CHARLOTTE, N.C. (FWAA) – Tulsa linebacker
Zaven Collins, a playmaker who helped seal two
of his team's six wins with interceptions and sparked the Golden
Hurricane's rise to the American Athletic Conference Championship
Game, was named the recipient of the 2020 Bronko Nagurski
Trophy as the college football's national defensive player
of the year by the Football Writers Association of America.
Collins is the first Tulsa player to win any of the current on-field
performance awards and becomes the Golden Hurricane's first FWAA
All-American since offensive lineman Jerry Ostroski in 1991. He
was selected from among five finalists that also included Coastal
Carolina defensive end Tarron Jackson, Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon
Nixon, Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Alabama
cornerback Patrick Surtain II.
The FWAA All-America Committee selected Collins as this
year's Bronko Nagurski Trophy recipient after voting from the
entire membership. The official presentation of the award by the
FWAA and the Charlotte Touchdown Club, the award's sponsor, will
occur at a later date.
Collins, a 6-4, 260-pound junior from Hominy, Okla., was a unanimous
choice as The American Defensive Player of the Year and the first
player in league history to earn any unanimous player-of-the-year
designation. He registered 53 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and
four sacks in the regular season along with a fumble recovery and
breaking up two passes. His four interceptions tied for fifth nationally
among all players and tied for the national lead among linebackers
with three others. Two of his takeaways were returned for touchdowns,
including a highlight-reel 96-yard pick-six that was the game-winning
score in overtime against Tulane. He is the first player from Tulsa
to be named as the AAC's Defensive Player of the Year.
"I'm honored and blessed to receive the Bronko Nagurski Trophy.
It's awe-inspiring to be mentioned in the same breath as Bronko
Nagurski and the many great players who won this award before me,"
Collins said. "I'm so thankful for this honor and for all the people
who have put me in this position – my family, coaches, teammates
and fan base. I can't thank the coaching staff and my teammates
enough. Coach G (Defensive Coordinator Joe Gillespie) and Coach
Monty (Head Coach Philip Montgomery) have pushed me, and the absolute
best teammates have helped make me better each day. I'm thrilled
to represent my family, the city of Tulsa and The University of
Tulsa in receiving the Bronko Nagurski Trophy."
Collins was the Bronko Nagurski Trophy's National Player of the
Week for the weekend of Nov. 14 following another of his highlight
interceptions in a 28-24 win over SMU. Collins corralled a pass
at midfield with 1:29 left to thwart an SMU rally. It was the first
time a Tulsa player had earned the weekly honor and Collins' play
helped post a second-half shutout of SMU – then the eighth-best
total offense in the country – while Tulsa navigated its 21-point
comeback that spurred its jaunt to the American Conference Championship
His athleticism and range on the field is easy to spot. Collins,
a 2018 FWAA Freshman All-America selection, was a quarterback in
high school who happened to also play safety and linebacker. He
was a four-year starter on both offense and defense, accounting
for 7,140 all-purpose yards and 86 rushing and passing touchdowns
in his high school career.
In four games against top-25 opponents this season (Oklahoma
State, UCF, SMU and Cincinnati) Collins had 25 solo tackles among
his 35 total stops and 10 TFL's for minus-45 yards and four sacks.
His other pick-six was a 38-yard touchdown at USF. He was The American's
Defensive Player of the Week four times following seven games.
"I'm absolutely thrilled to have a young man like Zaven Collins
be recognized as the Bronko Nagurski winner," Tulsa head coach Philip
Montgomery said. "Being mentioned with the likes of former award-winners
such as Warren Sapp and Charles Woodson and carrying on the name
of the original tough guy himself, Bronko Nagurski, is a tremendous
honor. He was a guy who played multiple positions and played the
game at a high level with so much passion and grit. I think Zaven
embodies what Bronko Nagurski and this award represent. To have
the Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner come from our university, what
"Zaven Collins is what college football is all about. He does
a great job in the classroom, does everything you ask of him on
and off the field, is a great leader and a great teammate. He has
always put his team in front of himself. Even with the recognition
he has received this year, he'd be the first one to tell you he
hasn't done that by himself. It's been with the help of a lot of
his teammates pushing him, coaches pushing him and his dedication
to being great. He's done that same thing in the classroom. This
is a young man who has poured a lot into being a true student-athlete
and being a winner on both sides of that."
No. 24 Tulsa is scheduled to take on Mississippi State in the
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas, on Dec.
The American Conference has Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich
as a former winner in 2015 and Collins was the AAC's fourth all-time
finalist, the most recent being Houston tackle Ed Oliver in 2017.
The FWAA has chosen a National Defensive Player of the Year since
1993. In 1995, the FWAA named the award in honor of the legendary
two-way player from the University of Minnesota. Nagurski dominated
college football then became a star for professional football's
Chicago Bears in the 1930s. Bronislaw "Bronko" Nagurski is a charter
member of both the College Football and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
The Bronko Nagurski Trophy is a member of the National
College Football Awards Association (NCFAA), which encompasses
the most prestigious awards in college football. Founded in 1997,
the NCFAA and its 25 awards now boast over 800 recipients, dating
to 1935. Visit ncfaa.org and @NCFAA on Twitter to learn more about
Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of
America consists of 1,300 men and women who cover college
football. The membership includes journalists, broadcasters and
publicists, as well as key executives in all the areas that involve
the game. The FWAA works to govern areas that include game-day operations,
major awards and its annual All-America team. For more information
about the FWAA and its award programs, contact Steve Richardson
About the Charlotte Touchdown Club
Touchdown Club is a non-profit organization founded in 1990 for
the purpose of promoting high school, collegiate, and professional
football in the Charlotte, N.C., region. The club's activities and
services focus community attention on the outstanding citizenship,
scholarship, sportsmanship, and leadership of area athletes and
coaches. Since 1990, the club has raised more than $2 million to
benefit area high school and collegiate athletics. For more information,
contact John Rocco (704-347-2918 or
The official website of the Charlotte Touchdown Club is
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