Huskers Earn Five Spots on All-Big Ten First Team
Nebraska players earned five first-team spots on both the Coaches and Media All-Big Ten teams announced on Monday evening. Junior Brett Maher was named first-team All-Big Ten as both a place-kicker and punter, and he was joined on the first team by junior running back Rex Burkhead, senior linebacker Lavonte David and senior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.
Maher, David and Dennard also earned individual awards for their excellence at their respective positions. Maher earned both the Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year Award and the Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year. David was honored with the first Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year honor, while Dennard received the Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year.
In addition to the four first-team honorees, Nebraska had a pair of offensive linemen earn second-team All-Big Ten honors. Senior center Mike Caputo was a second-team choice by the Big Ten coaches, while sophomore guard Spencer Long earned second-team accolades from the conference media.
Five Nebraska players earned honorable-mention All-Big Ten honors from the coaches, while eight players received honorable-mention accolades from the media. Those earning honorable-mention honors included Caputo (media), Long (coaches), safety Austin Cassidy (media), linebacker Will Compton (coaches, media), tight end Ben Cotton (coaches, media), offensive tackle Marcel Jones (coaches, media), defensive end Cameron Meredith (media), safety Daimion Stafford (media) and defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler (coaches, media). Additionally, senior defensive tackle Jared Crick was Nebraska's Big Ten Sportsmanship Award honoree.
The 6-1, 225-pound David became the fourth Nebraska defender in Bo Pelini's four seasons as a head coach to be a two-time first-team all-conference selection, joining Ndamukong Suh, Prince Amukamara and Jared Crick. He is the first Nebraska linebacker to earn back-to-back first-team all-conference honors since Carlos Polk in 1999 and 2000.
David once again led Nebraska with 122 tackles, including 11 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He also has two interceptions, two fumbles caused and two fumble recoveries. In addition to his All-Big Ten honors and the Linebacker of the Year Award, David is one of six finalists for the Butkus Award.
After earning second-team All-Big 12 honors in his junior season, Dennard had a standout year in Nebraska's first year in the Big Ten. After missing the first three games of 2011, Dennard returned to solidify the Nebraska pass defense. After Dennard returned to full health for the final seven games, NU opponents completed just 49 percent of their passes.
Dennard had six pass breakups and was at his best against the league's top receivers, shutting down Iowa's Marvin McNutt, the Big Ten's Receiver of the Year, and Michigan State's B.J. Cunningham. Dennard's selection gives Nebraska five first-team all-conference defensive backs in the past three seasons.
Burkhead was one of the most reliable offensive players in the Big Ten in 2011. The junior from Plano, Texas, has rushed for 1,268 yards and 15 touchdowns, while being on the receiving end of another two scores. He posted seven 100-yard rushing games, including five in Big Ten Conference action, and he scored at least one touchdown in 11 of 12 games in 2011. Burkhead is the first Nebraska running back to earn first-team all-conference honors since Brandon Jackson in 2006.
At the start of the season, Maher faced the difficult task of replacing Alex Henery, who earned All-America honors while handling both the place-kicking and punting duties. Maher was more than up to the challenge, earning first-team all-league honors in both areas. He is the first player in the Big Ten to be first-team all-conference as both the kicker and punter since Purdue's Travis Dorsch in 2001.
A walk-on from Kearney, Maher connected on 19-of-22 field goals, including a perfect 16-of-16 from inside 50 yards. His 19 field goals tie for the second-most in school history and Nebraska now has a streak of 31 straight games without a missed field goal from less than 50 yards. In the punting department, Maher leads the Big Ten with a 45.0-yard average per kick. He has had 24 of his punts downed inside the opponents' 20-yard line and 20 of his punts have traveled 50 or more yards.
Maher is Nebraska's first all-conference punter since Kyle Larson in 2003, and the Huskers' first all-league place-kicker since Josh Brown in 2002. Despite earning first-team All-America honors in 2010, Henery was not a first-team All-Big 12 selection during his Nebraska career.
Nebraska's five first-team selections were the second-most in the Big Ten. Wisconsin had eight first-team selections on the media team and six first-teamers according to the coaches.
Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year: Lavonte David
Named for Illinois' Dick Butkus and Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald
Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year: Alfonzo Dennard
Named for Ohio State's Jack Tatum and Purdue's Rod Woodson
Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year: Brett Maher
Named for Wisconsin's Jim Bakken and Michigan State's Morten Andersen
Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year: Brett Maher
Named for Illinois' Dike Eddleman and Michigan State's Brandon Fields