CHARLOTTE – Gardner-Webb quarterback Tyrell Maxwell's banner season was rewarded Tuesday, as the league's coaches and select media selected him as the 2016 Big South Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
Cornerback Jaylan Foster was named 2016 Big South Conference Freshman of the Year as well, with Gardner-Webb taking two of the four top individual honors among the league's postseason awards.
The pair was part of a group of 11 men who earned All-Big South Conference honors. In addition to Maxwell and Foster, Gardner-Webb saw tight end Mike Estes, guard David Sutton, linebacker Aaron Cook and linebacker Chad Geter earn first-team All-Big South honors in 2016.
Maxwell (Cordova, S.C. / Edisto HS) is the first Gardner-Webb offensive player to earn the award since Hall of Famer Jeremy Martin in 2002 – the first year the league sponsored football.
Maxwell established several career-highs in 2016, setting personal marks for completions (130), passing yards (1,646), passing touchdowns (9), rushing yards (965), rushing touchdowns (8) and yards per carry (5.7) – among others.
He led the Big South Conference with 238.4 yards of total offense per game during the regular season and was even better in league play – averaging a healthy 302.0 yards per game against league foes. Maxwell also currently leads all quarterbacks nationally in FCS with his 965 rushing yards.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder led the Big South Conference in nine major offensive categories in league games, including rushing yards per game (118.2 ypg), total offense (302.0 ypg), pass efficiency (144.5 rating) and yards per play (7.6 ypp).
Maxwell set a new Big South single-season record with five games of at least 100 yards passing and 100 yards rushing – and set a new GWU mark with those five 100-yard rushing games. He also became the first quarterback in the league's history to pace the circuit in rushing yards.
Maxwell became the first quarterback in league annals to top the 2,000-yard rushing mark for his career, and now has passed for 2,731 yards and rushed for 2,014 heading into his senior season in 2017. Maxwell has started under center for the Runnin' Bulldogs for only 20 games.
He is one of only two Big South Conference student-athletes currently on the Walter Payton Award Watch List as a candidate for FCS Offensive Player of the Year. Maxwell also established a new Division I-era mark for Gardner-Webb with 32 plays of 20+ yards to his credit.
Foster (Duncan, S.C. / Byrnes HS) emerged as a strong candidate for the Big South's top freshman honor in October, when he was inserted into the starting lineup after a career-game at FBS Ohio off the bench.
Foster came on against the Bobcats and finished with 10 total tackles and his first career interception. He went on to post 45 total tackles (31 solo), 2.5 tackles for loss, five interceptions, two fumble recoveries and nine pass break ups before the end of the season.
The 6-0, 190-pound ball hawk tied for the league lead with his seven takeaways, as well as his 14 passes defended. He led the FCS with 185 defensive return yards and scored a pair of touchdowns – one on a 60-yard fumble return and another on a 42-yard interception return. He also had a 51-yard fumble return to set up a touchdown and a 32-yard interception return that led to a field goal.
Foster's 111 fumble return yards established a new Big South Conference mark – regardless of class. His five interception set a new league mark for freshmen. Foster, who was named to the Jerry Rice Award Watch List in October as a candidate for national FCS Freshman of the Year, earned Big South Freshman of the Week honors twice in 2016.
Estes (Raleigh, N.C. / Athens Drive HS) earned All-Big South honors for the third time in his career. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound All-America candidate led the league's tight ends in receptions for the third time, hauling in a career-best 41 catches for 494 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Estes finished his career at Gardner-Webb as the Big South's all-time leader in three categories for his position – catching 122 passes for 1,533 yards and 10 touchdowns in his four seasons. He also earned All-Big South honors in 2013 and 2015.
Sutton (Irmo, S.C. / Dutch Fork HS) continued his steady improvement in 2016 at left guard, helping Gardner-Webb set a new program standard in rushing since its move to into the Big South. The Runnin' Bulldogs averaged 229.0 yards per game on the ground – its best mark since moving into the league in 2002. Sutton (6-3, 303, R-Sr.) played a key role, starting 10 games and leading the team with 15 pancake blocks. He graded out at 77.3 percent for the season – best on the team – and had five games at 80 percent or greater
Cook (Edgefield, S.C. / Strom Thurmond HS) earned All-Big South Conference honors for the third season in a row, despite battling injuries late in the season. The 6-foot-1, 235-pound senior had 63 total tackles (28 solo), five tackles for loss, two interceptions and a pair of blocked kicks.
Cook finished his career at the Bandit linebacker post with 255 total hits (131 solo), 30 tackles for loss and nine sacks in four seasons. He also batted away 10 passes.
Geter (Irmo, S.C. / Dutch Fork HS) built on his All-America resume with his finest season to date. He earned All-Big South Conference honors for the third time after leading the league with a career-high 118 total tackles. That number ranked No. 13 nationally at the conclusion of the regular season and the 6-foot-2, 253-pounder averaged a sterling 12.3 tackles per game against ranked opponents in 2016.
Geter, a member of the Buck Buchanan Award Watch List in 2016 as well as the Reese's Senior Bowl Watch List, had an average of 11.4 hits per game in league play and posted six consecutive games with at least 10 tackles to close the season. He was runner up for the Big South Defensive Player of the Year award on Tuesday.
Geter finished his career with 345 career tackles, which ranks seventh in Big South history and ninth overall in Gardner-Webb history – tied with former FCS All-America selection Jeffery Williams.
Lewis (Hilton Head Island, S.C. / Hilton Head HS) had a career-best season at running back, finishing just one tenth of a yard off the league's rushing title for the regular season (95.5 ypg). He was sidelined with injuries six quarters in the final three weeks of action, narrowly missing the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
The 5-foot-10, 215-pound redshirt sophomore did smash a 20-year old record, however, breaking Shed Harris' 1996 mark for single-season rushing touchdowns at Gardner-Webb. Lewis finished with 14 scores on the ground this season, breaking Harris' old mark of 13.
Lewis finished the regular season ranked No. 7 nationally in rushing touchdowns, No. 9 in scoring and No. 11 in total touchdowns. He ranked No. 19 nationally in rushing yards per game after carrying 182 times for 955 yards and a solid 5.2 yards per carry average.
Lewis posted five 100-yard rushing games in 2016, tying teammate Tyrell Maxwell and Charleston Southern's Mike Holloway for the league lead.
Millikan (Pinehurst, N.C. / Pine Forest HS) and Smith (Woodruff, S.C. / Woodruff HS) played left tackle and center, respectively, on Gardner-Webb's top rushing offense since joining the Big South Conference. The 6-foot-3, 301-pound Millikan graded out at 76.4 percent on 682 snaps, posting three games with a grade of at least 80 percent in his second season as a starter.
Smith, a 6-foot-3, 328-pound redshirt senior, played a team-high 695 snaps and graded out at 73.4 percent for the season. The preseason All-Big South center started all 11 games and was flagged for only two penalties all season – clearing a wide path for Gardner-Webb to average 229.0 yards per game on the ground.
Fuimaono (Pago Pago, American Samoa / Samoana HS) emerged as a significant pass rush threat late in September, leading Gardner-Webb with five sacks and six tackles for loss – both career-highs – in 2016. The 6-foot-1, 282-pound end collected 27 total tackles, one quarterback pressure and a forced fumble in his first season as a full-time starter. He had three of his sacks against Big South Conference competition.
Schumacher (West Palm Beach, Fla. / The King's Academy) earned second-team All-Big South honors at kicker following a breakout season for the Runnin' Bulldogs.
The junior standout's accuracy greatly improved in 2016, as he led the Big South and ranked No. 3 nationally during the regular season by nailing 90.9 percent of his field goals (10-of-11). He also led the league with a perfect 32-of-32 effort on PAT kicks, scoring a career-best 64 points in the process.
The 5-foot-10, 172-pounder ranked second in the league with 10 field goals made and led the Big South in fewest kickoff return yards allowed (40.9 yards per return). Schumacher established a new GWU single-season mark with 23 touchbacks in 2016, more than tripling his previous career total in two seasons combined (7).
Schumacher was also Gardner-Webb's representative on the Big South's Football All-Academic Team. The business administration major carries a 3.62 cumulative GPA.
Gardner-Webb (5-6, 3-2 Big South), tabbed fifth in the preseason poll by the Big South's head coaches and media corps, wrapped up the 2016 season tied for third in the final regular season league standings and finished above .500 in Big South action for the first time since going 4-0 in 2003.
The Runnin' Bulldogs will open the 2017 season on Saturday, September 2, at home against North Carolina A&T.