South Alabama wide receiver Jalen Tolbert, who has received an invitation to play in the Reese’s Senior Bowl, heads toward professional football as the Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Year. The announcement of his selection came this week.
Tolbert, one of the top receivers in the country, ranking in the Top 10 in several categories, is the first South Alabama player to earn the conference honor. He joins former Jaguars defense back Jeremey Reaves, who was named Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year in 2017m as the only South Alabama players to earn individual end of the year honors.
Tolbert and defensive back Darrell Luter Jr. were named first-team all-conference selections, with safety Keith Gallmon Jr. named to the second team and tight end Lincoln Sefcik claiming third-team honors. South Alabama honorable mention selections included quarterback Jake Bentley, punter Jack Brooks, defensive lineman Wy’Kevious Thomas and wide receiver Jalen Wayne.
Entering postseason play, Tolbert paces the Sun Belt in catches, receiving yards, receiving yards per game and yards per reception — ranking third in both total yards and yards per game nationally — after catching 82 passes for 1,474 yards and eight touchdowns this fall. He led the Jags in receiving yards in all 12 contests this year, posting the most all-purpose yards by a wide receiver since the program’s inception in 2009, while breaking his own school records for catches and receiving yards. The junior wide receiver from Mobile also set a new standard with seven outings with 100-plus receiving yards, which included becoming the first player in the team’s history to reach the mark in three straight games after accomplishing the feat against Appalachian State, Tennessee and Coastal Carolina to close out his career.
Luter Jr. tops the SBC in passes defended per game and is second in interceptions per contest, standing among the top five in the country in the former category and the top 15 in the latter, after picking off four passes and breaking up 10 others to go along with 21 stops including a pair behind the line of scrimmage. The junior cornerback was the College Sports Madness SBC Defensive Player of the Week after intercepting a pair of passes and adding a tackle for loss in an October win over Arkansas State, while he was credited with a career-high three passes defensed in South’s defeat of Alcorn State and two more as the Jags beat Southern Mississippi to begin the campaign. Luter Jr., who hails from Hattiesburg, Miss., added interceptions in road contests at Appalachian State and Texas State to post the second-highest total in a season in school history.
A native of Mobile, Gallmon Jr. was recognized after posting 59 tackles — the second-highest total on the team — including a career-high 2½ stops for loss, and he also recorded an interception, a fumble recovery and two other passes broken up. The junior safety led the Jaguar defense in stops on a team-high-tying four occasions this season including accomplishing the feat in the final two match-ups of the year against Tennessee and Coastal Carolina.
In his first season as a Jaguar, Sefcik led South’s tight ends after posting 32 receptions for 218 yards and five touchdowns, the highest total recorded by an individual at the position since current Seattle Seahawk Gerald Everett had eight during the 2015 campaign. The sophomore from Enid, Okla., finished with multiple catches in eight contests in 2021 highlighted by posting nine for 55 yards — both career-best figures — at rival Troy in the annual “Battle For The Belt.”
In his only year at South, Bentley completed 212 of 303 attempts for 2,476 yards and 17 scores as his 70 percent completion percentage and 151.84 pass efficiency rating both set school season records. Brooks (Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia) recorded a career-high 43.2 punting average this fall — the third-best mark in USA’s record book — with 14 kicks of 50-plus yards and 13 efforts ending up inside the opposition’s 20-yard line. Wayne, also from Mobile, set new career highs with 53 receptions for 630 yards, averaging just under 12 yards per catch while ranking second on the team in both categories. Thomas was credited with 49 stops this year, the most by a Jaguar defensive lineman since the 2018 campaign, including 5½ tackles behind the line of scrimmage as he ended up among the top five on the squad in both statistics.
Grayson McCall of Coastal Carolina was the Sun Belt Player of the Year, with Appalachian State’s D’Marco Jackson and Chase Brice picking up Defensive Player-of-the-Year and Newcomer-of-the-Year honors. Montrell Johnson and Billy Napier — both from Louisiana — were chosen the Freshman and Coach of the Year, respectively.
South won five games this season, its first under head coach Kane Wommack, to record the program’s highest victory total since 2016.
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