Morehead State, St. Thomas Athletes Highlight 2021 PFL Major Award Recipients

Monday, November 29, 2021
by Cody Bush, PFL Media Relations

SAINT LOUIS, Mo. – Morehead State wide receiver BJ Byrd and defensive lineman Vaughn Taylor Jr. became the first duo from the same program to sweep the Pioneer Football League’s Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year awards since 2017. That duo highlighted the PFL’s 2021 Major Award Recipients selected by the PFL’s head coaches and presented Monday.

In addition, St. Thomas freshman running back Hope Adebayo and freshman linebacker Luke Herzog claimed the league’s Freshman Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year honors. They are the first freshman duo from the same program to sweep those awards as separate awards in 2008.

Kick returner Mekhai Johnson is the first Marist player to earn the PFL’s Special Teams Player of the Year award since its establishment in 2015. Davidson head coach Scott Abell won the recognition of his peers as the league’s Coach of the Year for a second consecutive season.

The annual PFL Major Awards announcement launches the league’s annual awards week. The PFL will announce its 29th All-PFL Teams, Tuesday. The league will announce its Scholar-Athlete of the Year, Wednesday, coinciding with the announcement of the 29th Academic All-PFL teams. 

Byrd, of Richmond, California, ended the regular season as the FCS’ top receiver. He led the subdivision with 1,313 receiving yards, 90 receptions, and 8.2 receptions per game in 2021. Byrd also ranked second in touchdown receptions (13) and receiving yards per game (119.4 ypg) during the season. He had eight 100-yard receiving performances in 11 games, including a 223-yard, four-touchdown day against Stetson. Byrd is one of 25 finalists for the Stats Perform FCS Walter Payton Award.

Taylor, of Washington, D.C., led all PFL defenders with 23 tackles for loss and his 2.09 tackles for loss per game, ranking second among all FCS athletes in 2021. He also finished the season tied for second in the PFL with 9.5 sacks and was 14th with 71 total tackles, ranking 20th among FCS players in sacks per game (0.86). He recorded a sack in eight of 11 games in 2021, including all five games in October, and had a tackle for loss in all 11 games. Taylor is one of 25 finalists for the Stats Perform FCS Buck Buchanan Award.

Johnson, of Dorchester, Massachusetts, averaged 23.6 yards per kick return in 2021, ranking 26th among all FCS kick returners. He finished PFL play with 343 kick returns on 15 returns, averaging 22.87 yards per return. In addition, Johnson had the league’s only kick return touchdown – and one of only 40 in the FCS during 2021 – with a 91-yard return against Dayton in Week 7.

Adebayo, of Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, finished his first season with 658 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, finishing 12th among FCS freshmen in yards gained and as one of only six freshmen with double-digit touchdown runs. During the season, Adebayo made his mark in back-to-back games, posting 182 yards and four touchdowns at Stetson in Week 7 and following that with 191 yards and two touchdowns in Week 9 against Marist. 

Herzog, of Mendota Heights, Minnesota, recorded 47 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and four sacks in his freshman campaign. His four sacks all came in PFL play, and he ranked 10th among PFL defenders in total sacks. Herzog also ranked ninth among PFL defenders with eight tackles for loss in league action. His significant two-week span matched Adebayo, with a season-best 2.5 tackles for loss at Stetson followed by a season-best two sacks against Marist.

After leading Davidson to its first-ever PFL regular-season title and its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Division I Football Championship in the spring, Abell and the Wildcats repeated the feat in the fall. Davidson opened the PFL season with six consecutive wins, including victories against co-champion San Diego and both third-place teams – Morehead State and St. Thomas. Davidson was one of 10 teams to appear in the NCAA Division I Football Championship in both the spring and fall seasons.

2021 Pioneer Football League Major Award Winners

Offensive Player of the Year: BJ Byrd, Morehead State
Defensive Player of the Year: Vaughn Taylor Jr., Morehead State
Special Teams Player of the Year: Mekhai Johnson, Marist
Freshman Offensive Player of the Year: Hope Adebayo, St. Thomas
Freshman Defensive Player of the Year: Luke Herzog, St. Thomas
Coach of the Year: Scott Abell, Davidson