A couple of Georgia defenders were among 90 college football players named to the Bednarik Award watch list earlier this week. Fourth year junior cornerback Eric Stokes and senior safety Richard LeCounte made the list for an award that is annually given to the nation’s best defensive player.
Former UGA safety J.R. Reed was a semifinalist in 2019 and former linebacker Roquan Smith was a finalist in 2017. The award is named after Chuck Bednarik, a standout player at the University of Pennsylvania and for the Philadelphia Eagles. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1969 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967. The award was first given in 1995, and the only Bulldog to ever win it was David Pollack in 2004.
Stokes is entering his second full season as a starter at UGA with 16 starts over the past two years. In 2019, he accounted for 38 total tackles and led the team in pass breakups with nine. Stokes had a career-high and team-high nine tackles against Auburn this past season on The Plains. He also had a sack and forced fumble against Tennessee that was returned for a touchdown by Tae Crowder. He also is credited with a blocked punt that he returned for a touchdown against Missouri in 2018.
The Covington, Ga., native was a former three-star prospect out of Eastside High School and was a late addition on National Signing Day in 2017. He redshirted his first season in Athens and has since became a “diamond in the rough” type of player for Kirby Smart and his staff.
LeCounte is also a member of that talented 2017 class where he was a five-star prospect. He’s entering his third full season as a starter and has racked up 135 total tackles over the past two seasons. In 2019, he had 61 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and three pass breakups. Currently he has five interceptions in his career, six pass breakups, five fumble recoveries and four forced fumbles.
Both Stokes and LeCounte had the opportunity to enter the 2020 NFL Draft, but elected to come back for this upcoming season. Last season, they both played on a unit that was the No. 1 ranked scoring defense only allowing an average of 12.6 points per game. UGA was also ranked No. 2 in rush defense (yards per carry), No. 2 in pass defense (yards per pass attempt) and No. 2 in total offense (yards per play).
Despite having two players make the list, two other Bulldogs could have easily qualified. Redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari, who led the team in sacks in 2019 with 5.5 and senior inside linebacker Monty Rice, who led the team in tackles a year ago weren’t named.
Semifinalists for the Bednarik Award will be announced on Nov. 3 and the finalists will be revealed on Nov. 23. The winner will be announced at the ESPN Home Depot College Football Awards Show on Dec. 10.