Sophomore safety Isaiah Johnson’s Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year award highlighted a day in which the Kansas University football team learned that eight players had been honored by the conference’s coaches.
Johnson, a Cary, N.C., native and junior-college transfer from Iowa Western, started 12 games for the Jayhawks during his first season of Div. I football. He led Kansas with five interceptions and ranked second on the team with 73 tackles. He finished second in the Big 12 in interceptions and 21st in tackles and became the first Jayhawk to win the award since former KU defensive back Chris Harris in 2007.
Although a handful of KU’s juco transfers fell through the cracks and made little or no impact for the Jayhawks in 2013, Johnson’s contributions were among the most valuable for a team that enjoyed significant defensive improvement, particularly in the secondary.
Johnson’s interception total was the most by a Jayhawk since former KU safety Darrell Stuckey recorded five during the 2008 season.
Joining Johnson with Big 12 honors on Wednesday were senior running back James Sims and junior linebacker Ben Heeney, who both earned second-team all-Big 12 nods from the coaches for the second year in a row.
Heeney finished fourth in the Big 12 with an average of 8.7 tackles per game, and Sims’ 1,110 yards rushing were the most in the Big 12.
Five other Jayhawks earned honorable-mention status from the Big 12 coaches: cornerbacks Dexter McDonald (7th in Big 12 with 12 passes defended) and JaCorey Shepherd (3rd in Big 12 with 13 pass break-ups), offensive lineman Ngalu Fusimalohi, tight end Jimmay Mundine (KU leader in touchdown receptions with 5) and punter Trevor Pardula (4th in Big 12 with 43.7-yard average).
Shepherd also earned honorable mention as a kick returner.
Sims and Pardula each garnered mention for specialty awards, with Sims receiving votes for offensive player of the year and Pardula votes for special teams player of the year.