Northern Illinois University defensive end Sutton Smith entered the 2017 season as a virtual unknown, a new name on the Huskie depth chart at the defensive line position NIU calls the “huskie”.
On Thursday, after breaking the NIU school records for single season tackles for loss, quarterback sacks and fumble recovery touchdowns during a dominating sophomore campaign, Smith was named to the 2017 Walter Camp Football Foundation All-America first team. The 128th edition of the Walter Camp All-America Team, the nation’s oldest All-America team,which is selected by the 130 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) head coaches and athletics communications contacts, was announced Thursday night prior to the ESPN College Football Awards Show in Atlanta.
Smith, whose 28.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks lead the FBS, is the first Huskie player to earn first team Walter Camp All-America honors since running back LeShon Johnson in 1993. The St. Charles, Mo. native joins Johnson and cornerback Shawun Lurry, a second team Walter Camp All-American in 2015, as the only players in school history to be named to the Walter Camp squad.
“I’m extremely happy for Sutton to receive this honor,” Carey said. “He deserves everything he gets, he’s had an unbelievable year and he belongs with the nation’s best. I think his selection makes a strong statement about our program and how we develop players. He’s our first first team Walter Camp All-American since 1993, but with Shawun making second team in 2015, he is the second in just three years which is a great thing.
“Sutton’s play was a key spark to our defense having as great a year that we had, from the sense we didn’t have to cover guys as long. We’ve been disruptive all year as a defense and he led the charge in creating turnovers – both fumbles and forcing interceptions.”
Smith is just the fifth NIU player ever to be named a first team All-American. He is the fourth Huskie in the last five seasons to achieve first team status, with three of the four playing on the defensive side of the ball. Lurry was a first team FWAA All-American in 2015, while quarterback Jordan Lynch and safety Jimmie Ward were honored in 2013. He is one of three sophomores named to this year’s Walter Camp first team and was the only MAC player to receive first team recognition.
The 2017 MAC Defensive Player of the Year, who was also a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation’s best defensive end, Smith is 3.5 tackles for loss away from the NCAA single season record of 32, set by Western Michigan’s Jason Babin in 2003. He and the Huskies will close out the season in the 2017 Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit when they take on Duke on Tuesday, Dec. 26.
More than half of Smith’s 56 total tackles in 2017 went for losses. He scored on a 16-yard strip, sack and fumble return versus Bowling Green on October 21 and picked up a fumble and ran 58 yards for a score versus Western Michigan. He also ranks fourth nationally in fumble recoveries with three on the year and his 73 quarterback pressures lead the nation.
“It’s just a great honor,” Smith said. “Not many people get to be on this team. It’s been an awesome ride and I’m super humbled. I wouldn’t have been able to do what I have done this season without my teammates. I’d lose a lot of games if it were just me out there. Now, my focus is sending these seniors out with a W in our bowl game.”
Earlier on Thursday, Smith was named a first team All-American by the new college football website “The All-American” and was selected to Sports Illustrated’s All-America second team. The Walter Camp All-America Team is one of five used by the NCAA to determine its consensus All-America team.