,” Carey said. “He played at a consistently high level each week. I’m certainly happy for him to receive these accolades as a sophomore and we look forward to a bright future with him.”
Childers was named NIU’s starting quarterback midway through the season after junior Ryan Graham suffered an elbow injury in Week 1 and backup Daniel Santacaterina battled turnover problems. Childers completed 57 percent of his passes, throwing for 1,440 yards with 15 touchdowns and only five interceptions. He was a steady rushing option, too, picking up 454 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns.
“Marcus certainly made a big contribution as a freshman,” Carey said. “I’m happy with his progress this year. I look forward to him taking the next step, and he has the foundation and experience now to do that.”
NIU (8-4, 6-2) will find out its bowl fate Sunday.
“We can’t settle,” Smith said. “We’ve got to keep in mind there’s more out there for us. We have the mentality like we haven’t earned anything yet. Everyone’s got to keep going.”