Their 8-5 record likely rates as a disappointment, but the Washington Huskies’ historically productive defense is earning a momentous amount of accolades.
USA Today, ESPN, CBS, Sports Illustrated, Scout.com, Athlon and the Walter Camp Football Foundation — to name a handful — included among their All-America selections Hau’oli Kikaha, or Danny Shelton, or Shaq Thompson, or all three.
But none of those honors carried historical significance — until Tuesday, that is, when The Associated Press announced that Kikaha, Shelton and Thompson had each been voted first-team All-Americans.
The Huskies had never landed three players on the AP’s first-team. The last time two UW players earned first-team All-America honors from the AP in one season was 1997, when a pair of offensive linemen, Benji Olson and Olin Kreutz, were each chosen.
And no UW player had made the AP’s first-team, period, since star receiver Reggie Williams, a Lakes High School graduate, did it in 2002.
“We were just talking about that walking in here — we made history,” Thompson said Tuesday in a rare media appearance.
“The other thing cool about it is that we aren’t just All-Americans on our own, which is why I don’t like to soak in it too much, because it belongs to all of us on our team and defense, especially,” Kikaha said. “We don’t make plays on our own. Everybody sets us up for success, so it belongs to our entire defense.”
But these three were by far the most productive. Shelton, a 6-foot-2, 339-pound senior defensive tackle out of Auburn High School, finished the regular season with 86 tackles, nine sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss, which qualifies as remarkable production for a nose tackle. He is projected as a likely first-round NFL draft pick.
“It’s just an exciting thing to know we made history at the University of Washington,” Shelton said.
Thompson, a junior, was selected by the AP as an all-purpose player. He totaled 71 tackles, four defensive touchdowns — a school record — and three forced fumbles as a linebacker, and rushed for 456 yards (7.5 yards per carry) as a running back. His two-way efforts earned him the Paul Hornung Award, given annually to the nation’s most versatile player.
He is expected to enter the NFL draft after this season — a first-round selection might await — but said Tuesday that he’ll wait until after the Cactus Bowl (Jan. 2 vs. Oklahoma State) to make a decision.
“I had a lot of fun, not just offense and defense, but being out there with my guys,” Thompson said. “My brothers, my family. I love playing with them. I love practicing with them. This last game’s going to be fun.”
Kikaha might be the most decorated of the three. He leads the nation with 18 sacks and 24 tackles for loss — both single-season school records — and his 35 career sacks set a UW record, too. Kikaha, a fifth-year senior from Hau’ula, Hawaii, was a finalist for the Butkus Award, the Rotary Lombardi Award, the Ted Hendricks Award, the Lott IMPACT Trophy and the Polynesian Player of the Year award.
“My first reaction is, they finally got it right,” Huskies coach Chris Petersen said. “I think these things are so political so often. A lot of these awards go to the best player on the best teams and those type of things, but I think these are three guys that are truly deserving.”
The AP’s All-America team is one of five that help determine whether a player may be labeled a “consensus” All-American. To earn that honor, a player must be named first-team All-America by at least three of five recognized outlets — the AP, the Walter Camp Football Foundation, the American Football Coaches Association, the Football Writers Association of America, and Sporting News.
Kikaha was named first-team All-America by Walter Camp, and Shelton was named second-team. The FWAA, AFCA and Sporting News have yet to announce their All-America selections.