CONWAY — The reward for Coastal Carolina’s late-season surge came over the weekend in the form of a NCAA FCS playoff berth, but the spoils of the Chanticleers’ success this fall continued to pour in Tuesday afternoon.
Sophomore linebacker Quinn Backus was named the Big South Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year and Joe Moglia was named Big South Coach of the Year in just his first season at Coastal.
The honors are symbolic of the Chants’ success in changing directions this season as Backus is one of two first-year starters at linebacker elevated into the lineup while Moglia, of course, was the surprisingly unconventional choice to replace longtime head coach David Bennett.
And as the coaches and media who voted for the end-of-season awards acknowledged, it’s been a successful transition thus far for the Chants as they prepare to face Bethune-Cookman on Saturday in Daytona Beach, Fla., in the first round of the FCS playoffs.
“It’s about competing through a process. It’s about getting a little better every day, and I do think that’s what we have been doing,” Moglia said. “I think we’re certainly better now than we were five or six weeks ago, [and] we were better five or six weeks ago than we were in the beginning of the season.”
Backus is the second Chants linebacker in three seasons to receive the defensive player of the year honor, following in the path of teammate and 2010 recipient Andrae Jacobs. Backus recorded a program-record 123 total tackles with eight tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries while leaving his mark on every game – and every opposing offensive player he collided with.
His 123 stops leads the Big South and he was the league’s defensive player of the week a record five times.
“It’s a great, great accomplishment to add to the history of Coastal Carolina,” Backus said. “... I think it comes from just going into each week preparing to get better and film preparation and following the coach’s game plan and just giving it everything that you have each play.”
CCU defensive coordinator Clayton Carlin faced curious questions in the preseason when he named Backus and junior Mike McClure as starters over Jacobs, the established veteran. Carlin reiterated Tuesday that he just liked everything he saw from Backus from the very beginning.
“He’s been very consistent from day one,” Carlin said. “Quinn’s a guy that caught our eyes as a defensive staff in spring practice, and he worked very hard throughout the summer and he continued through training camp. His strengths are he’s very smart, he’s tough and his speed and awareness of what’s going on and his consistency has helped this defense tremendously.”
Moglia, meanwhile, guided the Chants to a 7-4 record and five straight wins by 21 points or more to close out the regular-season as Coastal earned a share of the conference championship and the program’s third playoff berth ever.
As for the doubt and questions that surrounded his hire, Moglia – the former CEO and present chairman of TD Ameritrade – has rebuffed any notions that his team’s success this season has been vindicating in any way. It’s about more than him, he said.
“I couldn’t be more flattered or honored,” Moglia said. “... There’s not a coach that gets this type of honor that doesn’t recognize that it doesn’t take place if it’s not for the effort of his coaching staff and the effort of his players. So I certainly have our coaching staff to thank for this, and I have our players to thank for this.”
A number of those players were recognized with honors Tuesday, for that matter.
Senior quarterback Aramis Hillary (2,133 passing yards, 17 touchdowns, five interceptions and 484 rushing yards and three touchdowns), junior receiver Matt Hazel (49 catches for 615 yards and five touchdowns), senior center Pat Williams (keyed a rushing attack that averaged a Big South-best 271.5 yards in league play), senior defensive linemen Johnny Hartsfield (two sacks, two pass break-ups, a forced fumble and a blocked kick while setting the stage up front for Backus) and Quinton Davis (4.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss), senior cornerback Dontavais Johnson (Big South-best four interceptions) and junior punt returner Niccolo Mastromatteo (12.1-yard average with an 87-yard touchdown) were also named first-team All-Big South for Coastal.
Additionally, senior running back Jeremy Height, Mastromatteo (as a receiver), senior tight end David Duran, sophomore left tackle Chad Hamilton and McClure were second-team All-Big South selections.
Stony Brook senior running back Miguel Maysonet was voted Big South Offensive Player of the Year while Hillary finished as the runner-up, and Liberty quarterback Josh Woodrum was named freshman of the year.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.