Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - When a defensive unit comes together as well as it has for teams like Samford and South Carolina State, the results can be contagious.
In a Southern Conference race that is wide open this season, Samford has powered into the mix, thanks in large part to the team's defense.
The same goes for South Carolina State in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Despite a setback against front-running Bethune-Cookman, the Bulldogs are playing at a high level and sport one of the best defenses statistically in the FCS.
The connection here is the two defenses are led by senior linebackers, Justin Shade of Samford and Joe Thomas of SCSU, pacing the way.
Their stellar play this season led to them being added to the Buck Buchanan Award Watch List on Tuesday. The 19th annual award is given to the outstanding defensive player in the FCS.
Shade is Samford's team leader in tackles with 97 and in tackles for loss with 12.5. The senior leads a defense that is surrendering 25.3 points per game to opponents.
At 5-foot-10, Shade could be considered undersized, although his strength and speed make up for it. He's a versatile player in that he can drop back into pass coverage easily, but where he does his most damage is in an opponent's backfield.
He ranks ninth in the FCS in total tackles, averaging 10.8 per game. With three key games against Southern Conference opponents remaining on the schedule, Shade doesn't figure to let up anytime soon.
Thomas is a 6-foot middle linebacker who also can play on the outside and maintain his production. When playing on the outside, speed is a necessity to shadow opponents' receivers and tight ends. And speed is something Thomas boasts.
As a middle linebacker, speed is just a bonus, because the position generally is in charge of keeping the opponent's running game in check and covering middle routes. With his speed, Thomas has been able to accumulate 11.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks this season. He leads the team with 88 total tackles.
He's a pest for opposing teams and the heart and soul of the South Carolina State defense. With Thomas's help, the Bulldogs are ranked fourth in the country in scoring defense (14.9 points per game), and are third in the FCS in total team tackles for loss (9.8 per game).
Other nominees on the Buchanan Award Watch List are: defensive linemen Brad Daly of Montana State, Zach Hodges of Harvard, Antoine Lewis of Villanova, Caraun Reid of Princeton, Robert Simpson of Mississippi Valley State, Davis Tull of Chattanooga and Colton Underwood of Illinois State; linebackers Quinn Backus of Coastal Carolina, Clarence Bumpus of Northern Colorado, Ronnie Hamlin of Eastern Washington, Grant Olson of North Dakota State, Stephon Robertson of James Madison, Alvin Scioneaux of Wofford, Tyler Starr of South Dakota and Jordan Tripp of Montana; defensive backs Stephen Godbolt III of Tennessee State, Caleb Schaffitzel of Missouri State and Marcus Williams of North Dakota State.
Bios of all 20 players can be found at http://tinyurl.com/yhv6oh8.
Other players considered for the Buchanan Award Watch List: Central Arkansas defensive back Jestin Love, Samford defensive back Jaquiski Tartt, Gardner- Webb defensive end Shaquille Riddick, South Carolina State defensive end Andrew Carter, Montana defensive end Zack Wagenmann, Marist defensive end Terrence Fede and Towson linebacker Telvion Clark,
The Buchanan Award Watch List can undergo revision during the season. Ballots will be sent to a national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries following the regular season. The winner will be invited to The Sports Network FCS Awards Presentation Dec. 16 in Philadelphia.
The Sports Network also presents the Walter Payton, Jerry Rice and Eddie Robinson awards. The Payton Award honors the outstanding player in the FCS, the Rice Award goes to the FCS freshman of the year and the Robinson Award honors the FCS coach of the year. The top three vote-getters for the Payton Award as well as the winners of Rice and Robinson awards also will be invited to the national banquet.