Written By: Roy Countryman @Blitzalytics
With the collegiate season winding down, the Lott Impact Trophy’s 15th annual season is coming to an end. There are many athletes who have shined throughout their journey in 2018, resulting in eight defensive leaders who have emanated the true meaning of IMPACT and finished as award semi-finalists. Although this award is given to the best defensive player in the country, it stands for much more, as the player must make a difference on the field, in the classroom and in the community. The Lott IMPACT Trophy honors both great athletes and individuals.
The award was named after Hall Of Fame safety Ronnie Lott, and was founded as the only award that would recognize greatness in both performance and character. Lott embodied each meaning of IMPACT — Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity — throughout his career at the collegiate and professional levels, setting the stage for many to follow in his footsteps. The trophy represents more than the talent or production of an athlete, but the IMPACT that the student athlete has had within their community.
The semi-finalists were chosen based on a number of accolades, and includes two defensive lineman and six linebackers. Forty-two Lott nominated athletes represented the defensive finest in college football, but now only eight remain. These eight NCAA prospects have made headlines on the gridiron all year but have offered much more in the community. The finalists include:
Christian Wilkins, Defensive Tackle — Clemson
Zach Allen, Defensive End — Boston College
Josh Allen, Outside Linebacker — Kentucky
Ben Burr-Kirven, Linebacker — Washington
Joe Dineen Jr., Linebacker — Kansas
Chase Hansen, Linebacker — Utah
Ben Humphreys, Linebacker — Duke
Jordan Kunaszyk, Linebacker — Cal
The winner will be announced on December 9th following the final week of the collegiate season and the week prior to Bowl season. After starting the year with some unknown names on the nominated list, these few have encapsulated themselves as the defensive elite at the collegiate level. Let’s take a look at who they are:
Christian Wilkins, DT — Clemson
Wilkins has been a name many have been watching for the last few years as he was a returning nominee from the 2017 season. While he fell short then, he has a chance to right the wrong and make the push for the 2018 award. It is no secret that Clemson boasts one of the most dominant defensive lines in college football, and Wilkins remains a prominent factor in their defensive production. The 6’4” 300 pound lineman has accrued 40 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery en route to an undefeated record and a national rank of 2. Thought to be a first round prospect in 2017, he surprised many with his decision to return to school to play his senior season as a Tiger. Wilkins is a leader both in the locker room and in the community. Earning the CoSIDA Academic All Region honor in 2017, he is the first scholarship Tiger to graduate in 2.5 years. Spending his offseason as a substitute school teacher, Wilkins emulates the meaning of IMPACT. Wilkins was a second team mid-season All-American for Sports Illustrated and is a 2018 finalist for the Campbell Award for academic excellence. He remains one of the most dominant defensive linemen in college football, and stands as an elite prospect entering the 2019 NFL Draft.
Zach Allen, DL — Boston College
Displaying the true meaning of student athlete, Allen has been a core leader on and off the field throughout his collegiate career. He is a foundational member of BC’s defensive front and a core reason for their success on that side of the ball. Recording 56 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, 10 quarterback hurries, a blocked kick, a forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, an interception and 7 passes defensed, Allen is the rock in their defensive scheme. He isn’t just a one year wonder either. One of the most disruptive players in the country, Allen was one of only two defensive linemen to record 100 tackles last season. Leading the Eagles with 15.5 tackles for a loss and accruing 5 sacks, the Hawks’ defensive end was named second team All-ACC in 2017. He may not make a true impact in community efforts, but he shines the brightest underneath the academic tree. Zach Allen received Academic All-ACC honors, Academic All District and became a National Honor Society member this past season. As a four-year honor roll student, Allen is the definition of student athlete, as he puts in the effort required to excel in the classroom.
Josh Allen, Edge — Kentucky
Kentucky has surprised many with their production throughout the year, and their outside linebacker is a primary reason for their success. Josh Allen is one of the most dominating and physically gifted athletes at the college level, with first round grades flying around his name as we enter draft season. He is a force along the defensive line and acts as a true leader on the field, in the locker room, and within the community. Having been voted the Lott Impact Trophy’s player of the week a leading three times, Allen has provided a season worthy of the Impact Award. In week 12, Kentucky’s defensive star finished the outing with 2.5 sacks, bringing his collegiate total to 27.5 becoming the Wildcats’ all-time sack leader. Throughout 2018, the linebacker has produced 80 tackles, 17.5 for loss, with 13 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and 4 passes defensed. Beyond the field, he has taken the meaning of IMPACT and brought it into the community. Allen has donated his time to the Special Olympics, the children’s cancer research program, and most recently offered his time to read for young students in the classroom. He is a Nagurski Trophy finalist, Butkus Award finalist, Bednarik Award finalist, and a Walter Camp Football Foundation semi-finalist. Allen is a class act, taking each aspect of his life in high regard. He is impactful in every aspect of the community and the field that he’s been a part of.
Ben Burr-Kirven, LB — Washington
Washington always seems to feature top defensive talents, and Burr-Kirven is no exception. The 2018 campaign marks Burr-Kirven’s second stint on the Lott watch list and his first within the semi-finalists. He is one of the fast risers with respect to his draft stock, and his play and leadership on the field is the reason why. The Washington linebacker has been all over the field, recording 145 tackles (second in the FBS), 4 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception, 5 passes defensed, 4 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries. The Huskies defensive leader has been named the Lott Impact Trophy Player of the Week twice and his name has been in contention each week for the honor. A playmaker on the field, he is no slouch in the classroom, boasting a 3.58 GPA in Comparative Literature, Cinema and Media Studies. He has been on the Dean’s List 6 times in college and has been a two-time academic all district and All Pac-12. He is a playmaker on the field and true leader in each aspect of his life.
Joe Dineen Jr., LB — Kansas
Kansas may not be as high powered as these other teams, but Joe Dineen is certainly as talented as anyone else on this list. Although the Jayhawks are currently enduring a subpar season, their star linebacker has been a bright light on an otherwise disappointing campaign. Currently leading the FBS in solo tackles with 98, he has accrued 128 total with 9.5 for loss, 3 sacks, 1 interception, 1 pass defensed and 2 fumble recoveries. Dineen is a tackling machine that has the ability to fly around the field and make big plays throughout a contest. In 2017, he was named Sports Illustrated All-American after recording an impressive 25 tackles for loss, and he received the Lott Impact Trophy Player of the Week honor on September 8th. Along with his defensive production, Dineen has been a stalwart in the classroom and community, donating his time to a number of non-profit organizations. He has spent numerous hours working to gain awareness for childhood cancer, and has been found to spend countless hours volunteering with the organizations Just Food, Salvation Army, and the Special Olympics, while also performing in the classroom. The electric linebacker has been a consistent member of the Big-12 Honor Roll, and has been awarded Academic All Big-12 Honors, Big-12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll, Academic All Big-12 Rookie Team, and the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll. Having already graduated in May of 2018 with his Bachelor’s Degree in management and leadership with an entrepreneurship concentration, he has been able to donate more time to the community and perfect his craft on the field.
Chase Hansen, LB — Utah
Chase Hansen is the Utes’ leader on the field and in the locker room, as he leads the team in tackles for the second time of his career. Although he was on the Lott Watch list in 2017, injuries took their toll and put him out of the running for the award. Now a senior, he has continued to excel on and off the field, taking the Lott Impact Trophy Player of the Week designation in week 11 of the collegiate season. Hansen has been unstoppable this year, leading Utah to a 8-3 record and to first place in the Pac-12 South division. Hansen has developed into a high profile prospect in 2018, accumulating 88 tackles with 19 for loss, 5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery, 3 passes defensed, and a defensive touchdown. Utah’s linebacker is the heart and soul of the defense, and he has made it a priority to achieve greatness in each aspect of his life. Hansen graduated in the summer of 2018 with a Bachelor’s Degree in consumer and community studies with an emphasis in financial planning and a minor in sociology. He has made academics a priority throughout his college tenure and remains an active member in community outreach.
Ben Humphreys, LB — Duke
Duke has surprised many with their production on the football field, and Ben Humphreys is large reason why. The team captain is a leader both on and off the field who truly believes that academics and community outreach will enrich his life in more ways than one. Duke’s defensive leader possesses undeniable character and a will to succeed. He has totaled 67 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble and 2 fumble recoveries. Although his numbers don’t jump off the page, his team responsibilities and service do. Humphreys received Academic All-ACC honors during his sophomore campaign and has been a regular in the classroom throughout college. The linebacker is currently a semi-finalist for the Campbell Trophy and won the Glenn Davis award in high school for his outstanding performance and service. He was presented with the “Ronald McDonald House Heart of Gold Award,” recognizing his leadership, service, generosity, and overall character. Humphreys has also developed a strong bond with a 5-year old boy that has Pelizaeus-Merzbacher Disease, which affects the brain and spinal cord, restricting movement, motor skills and learning. The Duke athlete visits him frequently and has been a staple in the young child’s life. The Blue Devils athlete is a class act and a monumental difference maker within the community.
Jordan Kunaszyk, LB — Cal
Kunaszyk is a foundational piece in California’s defensive system, leading the team in tackles throughout the past two seasons. After finishing 2017 with 74 tackles, his level of production has skyrocketed to 110 tackles with 10 for loss, 4 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery and 1 pass defensed. Having received an overall GPA of 3.09, the Golden Bears linebacker received an Academic All-American Honorable Mention for his work in sociology, but his work in the classroom isn’t his only accolade. Cal’s defensive leader has been an active and consistent member of his immediate community and the community as a whole. He traveled to Mexico with Athletes in Action to help rebuild a poor and downgraded community. While in Mexico he dug holes, built fences, and developed walls to build a church and living conditions for the locals. Along with his work in Mexico he is an active member of the AIA (American Institute of Architects). Jordan Kunaszyk is a difference maker on the field and in the community.
This has been a tight race all year and many have climbed the ladder to become differences in their communities and on their college campuses. All eight of these defensive athletes have positioned themselves for greatness in each step of their life, and they all have changed the lives of the people around them. They have each created lasting environments where change and IMPACT is embodied.