Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. went back-to-back Monday night in Charlotte, winning the Bronko Nagurski trophy that goes to college football’s top defensive player for the second year in a row.
Anderson had 10 sacks for the Crimson Tide this season, once again ranking as one of the nation’s most effective and feared pass rushers. In 2021, when the 6-4, 243-pound outside linebacker first won the Nagurski award, he had 17.5 sacks.
This season, Anderson’s 10 sacks included two in Alabama’s regular-season finale against rival Auburn. Anderson also scored his first collegiate TD in 2022, returning an interception 25 yards against Lousiana-Monroe — a moment he called his favorite individual play of the season.
“This is a blessing, to be here again,” Anderson said. “I want to give all thanks to my teammates, because without them, this award is not even possible. This means everything to me.”
The award ceremony was put on by the Charlotte Touchdown Club and drew a crowd of 1,100 people to a black-tie dinner at the Charlotte Convention Center.
Anderson, a junior, said he had not yet decided whether to turn pro after this season — having played three years at Alabama he is eligible to do so — and also was unclear whether he was going to play in the Crimson Tide’s bowl game. The No. 5 Crimson Tide (10-2) barely missed the four-team College Football Playoff and instead are scheduled to face Kansas State in the Sugar Bowl on Dec. 31.
“I’m still working out with the team, and I’m just super-excited to be here, enjoying this award show and my time in Charlotte with my family,” Anderson said.
Anderson became only the second two-time recipient of the Nagurski award. The first was Northwestern linebacker Pat Fitzgerald, who won the award in both 1995 and 1996 and later went on to become Northwestern’s head coach.
Other notable past recipients of the Nagurski trophy include Chase Young (2019, Ohio State), Bradley Chubb (2017, N.C. State), Aaron Donald (2013, Pittsburgh), Luke Kuechly (2011, Boston College) and Warren Sapp (1994, Miami).
The other three national finalists Monday night were Georgia safety Chris Smith, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Calijah Kancey and Southern Cal defensive end Tuli Tuipulotu. All four finalists were present at the ceremony, with family members and college coaches flanking them.
The Football Writers Association of America created the award in 1993, and its members choose the winner each year. The Bronko Nagurski Trophy is awarded to the best defensive player in college football and has been presented by the Charlotte Touchdown Club for nearly 30 years. The award was established as a complement to the Heisman Trophy, which at the time of the Nagurski award’s creation had never been presented to a defensive player.
Monday’s Bronko Nagurski banquet not only recognized the best college defensive player but also helped to raise money to fund regional high school and college scholarships. All proceeds benefited the Charlotte Touchdown Club Scholarship Fund.
N.C. State head football coach Dave Doeren, whose Wolfpack will play in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl against Maryland Dec. 30 in Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium, was the event’s keynote speaker.