• Daniel Hooker

Desmond Reid Headlines 12 Combined All-SoCon Selections


Headlined by the unanimous selection of Desmond Reid as the Southern Conference Freshman of the Year, Western Carolina saw a combined 12 football players recognized on Tuesday as the league handed out its 2022 postseason all-conference awards as voted on by the league’s head coaches and the SoCon Sports Media Association (SCSMA).

Reid was the most decorated of the dozen Catamounts, earning Freshman of the Year honors from both the league’s head coaches and voting media, while also earning both a second-team offense nod and an Offensive All-Freshman team honor from the head coaches. Senior defensive end K.J. Milner was the only WCU player to earn recognition from both the coaches and media, earning coaches second-team and first-team defense from the media.

All told, WCU put five players on the coaches’ second team with Reid joined by OL Tyler Smith on the offense, DB Andreas Keaton joining Milner on the defense, and long-snapper Kevin Thompson collecting his first all-conference plaudits on special teams. Placekicker Richard McCollum along with Milner gave WCU a pair of second-team honorees from the voting media.

Seven Catamount freshmen dotted the SoCon’s All-Freshman team as selected by the league’s head coaches with Reid joined by QB Cole Gonzales, WR Censere Lee, and OL Neyland Walker on the offensive squad. Linebacker Hayward McQueen and DB Samaurie Dukes were listed on the defensive team, while AJ Colombo collected special teams honors for his work on kickoff and punt returns.

Reid is the sixth Catamount football player to collect SoCon Freshman of the Year honors – the fourth to earn the top rookie honor from both the league’s head coaches and voting members of the media. He joins the likes of WR Lamont Seward (2000), RB Michael Johnson (2009), and QB Tyrie Adams (2016) as a unanimous pick for freshman of the year plaudits. It’s the second consecutive year that WCU has rostered one of the league’s top freshmen as DB Andreas Keaton collected the same honor from the head coaches in 2021.

One of just 25 national finalists announced Monday for the FCS Jerry Rice Award given annually to the nation’s top freshman, Reid amassed 1,038 all-purpose yards through 10 of the team’s 11 games on the season in finishing fourth in the conference with an average of 104.6 all-purpose yards per game. The Miami Gardens, Fla., product rushed for 826 yards on 119 carries with four touchdowns on the ground to rank fourth in the league, averaging 82.6 yards per game while adding 212 receiving yards with a score.

Reid eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark three times in his rookie campaign, posting a career-best 175 yards and two touchdowns against Presbyterian. He also eclipsed the century mark with 129 yards against The Citadel and 112 yards in the home win over Wofford, collecting an honorable mention for the FedEx Ground FCS National Freshman of the Week award from Stats Perform after his second-consecutive, 100-yard rushing game.

Milner closed his final season with a career-high 45 tackles including 24 solo stops. Among his squad-leading seven tackles for loss were a team-best six sacks, the sixth-most by an individual in the SoCon this season. The Hinesville, Ga., product was credited with a team-leading seven quarterback hurries as a vital part of the WCU defensive attack that finished with 32 sacks on the season. Milner closed his career by earning his first SoCon Defensive Player of the Week plaudits following the upset win over No. 17/15 Chattanooga.

Over his five seasons in Cullowhee, Milner recorded 154 tackles with 67 solo stops, 22 tackles for loss, and 10.5 total sacks.

For a third-straight season, Smith started every game along the offensive line for the Catamounts, stretching his consecutive starts streak to 43-straight among his 47 career games played. A stalwart at left tackle, Smith helped the Catamounts amass a program-record 5,339 yards on offense this season, pacing the SoCon in total offense with an average of 485.4 yards per game. WCU finished second in the league in passing offense and was fourth in the ground game.

Smith’s second-team offense honor from the league’s head coaches is his first postseason award since tallying an honorable mention for HERO Sports Freshman All-America back in 2019.

Last year’s SoCon Freshman of the Year by the league’s head coaches, Keaton collected second-team All-SoCon plaudits as an encore in 2022. Originally from Powder Springs, Ga., Keaton led the Catamount defense with 72 tackles this season, ranking 12th in the SoCon overall with a 6.5 tackle-per-game average. He matched WCU’s team lead with a pair of interceptions to give him five over his first two seasons in Cullowhee, finishing with seven passes defended and 1.5 tackles for loss this year.

McCollum finished the 2022 season 17-of-19 (89.5%) on field goals. His 17-made triples rank tied for fourth in WCU's single-season history. He finished with a team-best 91 points scored, ranking third in the SoCon in overall points, fourth in points per game (8.3 ppg), and with the most points scored by a kicker in the league this season in collecting second-team All-SoCon honors from the voting media. McCollum was a three-time SoCon Special Teams Player of the Week, collecting honors twice in September and again after kicking the walk-off, game-winning field goal in the road win at ETSU. During the season, the Sanford, N.C., product obliterated a previous school benchmark for consecutive made PATs, a record he now holds with 85-straight successful tries. Over the past four years, McCollum is 34-of-40 (85%) on field goals with his 34 successful field goals ranking him fourth in school history. He has scored 207 career points to sit sixth in the program's record book.

Much like his special teams mate McCollum, Thompson was a picture of consistency throughout the 2022 season – and his WCU career. The Rock Hill, S.C., product was key in the performances of McCollum on placekicks and with punter Brandon Dickerson, who finished with the SoCon’s second-best seasonal punting average of 43.7 yards per kick – his career-best.

Catamounts on the Southern Conference All-Freshman Team:

OFFENSE: Desmond Reid, RB

Was selected as the 2022 Southern Conference Freshman of the Year and a second-team All-SoCon selection at running back from the league’s head coaches … Rushed for 826 yards and four scores, adding 212 receiving yards and a fifth TD … Earned FCS All-Freshman team accolades from the Bluebloods, also announced on Tuesday.

OFFENSE: Cole Gonzales, QB

Finished the year 3-1 as a starting quarterback, guiding WCU to the upset win over No. 17/15 Chattanooga in the regular-season finale to secure the program’s first winning season since 2017 … Played in eight of the team’s 11 games on the season … Passed for 1,336 yards with 11 touchdowns on 102-of-161 (63.3%) passing … His 167.0 passing yards per game average would have been eighth in the SoCon rankings … Added 147 rushing yards with one touchdown.

OFFENSE: Censere Lee, WR

Was second on the Catamount squad in receiving, hauling in 36 passes for 634 yards as a true freshman with a team-high tying six touchdowns … Averaged 17.6 yards per reception … Posted a pair of 100-yard receiving games including a career-best 164 yards on five catches including two touchdowns at Furman and 107 yards on a career-high nine receptions in the road win at ETSU … Was twice listed as an honorable mention for the FedEx Ground FCS National Freshman of the Week following both of his 100-yard receiving performances … Finished the season ninth in the SoCon in receiving yards per game (57.6 yd/gm).

OFFENSE: Neyland Walker, OL

Redshirt freshman offensive lineman started 10 of the team’s 11 games at left guard … the Charleston Southern transfer and Canton, N.C., native played over 400 snaps among WCU’s starting five along the front line in helping the Catamount offense set a single-season school record of 5,339 yards of total offense.

DEFENSE: Samaurie Dukes, DB

Moved up the depth chart and into the third linebacker position due to injuries ahead of him … Recorded 33 tackles on the season including 21 solo stops and two tackles for loss … Credited with four-or-more tackles four times … Was listed as an honorable mention for the FedEx Ground FCS National Freshman of the Week following his first career start at Mercer, finishing with a career-high nine tackles.

DEFENSE: Hayward McQueen, LB

Finished the season second on the WCU squad with 59 tackles including 27 solo stops with 3.0 tackles for loss with a sack and three quarterback hurries … Ranked 25th in the SoCon – and was the fourth-best freshman – with his 5.3 tackle per game average … Was listed as an honorable mention for the FedEx Ground FCS National Freshman of the Week following a career-high 10 tackle performance in the upset win over No. 17/15 Chattanooga in the regular-season finale.

SPECIAL TEAMS: AJ Colombo, WR/RS

Played in all 11 of the team’s games with one start at wide receiver … Burst onto the scene as the starting punt returner, finishing with 14 returns for 124 total yards – an average of 8.9 yards per return with a long of 39 yards in the win over VMI … Dropped back on kickoff returns the final four games of the season, finishing with 10 returns for 258 yards and a team-best 25.8 yard per return average … On offense, finished with five receptions for 36 total yards.

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