Zach has reeled in the awards nationally and I couldn't think of a better player or person to win these awards. Zach, of course, was a first team All-SEC selection, but he also won four national awards, and I'd say they are counting. Zach was named Walter Camp First team All-American, USA Today first team All-American, Sports Illustrated, the Sporting News and SB Nation first team All-American.
Zach led the SEC in total tackles with 119, which ranked him 11th nationally. He also posted 16.5 tackles for loss, finishing second in the SEC, and 22nd nationally. Zach's four fumble recoveries were first in the conference and second nationally.
Reuben Foster is a super linebacker for Alabama, but I thought Zach deserved the Butkus Award as the nation's best linebacker. Not only for the national numbers he put up, but also for the two massive game changing-season changing plays he made this season. Zach made a couple of the finest plays in college football this season. Zach had the huge tackle on Georgia's fourth and one, when the Dawgs handed it to lightning fast Isiah McKenzie to take it around the corner and get the first down late in the game and either tie it up with a kick or win the game with a seven. Zach came out of nowhere and laid the lumber on McKenzie, knocking him down for no gain and catapulting his team to a huge 13-10 victory in Athens and an epic finish to the regular season. Then, against Auburn, Zach made to me the best play made in the country this season, certainly the best in the SEC. With Auburn leading us 23-16 late in the fourth quarter and superb kicker Daniel Carlson set to kick a 28 yard game clinching field goal, Zach charged in from the second level, leapt over the Auburn snapper and blocked Carlson's kick in an amazingly, epic, transcendent play. So memorable. It gave us a shot to win that game. It didn't work out for us, but it was a tremendous effort by Zach and the team on the road in a hostile environment against an Auburn team, that at the time, was one of the hottest teams in the country. To me, Zach will always be the Butkus Award winner. What a career this fine young man from Pinson, Alabama has had at Vanderbilt University. And he has at least one more and a stellar career in front of himself in the National Football League.
Up next for our seniors and our team, the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, LA. on Monday, December 26th @ 4 PM CT/5 PM ET on ESPN2 versus the North Carolina State Wolfpack. Ready to see our team compete one more time this season and see our guys like Zach, Will Holden, Ralph, Adam Butler, Torren McGaster, Barrett Gouger, Oren Burks, who may be back next year, and our super seniors and our super young players like Kyle, wide receivers Caleb Scott, C.J, Duncan, the awesome Trent Sherfield, the young, explosive Kalija Lipscomb, the emerging Donaven Tennyson, sophomore linebacker Josh Smith, junior safety Emanuel Smith,. Josh's brother, junior tight end Nathan Marcus, freshman cornerbacks Joejuan Williams and Donavan Sheffield and many other young guys compete. Want to see our older guys get a victory and impress the NFL scouts and our younger players win and gain valuable experience as we succeed on the field and get charged up for a potentially stellar 2017.
The coaches are all over the country recruiting. Coach Mason and his coaches are everywhere looking at offensive linemen, wide receivers, defensive backs and some linebackers. Looks like we're set at running back next year. Ralph could be back, Dallas should be back, hopefully, the awesome Khari Blasingame, Josh Crawford, and potential all star in Jamauri Wakefield are waiting to create their legacies. Like what our backfield looks like next year. Other key players who will be back are defensive lineman Nifae Lealao, safeties LaDarius Wiley and Arnold Tarpley, awesome tight end Jared Pinkney, super young linebackers Jordan Griffin and Caleb Peart, emerging defensive end Dare Odeyingbo and so many others, many of which I listed above. The 2017 recruiting class is shaping up really well, and I'm extremely hyped up about the future, but also stoked for the bowl game and having our seniors go out as champions, which they are already. Will have a ton more on the Independence Bowl coming up in the next couple of weeks. Hope we have a huge contingency of the Vanderbilt family in Shreveport to pull on this terrific team.
We lost a tough one last night in Murfreesboro to Middle Tennessee, but we've got an outstanding man leading our basketball program. Bryce will get us there. We're 5-5 right now, but we have good players and a super coaching staff. We'll keep improving this season and matriculating through March. Believe in the man running the program. He'll make us great again.