2016 Cliff Harris Award Winner Announced


Honors Nation’s Top Small College Defensive Player

The top tackler in the history of college football, senior linebacker Conner Harris of Lindenwood University, has won the 2016 Cliff Harris Award announced today by the Little Rock Touchdown Club and Wright, Lindsey, Jennings.

The award is presented annually to the nation’s top small college defensive player representing Division II, Division III and NAIA colleges and universities. More than 5,000 defensive players are eligible to win the award from almost 500 colleges. 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 19 with special guest speaker Archie Manning.

Harris, a 6-0, 243-pound Division II linebacker, ended his college career with 633 total tackles, the most in the history of NCAA football at any level. This season Harris was named AFCA first team All-American, ranking third in NCAA Division II with 12.5 tackles per game and was fourth in the nation with 6.7 tackles per contest. His 138 total tackles included double-figure tackles in every game but one and a single game season-high of 17. Harris also collected 8.5 tackles for loss, one sack, one fumble recovery and two interceptions, including one that he returned for a touchdown. In addition to being an All-American on defense, Harris was also a special teams stand out this season. He punted 19 times for a 38.8 average, recovered two onside kicks by opposing teams and was a perfect 12-of-12 on PAT attempts.

Along with his career record 633 tackles, Harris also recorded 184 tackles as a junior, a Division II single-season record, 34 tackles for loss, six interceptions, 14 pass breakups, three forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. He started in all 48 games he played in at Lindenwood and averaged 13.2 tackles per game during that span. He was also a part-time offensive player during his career averaging 6.8 yards per carry with seven rushing touchdowns. In addition to his AFCA first team All-American honor in 2016, Harris was also placed on All American teams in 2015 and 2014 and was a 4-time all conference selection of the MIAA including three straight first team selections.

Harris is the second Lindenwood player to win the Cliff Harris award. Former Lindenwood All-American cornerback Pierre Desire won the inaugural Cliff Harris Award in 2013 and was drafted in the 4th round by the Cleveland Browns.

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

DIVISION II & OVERALL WINNER: CONNER HARRIS, 6’0 243, senior linebacker, Lindenwood University

DIVISION III: CHYRON BROWN-WALLACE, 6’0 295, senior defensive tackle, St Lawrence University

NAIA: SAM VAN GINKEL, 6’5 245, senior defensive end, Northwestern College

CHYRON BROWN-WALLACE, 6’0 295, senior defensive tackle, St Lawrence University

A two-time AFCA All-American, Brown-Wallace led a dominating St. Lawrence defense that finished ranked among the top-10 teams in the country in multiple defensive categories including the 2nd ranked scoring defense in America. The Saints opened the season with three consecutive shutouts and won the first eight games of the season. From his defensive tackle position Brown-Wallace finished the season with 52 tackles, 18 for loss and seven sacks. He also forced a pair of fumbles and was voted the Defensive Player of the Year for the Liberty League and was a first team selection for the third consecutive season.

SAM VAN GINKEL, 6’5 245, senior defensive end, Northwestern College

A two-time AFCA All American, Van Ginkel led the GPAC and ranked ninth in the country with 11 sacks this season. The senior and three-year starter was second on the team with 38.5 tackles and totaled a team high nine quarterback hurries. Van Ginkel was a four-time first team All-Conference selection and closed his career as the GPAC and Northwestern College all-time sack leader with 39.5. He was the GPAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2015 and also had five blocked kicks in his career.


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.

“I continue to be extremely impressed with the defensive talent and accomplishments of our finalists and nominees from across the country. With more than 50 All-Americans and 50 Conference Defensive Players of the Year as finalists, this season was especially challenging to select a winner. These athletes are remarkable defensive players with amazing seasons and careers and the voting is razor thin among many of them in all divisions.

Congratulations to Conner Harris, you cannot be more productive and consistent as a defensive player than what he has exhibited both this year and throughout his career. He is the epitome of what hard work is all about and to break the all time tackle record in the history of college football during this season says it all about the kind of work ethic, drive and talent he possesses. Chyron Brown-Wallace and Sam Van Ginkel also impressed me with their disruptive and dominate play. They were forces to be reckoned with every Saturday in Division III and NAIA.

I’m proud of the defensive talent that is being coached and cultivated at small colleges across America. They continue to prove that the best football isn’t always played at the FBS and FCS levels. Players from Division II, Division III and NAIA deserve their share of respect and recognition.”


2015 – Division II & Overall Winner- Marquis Christian, Safety – Midwestern State Univeristy

Division III – (TIE) Ryan Aelker – Blufton University / Tom Lally – Mount Union
NAIA – Adam Sauder – Taylor University

2014 – Division II & Overall Winner- Darius Allen, Defensive End – Colorado State-Pueblo

Division III Tyre Coleman, Defensive End – Hobart & William Smith Colleges
NAIA – (TIE) Takari Johnson- Concordia Ann Arbor & Ty Phillips – Missouri Valley College

2013 – Division II & Overall Winner – Pierre Desir, Cornerback – Lindenwood University

No Division III or NAIA recipients

Marquis Christian was taken in the 5th round of the 2016 NFL draft by the Arizona Cardinals and is currently with the Los Angeles Rams. Darius Allen was signed by the Baltimore Ravens as a free agent in 2015 and is currently with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League. Pierre Desir was taken in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns and is currently with the Seattle Seahawks.

Other notable Cliff Harris Award alumni include 2013 finalist Malcolm Butler from Division II West Alabama, who became a Super Bowl hero with his goal-line interception for New England against Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX with 25 seconds remaining in the game. Since that game Butler has become a starter for the Patriots and a Pro Bowl cornerback.