EVANSTON, Ill.-Junior defensive end Corey Wootton (Rutherford, N.J./Don Bosco Prep) was named Northwestern's 2008 Most Valuable Player during Saturday's annual Northwestern Gridiron Network football banquet, held in Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Wootton had a breakout season for a resurgent Wildcats' defense, leading NU with 9.0 sacks and 15.0 tackles-for-loss on the year. A first-team All-Big Ten selection by the conference coaches and a second-team media honoree, Wootton ranked 21st in the nation in sacks per game for a defense that ranked 12th overall in the country in the category. Wootton also helped the Wildcats to the fifth-most improved scoring defense in the nation, going from surrendering 31 points per game a year ago to 19.3 in 2008.
Redshirt freshmen Ben Burkett (Toledo, Ohio/St. John's Jesuit) and Jordan Mabin (Northfield Center, Ohio/Nordonia) joined true freshman Jeravin Matthews (Canonsburg, Pa./Canon-McMillan) as NGN's Newcomers of the Year. Burkett won the Offensive Newcomer of the Year award after taking over the center position from four-year starter Trevor Rees and starting all 12 games this season. He was named the team's offensive player of the game individually at Indiana and as a member of the entire offensive line following the Syracuse game.
Mabin played in all 12 games, starting the final 10 after a season-ending injury to opening-day cornerback Justan Vaughn. Mabin led the team with three interceptions while breaking up five passes, forcing two fumbles and recovering another.
Matthews impressed the coaches enough in practice to earn his way onto the field for the Ohio game. He appeared on special teams the rest of the season, recording eight tackles and recovering two fumbles (both against Iowa). He also returned six kickoffs for 139 yards (23.2 average).
Other awards that were handed out included: the Rashidi Wheeler Award (given to a player that best represents the spirit and enthusiasm of Wheeler): senior wide receiver Rasheed Ward (Chicago, Ill./Harper); the George W. Ballantine Award (given for enthusiasm and leadership): senior defensive end Kevin Mims (The Woodlands, Texas/The Woodlands); the Thomas Airth Spirit Award: senior wide receiver Ross Lane (Ft. Myers, Fla./Bishop Verot); the Carnig Minasian Citizenship Award: senior linebacker Mike Dinard (Parma, Ohio/Padua Franciscan); the Randy Walker Wildcat Warrior Awards (for work ethic, toughness and attitude of a warrior): senior offensive lineman Keegan Kennedy (Jupiter, Fla./Cardinal Newman), senior defensive lineman John Gill (Los Altos Hills, Calif./Bellarmine College Prep) and sophomore defensive lineman Corbin Bryant (Chicago, Ill./Morgan Park) were tri-recipients; the Marcel Price Award (given to a player who best exemplifies the enthusiasm and dedication to the Wildcat program and is symbolic of Price's desire): junior safety Brad Phillips (Export, Pa./Franklin Regional); and the first Bryan Paynter "Ultimate Wildcat" Award (given to a player who serves as an example by confronting adversity with courage and dedication and always putting the needs of the team first): senior running back Tyrell Sutton (Akron, Ohio/Archbishop Hoban).
Although the awards have been handed out, Northwestern's season is far from over. The team is practicing in Evanston until December 22, when it will fly to San Antonio to continue preparations for the December 29 Alamo Bowl against Missouri.