After setting eight school records, junior running back Gabriel Watson of the University of Sioux Falls Football Team (7-4) has finished fifth in the balloting for the Harlon Hill Award as the DII Player of the Year in NCAA DII. The Harlon Hill Award Committee announced the winner on Friday (Dec. 14) as junior quarterback Jayru Campbell of Ferris State.
Watson, who led NCAA DII in three rushing or scoring categories, accumulated 65 points which included nine first-place votes, 15 second place votes and eight for third place. Watson had the fourth most first place votes in the balloting.
Campbell, who has led Ferris State to the NCAA DII title game against Valdosta State, received 202 points with 47 first-place votes, 25 second place ballots and 11 third place votes. With one game to play, Campbell has accumulated 2,832 passing yards and 1,338 rushing yards with 26 passing and 21 rushing TDs this season. Rogan Wells, a sophomore quarterback for Valdosta State, finished second with 126 points (21-20-23) while freshman running back Jaleel McLaughlin of Notre Dame was third with 81 points (8-16-25) and senior quarterback Amir Hall of Bowie State, fourth with 78 points (12-16-10) and followed by Watson. The final four spots in the balloting include Gene Upshaw Award recipient and senior Markus Jones of Angelo State, 61 points (9-10-14); senior quarterback Braxton Marstall, Emporia State, 29 points (3-5-10); senior quarterback Chance Stewart, Hillsdale College, 21 points (2-4-7) and senior wide receiver Ka’Ronce Higgins, Southern Arkansas, 15 points (2-2-5).
“We are very proud of Gabe (Watson) and what he has accomplished this year,” said USF Head Football Coach Jon Anderson. “He is humble and always recognizes this success is due to his teammates and hard work. He is already in the weight room preparing for next year. Besides having the best rushing season in school history, Gabe excels in the classroom and best of all is a great person,” said Anderson.
For the first time, USF has had a finalist for both the Harlon Hill Award and the Gene Upshaw Award with Watson and senior offensive tackle Trey Pipkins. Both became USF’s first-ever duo selected to the first-team offense on the NCAA DII Associated Press All-American Team.
Watson, who led NCAA DII in rushing during the regular season, has been named to a pair of All-American teams including the Associated Press as well as the American Football Coaches Association squads. In addition to his two All-American honors (AP, AFCA), Watson was named the D2 Conference Commissioner’s Association (D2 CCA) All-Super Region 4 Offensive Player of the Year. Watson, who was earlier named the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Player of the Year, was also named to the D2CCA first team all-region squad.
Watson is the first student-athlete at USF to advance into the Harlon Hill finalist group and the first to be named D2CCA Super Region 4 Offensive Player of the Year. He had a school-record 11 straight games of 100 yards or more rushing while churning for a regular season NCAA-high and school single season mark of 1,957 yards on 269 carries with an NCAA DII-high 26 TDs. The 1,957 yards by Watson ranks second overall nationally but was the top total for the regular season. In setting eight school records this year, Watson owns the top per game average of 177.8 yards per carry in DII, which is also a USF school record. Of players with 200 carries or more, Watson has the top per rush average of 7.41. The 1,957 yards rushing by Watson broke Max Mickey’s school record of 1,764 of 2016. Watson’s 26 touchdowns is the most in a single season in USF’s DII history and second overall (David Ruter, 29 TDs, 1988).
In 2018, Watson had 200 yards rushing and three touchdowns in the first game he played at USF, which was a 27-24 win over Concordia-St. Paul in the home opener. A junior exercise science major, Watson followed up that opening game performance with games of 172 yards and 193 yards. Against Minot State, he accumulated 205 yards rushing on 15 carries with two touchdowns and played just one half.
Originally of Piedmont, Calif., Watson had a breakout season in his first year with USF. The first-team All-NSIC honoree was named the D2Football.com National Player of the Week after setting a single game USF rushing record of 320 yards on 19 carries with five TDs against MSU Moorhead. A three-time NSIC Player of the Week, he recorded seven games of 150 yards or more with three games of at least 200 yards or more. Watson scored two or more TDs in a game eight times and had at least three TDs four times.