CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Eleven Charleston Southern players were named to the 2016 All-Big South Conference football teams, the league announced Tuesday. Darius Hammond earned all-conference honors at kick returner (1st), punt returner (1st) and running back (2nd), giving CSU 13 total all-conference selections. Senior running back Ben Robinson was named to the All-Academic Team.
Left tackle Erik Austell, linebacker Solomon Brown, left guard Frank Cirone, defensive end Anthony Ellis, Hammond at kick/punt returner, running back Mike Holloway and cornerback Troy McGowens all earned first-team honors. Ellis was named Big South Defensive Player of the Year and Hammond the Special Teams Player of the Year, headlining the group.
CSU head coach Jamey Chadwell, meanwhile, was selected Big South Coach of the Year for the third time in four seasons.
Robinson earned a place on the All-Academic team thanks to a 3.67 GPA as a Criminal Justice major. The Tallahassee, Fla., native is minoring in Communications and hopes to attend law school after graduating. On the field, Robinson's 185 rushing yards and four touchdowns have aided CSU's sixth-ranked rushing attack.
Austell was a dominant force for a CSU offensive line saddled with a good share of injuries throughout the year. He started nine games, giving him 38 career starts. Austell helped power the nation's sixth-best rushing offense, and was a driving force in CSU's ability to score 30+ points six times and record 500+ yards of offense four times. Alongside him on the offensive line was Cirone, who played through injuries to start eight games and fuel the Bucs' attack.
Solomon Brown followed up a Big South Freshman of the Year 2015 campaign with an excellent sophomore season at the bandit spot in CSU's 'Blue Swarm' Defense. Brown ranks third in the league in tackles-for-loss (13) and sixth in sacks (4.5). He led the Bucs in tackles despite often commanding extra attention. Brown had one of his best games of the year at No. 3 Florida State, notching nine tackles, 3 TFL, a sack and a pass breakup that nearly resulted in an interception.
Ellis was tabbed Big South Defensive Player of the Year after pacing the league in sacks (7.0) and TFL (13.0). The Apopka, Fla., native is also a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award as the top defensive player in the FCS. Ellis was runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year in 2015. The runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year honors, Ellis is the second player in Big South history to record two seven-sack seasons.
Hammond's selection at three different spots once again showcased his versatility. He leads the country in kickoff return average and ranks 13th in punt return average. The Johnston, S.C. product delivered his best performance of the year this past week, rushing for a season-high 153 yards and two touchdowns to pick up Big South Player of the Week accolades in the win over Kennesaw State.
Holloway finished as runner-up to Gardner-Webb quarterback Tyrell Maxwell for Big South Offensive Player of the Year. He leads the nation in yards per carry by more than a full yard (1.15) and paces the league in rushing yards per game (95.6). Holloway became CSU's all-time leading rusher this year, doing so in 146 less carries than Christian Reyes, the previous record holder. The Stone Mountain, Ga., speedster posted five 100-yard rushing days and was named to the College Football Performance Awards (CFPA) FCS Performer of the Year Midseason Watch List.
McGowens played his way onto the first team after receiving second team honors in back-to-back years. He was named Big South Defensive Player of the Week for his two-interception, three-tackle outing in CSU's conference-clinching win over Kennesaw State. McGowens ranks fourth in the league in interceptions (4) and eighth in passes defended (8).
Kameron Brown added an extra dimension to CSU's offense at wide receiver. The redshirt freshman leads the country in yards per catch (21.5) and finished fourth in the Big South in receiving yards per game despite having 20 less catches than anyone else in the top-three. He was named Big South Freshman of the Week for his clutch three-catch, 58-yard game in the Bucs' near upset of five-time defending FCS national champion North Dakota State. Brown had long touchdown catches in CSU's convincing wins over Liberty and Kennesaw State.
Cruz fought through injury to start all ten games and continue to fill a vital role as a smart, vocal leader in coordinator Chad Staggs' defense. The Yulee, Fla., native's 44 tackles are fourth-most on the team. Cruz had a big day against Kennesaw State, posting two sacks and seven tackles.
Jackson, one of four team captains, is CSU's second leading tackler, with 52 stops. He was a big part of a CSU defense that ranks eighth nationally in passing yards allowed. Jackson showed his physical and steadying presence in the FCS Kickoff at North Dakota State, recording nine tackles. The Marietta, Ga., product had a season-high ten tackles against Bucknell, and added an interception against Gardner-Webb.
Smith earned a spot on the all-conference team for the second straight year. He helped CSU punter Truett Burns record his best season in terms of average yards per punt. Smith was a STATS FCS Second-Team All-American in 2015.