Football: Three Bulldogs make Nagurski Trophy watch list

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Football: Three Bulldogs make Nagurski Trophy watch list

Richard LeCounte (2) and Monty Rice (32) - Georgia vs. Auburn 2019 - First Quarter - November 16, 2019
Richard LeCounte (2) and Monty Rice (32) – Georgia vs. Auburn 2019 – First Quarter – November 16, 2019

Three Georgia Bulldogs have been named to the 2020 preseason watchlist for Nagurski Trophy, which is an award given annually to the National Defensive Player of the Year. Senior safety Richard LeCounte, senior inside linebacker Monty Rice and redshirt junior Eric Stokes were named among 98 candidates, making UGA one of seven other programs that have three players named.

Alabama, LSU, Oregon, Pitt, USC and Washington are all the other programs to have three players listed.

All three representatives were members of Georgia’s 2017 recruiting class. Per the 247Sports Composite, that 2017 UGA class was ranked third nationally in recruiting. That class has already manufactured two first-round NFL Draft picks in offensive tackles Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson. It also included second-round pick D’Andre Swift and fifth round pick Jake Fromm. All four players were selected in the 2020 NFL Draft.

LeCounte is entering his third season as a starter and has racked up 135 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, five interceptions, six pass breakups, five fumble recoveries and four forced fumbles over the past two seasons. He has played in all 28 games during the 2018 and 2019 seasons with 27 starts. He also led the team in tackles in 2018 with 74. Each of his five career interceptions have come in Georgia’s last 16 games. LeCounte is up for the Thorpe and Bednarik Awards as well.

Rice led the team in tackles in 2019 and has already been named to the watch list for the Butkus Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top linebacker. During his junior campaign, Rice had 89 total stops, three tackles for loss, eight quarterback hurries and three pass breakups.

Eric Stokes (27) - Georgia vs. Tennessee 2019 - Fourth Quarter - October 05, 2019
Eric Stokes (27) – Georgia vs. Tennessee 2019 – Fourth Quarter – October 05, 2019

Stokes played in all 14 games for the Bulldogs last year with 13 starts after starting three out of four games to end the 2018 season. The former three-star prospect racked up 38 total stops with one tackle for loss, one sack and a team-leading nine pass breakups. He has also broken up 18 passes over the last two seasons, and the one sack of his career came against Tennessee, causing a forced fumble that was returned for a touchdown by Tae Crowder.

All three players who were named for the Nagurski Award had the opportunity to enter the 2020 NFL Draft where they would have likely been taken. Instead, they all decided to come back for the 2020 season and improve a unit that was ranked as the No. 1 scoring defense a year ago. The Bulldogs allowed just 12.6 points per game in 2019 and finished second in run defense (yards per carry), second in pass defense (yards per attempt) and second in total defense (yards per play).

The Nagurski trophy is named after former Minnesota two-way athlete Bronko Nagurski, who also played for the Chicago Bears. It is voted on by the Football Writers Association of America.

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Currently an intern for BI, and a junior journalism major at the University of Georgia.