PHILADELPHIA, Pa.-- Junior quarterback Ricky Santos (Bellingham, Mass.) of the University of New Hampshire football team was named one of the top three finalists eligible to win the Walter Payton Award, which is presented annually to the top player in all of I-AA football by “The Sports Network”.
     Northern Arizona quarterback Jason Murrietta, Santos, and Southern Illinois running back Arkee Whitlock will all be present at the 20th Annual I-AA College Football Awards in Chattanooga, Tenn, on Dec. 14.
    More than 110 ballots were cast for the Payton, as well as for the Buck Buchanan Award (I-AA defensive player of the year) and Eddie Robinson Award (I-AA coach of the year). Winners of the Buchanan and Robinson will also be announced on Dec. 14, and the voting breakdown for those awards will not be revealed until that time.
    Santos completed the regular season with 2,681 passing yards and 23 touchdowns and added 12 rushing touchdowns to lead New Hampshire to an 8-3 record and its third consecutive playoff berth. His 12 rushing touchdowns was tops in the Atlantic 10 Football Conference. Santos was also named the Atlantic 10 Co-Offensive Player of the Year. He threw for 318 yards and five touchdowns to lead the Wildcats to victory against Hampton in the first round of the playoffs, and New Hampshire will travel to Massachusetts in a quarterfinal game on Saturday. Following the Hampton game, Santos now has 98 career  passing touchdowns, which puts him one shy of tying the Atlantic 10 record of 99. He also topped the 10,000 yard passing mark in the first round contest with 10,111 in just three seasons. Santos has led UNH to the NCAA quarterfinals three straight times, making the Wildcats the only team in Atlantic 10 history to accomplish that feat.
    Murrietta, a senior from Glendale, Ariz., threw for 2,827 yards with 34 ?touchdown passes and only five interceptions for the 6-5 Lumberjacks, who won four of their final five games. Murrietta was named the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year for the second time in his career for his efforts. Murrietta's 94 career touchdown passes rank second in Big Sky history, and his 10,726 career passing yards place him sixth in? conference annals.
    Whitlock, a senior from Rock Hill, S.C., ran for 1,541 yards and 21 touchdowns ?during the regular season to lead the Salukis to an 8-3 record and their fourth consecutive playoff berth. He turned it on at the end of the year with 568 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns in the month of November. Whitlock kept his strong play going in the first round of the NCAA Division I Football Championship, as he tallied 207 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Salukis past UT Martin, 36-30. Southern Illinois travels to Montana in a? quarterfinal game on Saturday.
    The 2005 Walter Payton Award went to Eastern Washington quarterback Erik Meyer. Former winners Tony Romo (2002, Eastern Illinois, Dallas Cowboys),Brian Westbrook (2001, Villanova, Philadelphia Eagles), Adrian Peterson(1999, Georgia Southern, Chicago Bears), Brian Finneran (1997, Villanova, Atlanta Falcons), and Steve McNair (1994, Alcorn State, Baltimore Ravens) are among those serving in the NFL. UNH’s own Jerry Azumah, a defensive back who played for the NFL’s Chicago Bears, won the honor in 1998 as one of the NCAA’s all-time best running backs.
    In addition to Santos, senior wide receiver David Ball (Orange, Vt.) was one of the top 16 finalists for the Payton Award released this past month and he finished fifth in the voting this year.
Santos was also a top-three finalist for the Payton in 2005, finishing second in the voting. Ball placed seventh in 2005.
View: Mobile | Desktop