An elite defense had three members honored by the coaches of the conference.
The Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference issued its postseason football awards Wednesday, and five members of the Fort Lewis College Skyhawks were selected.
FLC was led by senior defensive lineman George Marpaung on the All-RMAC First Team Defense. Senior defensive back Ka’Lonn Milton was named to the second team, and senior linebacker Darrian Stickney was an honorable mention nomination.
Offensively, FLC had two players gain honorable mention nods in sophomore running back Jeff Hansen and freshman tight end Zach Russell.
“It’s a good sign to see our team and players recognized in the tough league that is the RMAC,” FLC first-year head coach Brandon Crosby said. “It shows we are recruiting the right people and getting those guys on the team to compete.”
FLC finished the season 3-7 after a promising 3-2 start. The Skyhawks lost starting quarterback Jake Lowry to an injury the fourth game of the season, and the offense struggled mightily after that with an average of only 11.33 points per game.
But the FLC defense was a resilient unit all year and ranked third in points allowed behind only NCAA Division II playoff bound CSU-Pueblo and Colorado School of Mines. FLC had the third-best rush defense in the conference and ranked sixth against the pass.
Marpaung finished the year with 21 tackles and one sack. He forced one fumble and was a constant disruptive force on a defensive line that boasted Blayke De La Rosa, who had 41 tackles, 2½ sacks, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. De La Rosa was not honored by the RMAC coaches who voted.
Marpaung also was a First Team All-RMAC selection in 2017 and 2018.
“(Marpaung) is the kind of guy you ideally try to recruit and a build a program off of,” Crosby said. “He came in as a true freshman and impacted the game all four years he was here. It’s good to see him recognized for that.”
Crosby felt Milton, a graduate transfer from Fresno State, should have made the first team. He finished with 49 tackles, two sacks, one interception and broke up 11 passes. He also forced a fumble. Milton’s big performance came when he shut down Adams State wide receiver Tariq Bitson for only four catches for 40 yards in a 28-9 FLC win. Bitson was named the RMAC Offensive Player of the Year, as he had 11 touchdowns with 1,304 yards and 63 receptions in nine games. His average of 144.9 receiving yards per game was the best in the nation.
“I think Ka’Lonn Milton was probably the best defensive back in the conference,” Crosby said. “But you’ve got people voting who have seen the other kids in the RMAC for three to five years, so I guess that’s probably why he wasn’t a first team pick since he was only here for one year.”
Stickney played all season with an injury to a posterior cruciate ligament in one of his knees. It happened when he intercepted a pass in the first quarter of the season opener at New Mexico Highlands. He played through the injury all year and finished with a team-high 70 tackles to go with two sacks, an interception, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.
“Stickney, like (Marpaung), came in as a freshman and was a big part of the program,” Crosby said. “If we had 100 Stickneys, we probably end the season a lot stronger. His injuries are unlike anything I’ve seen in my career. Most people tap out with a torn PCL. Because it was his senior year, he gritted it out. I can’t say enough about his size, stature and what he does on a college football field with pure heart and desire. You can’t coach that stuff.”
Hansen was FLC’s lone running back much of the season because of ineligibility issues with other players. He finished with 671 yards and two touchdowns and missed only one game with a concussion.
“We were very limited with our depth offensively and had to move guys around to function,” Crosby said. “Hansen was an absolute soldier and machine to get through the whole season. We will get him some help moving forward.”
Russell finished third on the team in receiving with 263 yards. He was second on the team with 32 receptions, and he was tied for the team-lead with four touchdowns.
“Russell as a true freshman was one of the best tight ends in the RMAC. He is only going to get better and be a focal point of this offense,” Crosby said.
FLC finished eighth in the conference in the 11-team league. The three wins were two more than a year ago.
Jackson Wibbels of CSU-Pueblo was named the RMAC Defensive Player of the Year. Special Teams Player of the Year went to Justin White of Colorado Mesa University.
Colorado School of Mines quarterback John Matocha won Offensive Freshman of the Year, while Adams State’s Brandin Obrecht was the Defensive Freshman of the Year.
Coach of the Year went to Gregg Brandon of Mines, which won the conference title outright with a perfect 11-0 overall record and 10-0 mark in conference.