COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Senior quarterback Lee Sweeney
received the prestigious Robert Hill Johnson Award and six other
teammates accepted honors Sunday afternoon as the Tennessee Tech
football squad was recognized at the team’s 2010 Awards
Sadly, head coach Watson Brown was not able to attend the event after his mother, Katherine, passed away earlier in the day.
“All of us will keep coach Brown and his entire family in our thoughts and prayers,” said Director of Athletics Mark Wilson. “He looked forward to this event, but this is a reminder to all of us that life is so much bigger than football.”
The coaching staff handed out four long-standing awards plus three new honors after the Golden Eagles posted a 6-5 overall record in 2009, including an undefeated 3-0 mark against the three Tennessee schools in the Ohio Valley Conference to capture the Sgt. York Trophy. Tech also posted a perfect 5-0 record at home in Tucker Stadium and had a winning record of 5-3 in conference play.
Taron Ryce received the Sonny Allen Leadership Award, Derrian Waters accepted the Tech Pride Award, and Brendon Fisher the Unsung Hero Award. Brown and his staff established four new awards, including the Offensive Player of the Year that went Tim Benford, Defensive Player of the Year to Dustin Dillehay, and Special Teams Player of the Year to Josh Paz.
The Dog Daggett Most Improved Player Award, named in memory of the team equipment manager who passed away in November, will be selected at the conclusion of spring drills.
Sweeney, a product of Mt. Juliet, Tenn., was a four-year starter at quarterback for the Golden Eagles and set numerous single-game, season and career records while ranking among the top all-time passers in OVC history. Among his career records were most passing yards, most passing touchdowns, most completions, most yards of total offense and most touchdowns responsible for.
Sweeney is the sixth quarterback to win the RHJ Award, but only the second signal-caller in 40 seasons to be selected. The only other since 1972 was Grant Swallows in 2001, who was at Sunday’s dinner. The last quarterback prior to that was Jim Waddell in 1971.
The Sonny Allen Leadership Award went to senior cornerback Taron Ryce from Harvest, Ala. The only senior starter in a young Golden Eagle secondary, Ryce was second on the team with nine passes defended and also contributed 56 total tackles, two tackles-for-loss, two quarterback sacks, and two interceptions. Ryce finished his career with 201 total tackles, 33 passes defended and six interceptions.
For Waters, a fifth-year senior from Franklin, Tenn., it marked back-to-back Tech Pride Awards. Waters came into the year as the starter at a linebacker position but suffered a knee injury in the season-opener against Pikeville. He worked hard to rehab his injured knee and returned to the field for the final game of the season, scoring a touchdown in Tech’s win over Murray State.
He is only the third player to repeat as the winner of the Tech Pride Award, joining D.J. Bleisath in 2000 and 2001, and Sam Brooks in 1988 and 1990.
Brendon Fisher, a senior from Tallahassee, Fla., took home the Unsung Hero Award, in recognition of his substantial contributions to the team. A three-year start and team co-captain, Fisher registered 35 total tackles, six tackles-or-loss, two quarterback sacks, one interception and two passes defended.
Wide receiver Tim Benford was named the Offensive Player of the Year. A sophomore from Chattanooga, Benford led Tech with 33 receptions for 580 yards and two touchdowns on his way to earning first-team all-OVC honors. Benford caught the game-winning touchdown pass in Tech’s 20-13 win over Tennessee State that clinched the York Trophy.
Dustin Dillehay, a junior from Hartsville, Tenn., claimed the Defensive Player of the Year award, a tribute to his hard work, determination and team-first attitude. Dillehay led the team with 78 total tackles and also had three interceptions, two tackles-for-loss and four passes defended. Dillehay was named OVC and National Defensive Player of the Week after his late-game interception return for touchdown helped Tech defeat UT Martin in another key York Trophy contest.
The Special Teams Player of the Year honor went to junior Josh Paz of McMinnville, Tenn. He played on all four of Tech’s special teams and finished with 24 total tackles covering kickoffs and punts. He played on more than 200 plays on special teams in addition to lining up at safety on defense. On kick returns he graded out over 94 percent and on punt returns over 92 percent.
The 2008 and 2009 seniors were also recognized at the dinner. The 2008 seniors included Scott Eller, John Ross Hudson, Jake Kiser, Maurice Smith, Pete Taylor and Bradley Thompson. The 2009 seniors were Taylor Askew, Derek Dickerson, Brendon Fisher, Brandon Harris, Josh Paz, Kelvin Quarles, Taron Ryce, Calvin Smith, Lee Sweeney, Derrian Waters and Cedric Wilkerson.
Shown in the photo above, from left: Dustin Dillehay, Taron Ryce, Brendon Fisher, Lee Sweeney, Derrian Waters, Josh Paz and Tim Benford.