Stetson’s Payne, Morehead State’s Gahafer highlight 2015 Pioneer Football League Major Award Winners

Monday, November 30, 2015
by Cody Bush, PFL Media Relatiosn

SAINT LOUIS, Mo. – A group of six student-athletes from six different programs were named recipients of the Pioneer Football League’s season-ending awards. In addition, Dayton head coach Rick Chamberlin was named the league’s Coach of the Year, Monday, in a vote of the league’s coaches.

Among individual honors, Stetson safety Donald Payne was named the PFL’s Defensive Player of the Year for a second consecutive year while Morehead State quarterback Austin Gahafer was the league’s Offensive Player of the Year. For the first time the PFL named Special Teams Player of the Year with Dayton cornerback Nick Kaczkowski and Butler wide receiver Guy DiBalsamo sharing the award.

The PFL also named its Freshmen of the Year; San Diego quarterback Anthony Lawrence received the Freshman Offensive Player of the Year award and Campbell linebacker Jack Ryan picked up Freshman Defensive Player of the Year honors.

These honors launch the PFL’s annual awards week. The PFL will announce its 23rd All-PFL squads, Tuesday. The league then will announce its Scholar-Athlete of the Year, Wednesday, coinciding with the announcement of the 23rd Academic All-PFL teams.


Payne, a junior from Fayetteville, Georgia, becomes the fourth student-athlete to earn the league’s Defensive Player of the Year honor in consecutive seasons since the award was created in 2001 – joining Dayton’s Mark Kasmer (2001-02), Morehead State’s Craig Unger (2003-04) and San Diego’s Eric Bakhtiari (2006-07). Payne led all Division I defenders with 7.2 solo tackles per game during the regular season, helping him to finish 11th in total tackles (11.4 per game). He also ranked among Division I Top 20 in passes defended (14th, 1.3 pg) and tackles for loss (19th, 1.5 pg).

Gahafer, a junior from Louisville, Kentucky, becomes the second Morehead State player to earn the league’s Offensive Player of the Year award. He joins David Caudill, who was named the PFL South Division Player of the Year in 2003. Gahafer finished the season with 3,244 passing yards with 24 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions over 510 pass attempts. He was ranked among the FCS Top 10 in five different categories and was second in the nation in passing yards and completions per game (26.45) at regular-season’s end. Gahafer also had three rushing touchdowns and two touchdown receptions during the 2015 season.

Kaczkowski, a redshirt senior from Powell, Ohio, was primarily a gunner on Dayton’s special teams units in 2015. He finished the season with team-best 15 special teams tackles (second most in PFL) and also had a blocked kick in a season-opening win against Robert Morris. In addition, Kaczkowski had two punt returns in the nonconference portion of the season. Behind his performance, Dayton led the PFL in kickoff coverage (39.7 net kickoff yards).

DiBalsamo, a redshirt junior from Chicago, Illinois, also wore many hats on Butler’s special teams units. He totaled 140 yards on seven kickoff returns during the season. When not returning a kick, DiBalsamo had a PFL-best 19 special teams tackles (11 on kickoffs, eight on punts). He also threw a pair of touchdown passes during the season, and amassed 577 all-purpose yards with six carries and 24 receptions in addition to his kick returns.

Lawrence, a redshirt freshman from La Mesa, California, stood out among an impressive crop of freshmen offensive players in the league. Taking over signal-calling duties off the bench in the season-opener, he finished the season with 2,392 passing yards and 23 touchdowns while throwing only six interceptions in 295 pass attempts. Among FCS freshmen, Lawrence was second in both touchdown passes and passing efficiency (153.5) – ranking 10th among all FCS passers in those two categories – while ranking third in passing yardage. Lawrence is the third San Diego student-athlete to earn the league’s Freshman Offensive Player of the Year award, joining Kyle Warren (2009) and Brandon White (2011).

Ryan, a redshirt freshman from Matthews, North Carolina, led all PFL freshmen with 47 tackles (5.9 per game) in 2015. He also ranked 12th in the league in best among freshmen with 8.5 tackles for loss (1.06 per game). Ryan finished the regular season ranked 77th nationally (sixth among FCS freshmen) in tackles for loss. He becomes the first Campbell student-athlete to receive one of the PFL’s annual postseason awards.

In his eighth season as Dayton head coach, Rick Chamberlin led the program to its first appearance in the NCAA Division I Football Championship and was selected by his fellow coaches as the league’s Coach of the Year. It is his second Coach of the Year citation, after receiving the 2010 award. The Flyers began the season with 10 consecutive wins en route to a 10-1 regular season mark and a share of the PFL championship. Now in his 41st season as a member of the Dayton football program – as a player, assistant coach and now head coach – he has been a part of more Dayton wins than any other individual. It is the ninth time a Dayton coach has won the league’s top coaching honor.

Dayton and San Diego shared the 2015 PFL regular-season title. It was the Flyers 12th PFL Championship its first since 2010 but seventh since 2000. The Toreros clinched a share of their seventh PFL title and it was their fourth crown in the last five seasons.


Offensive Player of the Year: Austin Gahafer, Morehead State
Defensive Player of the Year: Donald Payne, Stetson
Co-Special Teams Player of the Year: Nick Kaczkowski, Dayton
Co-Special Teams Player of the Year: Guy DiBalsamo, Butler
Freshman Offensive Player of the Year: Anthony Lawrence, San Diego
Freshman Defensive Player of the Year: Jack Ryan, Campbell
Coach of the Year: Rick Chamberlin, Dayton
Scholar-Athlete of the Year: To be announced, Wednesday