CLEVELAND -- Western Michigan running back Robert Sanford, who yesterday was honored as the Mid-American Conference's Offensive Player of the Year, was named the 2000 Vern Smith Leadership Award winner at the MAC football championship luncheon Friday afternoon.
Robert Sanford (AP Photo)
The award is emblematic of the best football player in the MAC and is voted on by all 13 MAC head coaches and 26 selected media members representing the league's 13 schools. The award is named for former University of Toledo Athletics Director Vern Smith.
Sanford leads the MAC in rushing yards with 1,504 and is tied for rushing touchdowns with 18. His 136.7 yards per game also ranks seventh nationally. Sanford closed the season with seven consecutive games with 120 or more rushing yards, including a high of 203 against Marshall. He joins former Bronco Tony Kimbrough (1988) as the school's only other award winner.
Sanford led the Broncos to a 9-2 overall record and a second consecutive appearance in the MAC championship game. He needs just 39 yards to become Western Michigan's all-time leading rusher. He has 4,152 rushing yards, which ranks sixth best in MAC history.
Sanford received 13 of the 37 ballots cast. Also getting notice were Toledo running back Chester Taylor (10), Akron defensive back Dwight Smith (9), Northern Illinois flanker Justin McCaerins (3) and Eastern Michigan quarterback Walter Church (2).
In addition to those receiving votes, also nominated for the award by their respective institutions were Ball State defensive tackle Sunungura Rusununguko; Bowling Green nose guard Brandon Hicks; Buffalo tight end Brandon Shaughnessy; Central Michigan free safety Brian Leigeb; Kent State offensive lineman Brian Hallett; Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich; Miami offensive tackle Alex Sulfsted; and Ohio z-back Raynald Ray.