The Cliff Harris Award is presented to the top defensive player in the country representing Division II, III and NAIA colleges and universities.

2017 Masthead


Honors Nation’s Small College Defensive Player of the Year

Michael Joseph, 2017 Cliff Harris Award WinnerMichael Joseph, senior defensive back from the University of Dubuque, was selected as the winner of the 2017 Cliff Harris Award presented annually by the Little Rock Touchdown Club and Wright Lindsey Jennings, LLP. He becomes the first Division III player to win the award which honors the nation’s small college defensive player of the year representing Division II, Division III and NAIA colleges and universities.

More than 5,000 defensive players from approximately 500 colleges are eligible to win the award. The $3,000 Cliff Harris Award trophy will be presented by Cliff Harris at the Little Rock Touchdown Club’s annual awards banquet on January 11 with special guest speaker and NFL Hall of Fame member Marcus Allen.

The 6’1, 180-pounder from Oswego, Illinois, was a first team AFCA All-American, first team AP Little All-American and first team All-American. He was named 2017 Iowa Conference Defensive Player of the Year and was first team All-Conference for three consecutive years.

Joseph led the Iowa Conference with eight interceptions and was tied for third in passes intercepted per game nationally in Division III. Twice he recorded three interceptions in a game and also added 16 passes defended, eight pass break ups and 56 tackles. He also added a 96 yard kick off return for a touchdown on his first and only career kick off return opportunity this season.

Joseph will be participating in the 2018 Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama on Jan 27th.

Michael JosephMichael Joseph


The Cliff Harris Award recognizes the top vote recipients from all three divisions.

Division III & overall winner
Michael Joseph, 6’1 180, Sr. Defensive Back, University of Dubuque

Division II - TIE
Marcus Martin
, 6’2 255, Sr. Defensive Lineman, Slippery Rock (Pa.)
Nathan Shepherd, 6’5 300, Sr. Defensive Lineman, Fort Hays State

Darius Price
, 6’2 215, Sr. Defensive Back, Siena Heights


Division II Top Vote Recipient (Tie) - Marcus Martin, 6’5 300, Sr Defensive Lineman, Fort Hays State

One of the most decorated defensive lineman in NCAA history, Martin capped off his career with 15 1/2 sacks and 26 1/2 tackles for losses, both which led the nation. He finished his career as the all-division sack leader with 56 and set a new Division II record for career tackles for loss with 92 1/2. This first team AFCA All-American and three-time PSAC West Defensive Athlete of the Year also captured the Gene Upshaw Award for most outstanding defensive or offensive lineman in Division II.






Division II Top Vote Recipient (Tie) - Nathan Shepherd, 6’5 300, Sr Defensive Lineman, Fort Hays State

This first team AFCA All American and MIAA Defensive Player of the Year led Fort Hays State to it’s first-ever MIAA conference championship and the second round of the DII playoffs. From an interior defensive lineman position where he was often double teamed, Shepherd posted 12.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage plus 4 sacks, meaning more than a third of
his 38 tackles on the season were for losses. The three-time All-MIAA selection will be participating in the 2018 Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama on Jan 27th.








NAIA Top Vote Recipient - Darius Price, 6’2 215, Sr. Defensive Back, Siena Heights

Price was named a first team American Football Coaches Association All-American & MidStates Football Association Defensive Player of the Year. He collected 41 tackles, 9 pass break ups, 2 fumble recoveries, and a sack for the Saints in 2017. This Saginaw, Michigan native was also a rare four-time All-MSFA performer.











Division II & Overall Winner- Connor Harris, Linebacker - Lindenwood
Division III - Chyron Brown-Wallace - Def Tackle, St Lawrence University
NAIA - Sam Van Ginkel, Def End, Northwestern College

Division II & Overall Winner- Marquis Christian, Safety, Midwestern State
Division III - (TIE) Ryan Aelker, Blufton University / Tom Lally, Mount Union
NAIA - Adam Sauder, Taylor University

Division II & Overall Winner- Darius Allen, Defensive End - Colorado State- Pueblo
Division III - Tyre Coleman, Defensive End – Hobart & William Smith
NAIA (TIE) - Takari Johnson, Concordia Ann Arbor
Ty Phillips, Missouri Valley

Division II & Overall Winner - Pierre Desir, Cornerback - Lindenwood
No Division III or NAIA honorees

The award is named in honor of former Dallas Cowboy great Cliff Harris, an Arkansas native who was offered only one college scholarship to then-NAIA Ouachita Baptist University. Harris was passed over for the 1970 NFL draft. He signed a free agent contract with the Cowboys and then helped lead Dallas to five Super Bowl appearances during the next decade. The hard-hitting Harris played in six Pro Bowls and changed the way the position of free safety was played.

Cliff Harris

Cliff Harris Award Selection Committee represents:

  • 45 Super Bowl appearances
  • 54 Pro Bowl appearances
  • 39 All-Pro selections
  • 4 inductees of the NFL Hall of Fame
  • 3 inductees of the College Football Hall of Fame
  • 6 Members of the Cowboys Ring of Honor
  • Heisman Trophy Winner & Super Bowl MVP
  • College National Championship

Cliff Harris Selection Committee

  • Roger Staubach
  • Lee Roy Jordan
  • Walt Garrison
  • Gene Stallings
  • Jackie Smith
  • Drew Pearson
  • Rayfield Wright
  • Everson Walls
  • Charlie Waters
  • Bill Bates
  • Gil Brandt
  • Mel Renfro
  • Jim Hart
  • Cliff Harris

5 Time Super Bowl Safety & 6 Time Pro Bowler Cliff Harris on the Cliff Harris Award

harris-action-3"I'm extremely excited about the opportunity to recognize the most outstanding defensive players from small colleges across the country. As a small college player myself, I always understood that recognition and respect for outstanding play was more difficult to attain compared to players from larger schools. Because of this I relied on perserverance and mental toughness to help me play my best even when it wasn't recognized. This enabled me to succeed at every level including the NFL and five Super Bowls. I'm honored that this award looks to recognize those players that may not receive the acknowledgement and accolades deserved because they represent small colleges. My hope is that the award will provide these players with added confidence and the appropriate distinction of being one of the best defensive players in the country regardless of the level of football they play."

"I'm proud to represent youth, high school and small college football in Arkansas and have tremendous memories of my time spent in Hot Springs, Des Arc and at Ouachita Baptist University. I'm also extremely proud of my time spent with the Dallas Cowboys and to have such an amazing selection committee representing some of the greatest players and coaches in the history of the game. I want to thank the Little Rock Touchdown Club, my friends and family and the people of Arkansas for their support in honoring through this award, the best defensive players from small colleges across the nation."