Hunt Named NJAC Football Defensive Player of the Year

Montclair, NJ (11/21/08) – Senior linebacker Cornell Hunt (North Brunswick, NJ / North Brunswick) was named the Defensive Player of the Year as Montclair State landed 14 players on the 2008 New Jersey Athletic Conference All-Conference team released on Friday.

Hunt was one of six First-Team selections as he earned his third straight First-Team honor. Joining Hunt were tight end Jeremy Mercer (Leonardo, NJ / Middletown South), fullback Jason Scott (Bayville, NJ / Central Regional), offensive lineman Jason Wombough (Keansburg, NJ / Keansburg), defensive linemen Nick Giangrande (Belleville, NJ / Belleville) and defensive backs Sal McGrady (West Orange, NJ / West Orange) and Mario McLean (Montville, NJ / Montville).

Hunt has been one of the top defensive players in the NJAC the past three seasons, but finally earns his first Player of the Year honor. He becomes the first MSU player to win the NJAC’s top defensive award since Omar Lucas in 2001. A Player of the Week selection on September 28 and a seven-time recipient during his career, Hunt started all 10 games for the third straight year and leads the team in tackles with 84. Ranked fourth in the NJAC in tackles per game, Hunt has also notched 3.5 tackles for a loss, two interceptions, one fumble recovery, six pass break-ups, and eight passes defensed on the season. Hunt became the fourth player in school history to rack up over 300 career tackles and he is attempting to become the first player since Sam Mills to post three consecutive 100-tackle campaigns.

Likewise Mercer collected his third All-Conference accolade and second First-Team selection. The 6-4 Mercer has pulled in a career-best 12 passes this season for 203 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 16.-9 yards per catch. Scott has been a versatile back for MSU this season whether it’s been as a blocker, runner (six carries, 37 yards) or pass receiver (10 receptions, 52 yards). Wombough, an Honorable Mention selection in 2007, started 29 straight games at right tackle before missing the last week with an injury.

Giangrande was named for the first time in his career after posting 37 tackles and a forced fumble. McGrady returned in 2008 following a year off and collected his second All-Conference honor after being named Second Team in ’06. McGrady has 38 tackles – 24 unassisted, and leads the team and is ranked second in the NJAC with 10 pass breakups. McLean, in his first full-season as a starter on defense, has registered 39 tackles this season and a team and conference-leading five interceptions to go along with three pass breakups, a forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

Junior running back Jeff Bliss ( New Milford, NJ / New Milford) headlines the Second-Team selections. Junior defensive lineman Chris Merkle (Nutley, NJ / Nutley) earned a spot on that team and the Red Hawks nearly swept all of the special teams spots as Troy Cyburt (Hillsborough, NJ / Hillsborough), Marco Capozzoli (Bloomfield, NJ / St. Joseph’s (Montvale)) and Byron Lewin (Carteret, NJ / Carteret) were chosen to the punter, kicker and punt returner positions, respectively.

Bliss is currently fourth in the NJAC in rushing at 100.8 yards per game. He became the 12 th back in school history to record 1,000-yards in a season and he has scored 13 touchdowns, a figure that is third in the conference. Four times this season Bliss has scored two touchdowns in a game and he also ranks eighth in the NJAC in all-purpose yards (1,039). Merkle is currently fourth on the team and tops among MSU lineman in tackles with 49, including 8.5 for loss and 2.5 sacks in addition to an interception, two fumble recoveries and two pass breakups.

Cyburt, who earns his second All-NJAC honor, averaged 37.9 yards per punt on 46 attempts with 13 of those landing inside the opponent’s 20 yard line. He is fourth in the NJAC in punt average and his efforts have helped Montclair rank first in the NJAC and 12 th nationally in net punting (35.3 ypp). Capozzoli leads the NJAC and is fourth in the nation in field goals at 1.4 per game. His 14 field goals are one shy of the single-season record and he has also hit on 23-of-24 extra-point attempts. Lewin leads the NJAC in punt returns averaging 11.3 yards per runback.

Senior wide receiver Omar Sevilla ( North Bergen, NJ / North Bergen) and junior offensive lineman Joe Gelpi ( Clifton, NJ / St. Mary’s ( Rutherford)) were named Honorable Mention. Sevilla leads the Red Hawks with 29 receptions and 371 yards averaging 12.8 yards per catch. Gelpi has started nine of the Red Hawks’ 10 games this season at left guard.

The Red Hawks finished 8-2 overall during the regular season and second in the NJAC at 7-2. MSU, which spent a majority of the season ranked in several Division III Top 25 polls, will face Albright College in the ECAC South Central Bowl. It will be Montclair’s fifth ECAC appearance.