Armed Forces Merit Award Features “Elite 11” Finalists
* University of Wyoming press release
FORT WORTH, Texas -- With the 12th recipient to be announced in three weeks, the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl has released the names of its “Elite 11” finalists for the 2023 Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA).
Coordinated by the staff at the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA was created in June 2012 “to honor an individual and/or a group with a military background and/or involvement that have an impact within the realm of college football.
With the recipient being announced on November 9 during a “live” mid-day Sports Center on ESPN, the 2023 honoree of the Armed Forces Merit Award will be determined by a selection committee consisting of seven FWAA members and two representatives from the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl.
Here’s are the sketches on this year’s “Elite 11” finalists that were chosen from an initial list of 45 nominations for the 2023 award.
• Bill Baker, Northern Illinois - A U.S. Air Force veteran (1969-173), Baker returned to his native Chicago from Vietnam to begin a broadcasting career as a reporter. He called thousands of high school games before signing on with NIU in 1980. Baker will retire after the completion of NIU’s football season after 44 seasons as the radio play-by-play “voice” of the Huskies.
• Bronze Boot Run, Wyoming & Colorado State - The 56th run will be held on the Thursday prior to this year’s Colorado State at Wyoming game that will be nationally televised on Friday, November 3. The main component of the Border War rivalry is the Bronze Boot that has been awarded to the winner of the game since 1968 when the ROTC detachments of the respective schools initiated the traveling trophy.
• Troy Calhoun, Air Force - A 1989 graduate of the academy, Calhoun has guided the Falcons to a 127-78 record, two Mountain West Division titles and 12 bowl appearances (7-5 mark) since 2007. His 2023 Air Force team has won its first six games for the Falcons’ best start since 2002. Prior to replacing his Falcon mentor Fisher DeBerry, Calhoun coached four seasons in the NFL with the Broncos and Texans.
• Tim DeRuyter, Texas Tech - The Red Raiders defensive coordinator, DeRuyter is a 1985 graduate of Air Force where he played and coached for Fisher DeBerry. DeRuyter was a defensive coordinator for Troy Calhoun (2007-2009) and was the head coach at Fresno State where he had a four-plus season record of 30-30 with three bowl appearances and three Mountain West divisional firsts.
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• Matt Ganyard, Virginia - After serving in the United States Marine Corps as a Cobra Attack Helicopter pilot, Ganyard joined the team as a walk-on and is currently the Cavs kickoff specialists. He received an undergraduate degree in History from UVA in 2011 and is currently in his second year of an MBA program.
• Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr., Troy - The chancellor of Troy since September 1989 and a member of the College Football Playoff’s Board of Managers, Dr. Hawkins was a lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps and served as a platoon leader during the Vietnam War. For his combat duty, he was awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and a citation from the Korean Marine Corps.
• Tyler Huff, Furman - A commissioned second lieutenant, Huff is in his second season as the starting quarterback for the 5-1 Paladins, who are currently ranked third in the Football Championship Subdivision poll. In six games this season, Huff has rushed for 391 yards (4 TDs) while passing for 1,057 yards (6 TDs). At Furman in 2022, he rushed for 694 yards (8 TDs) and passed for 2,199 yards (15 TDs) in 12 games. Enrolled in the school’s graduate Strategic Design program, Huff played his first three seasons at Presbyterian where he started 23 games with 525 yards (6 TDs) and passed for 2,560 yards (21 TDs).
• Bryce McDonald, UCLA – A 2003 graduate of Navy where he was a three-season letterman as a fullback, McDonald joined UCLA in 2018 as the football Chief of Staff. Prior to UCLA, he was at the Naval Academy for nine seasons serving in various operations, administrative and coaching roles. Following graduation, McDonald was commissioned into the United States Marine Corps as an Infantry Officer and served until 2012. In 2006, while stationed in Iraq and Executive Officer of 2/4, he was injured and was awarded a purple heart.
• Lamar Sorey, Florida - Awarded the Achievement Medal in 2017 and the Commendation Medal in 2018, Sorey has used his Army background in his Gator role of quality control - personnel, serving as the walk-on coordinator, assisting with both player evaluations, and recruiting. He connects the core values that he learned during his time in the Army to all those inside the Gators organization every day - leadership, selfless service, integrity and courage.
• Thomas University Military Transition Initiative - The first university program in the United States that is purpose-built to support members of the defense community in a way that is consistent with their entire life cycle of service, the school initiated a football program this season. The program is a military transition vehicle with several military veterans on the roster along with 50 national guardsmen and reservists. Every branch of service (save the Space Force) is represented on the team.
• Charlton Warren, North Carolina - The co-defensive coordinator for the undefeated Tar Heels, Warren is a 1999 Air Force graduate where he was a three-year letterman at defensive back for the Fisher DeBerry. He began his coaching career at Air Force where he spent nine seasons on the staff with seven campaigns working for Troy Calhoun highlighted by being the associate head coach and defensive coordinator.
The Paris Johnson Jr. Foundation was selected from a list of 50 nominations (43 individuals and seven programs) as the 2022 recipient. A consensus All-American offensive tackle at Ohio State, Johnson and his mother (Monica Daniels) manage a foundation to assist homeless veterans in Cincinnati and Columbus. Johnson was the sixth pick in the 2023 NFL draft and is currently starting with the Arizona Cardinals.
Other recipients of the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA are Nate Boyer of the University of Texas (2012), Brandon McCoy of the University of North Texas (2013), Daniel Rodriguez from Clemson University (2014), Bret Robertson of Westminster College (Fulton, Mo., 2015), Steven Rhodes from Middle Tennessee State University (2016), Dr. Chris Howard from Robert Morris University (2018), Army West Point assistant coach Mike Viti (2019), Collin O’Donnell of Bluefield College of Virginia, (2020) and Damien Jackson of the University of Nebraska (2021).
Kansas State and its football team were honored in 2017 as the sixth recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA for the university’s partnership with the United States Army that created a bond between the school’s athletic department and the Iron Rangers at Fort Riley.
ESPN Events, a division of ESPN, owns and operates a portfolio of collegiate sporting events nationwide. In 2022, the 32-event schedule includes three early-season college football kickoff games, 17 college bowl games, 11 college basketball events, and a college softball event, which account for approximately 400 hours of live programming, while reaching nearly 64 million viewers and attracting over 800,000 annual attendees. With satellite offices in more than 10 cities across the country, ESPN Events builds relationships with conferences, schools and local communities, as well as providing unique experiences for teams and fans. For more information, visit the official website, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube pages.
Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA, http://www.sportswriters.net) consists of journalists, broadcasters, publicists, photographers and key executives in all areas of college football. The FWAA works to govern media access and gameday operations while presenting awards and honors, including an annual All-America team.
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