ST. GEORGE — Utah Tech landed seven players, including six first-team selections, on the 2022 Western Athletic Conference football postseason awards list, which was announced on Tuesday.
And one Trailblazer is a candidate for a national award.
The season concluded Saturday with a 52-26 loss to Brigham Young University. For the season, Utah Tech won three of its last four games to close with a 4-7 overall record in its third D-I FCS campaign, which included a 2-2 mark and a third-place WAC finish, according to a news release from Utah Tech Athletics.
Sophomore wide receiver Joey Hobert and sophomore running back Quali Conley both earned first team all-WAC on offense, while the Trailblazers landed four on the first team all-conference defense list, including senior linebacker Malaki Malaki, sophomore safety Tyrell Grayson, sophomore linebacker Will Leota and sophomore defensive lineman Syrus Webster. In addition, junior offensive lineman Walter Pongia was voted to the WAC’s second team.
Hobert was announced as one of the 30 national finalists for the 2022 Walter Payton Award by Stats Perform also on Tuesday.
The annual Walter Payton Award, which is known as the Heisman of the NCAA Division I FCS level, is presented annually to the top offensive player of the year at the FCS subdivision. Tuesday’s announcement marked the first time in Utah Tech’s NCAA D-I transition that a football student-athlete has been named as a Payton Award finalist.
Hobert closed the 2022 season as the NCAA Division I FCS leader in receiving yards (1,258) and touchdown receptions (16). He is currently second in the country overall in with 114.4 receiving yards per game and 8.2 receptions per game, all of which are new UT school single-season records. The sophomore also broke school records and finished second in the WAC and 17th – nationally in both all-purpose yards (1,474) and all-purpose yards/game (134).
Hobert posted a school-record eight 100-yard receiving games, three of which came in WAC play, highlighted by a school-record tying three touchdowns and 109 yards in the Trailblazers’ road win at eventual WAC champion Stephen F. Austin. The sophomore announced his presence with authority in his UT debut when he caught 11 passes for 183 yards and one TD in the season opener at current No. 2 Sacramento State (9/3).
Conley also enjoyed a record-breaking season as he finished the season as the first in-season 1,000-yard rusher in Utah Tech’s NCAA era with 1,095 yards, which led the WAC and ranked him 17th-overall in the FCS. The sophomore also led the conference in carries (186), yards per game (99.5) and co-led the league in rushing touchdowns (8).
Conley became Utah Tech’s first 1,000-yard rusher after he ran for a career-high 215 yards (No. 4 on UT’s single-game list) on 25 carries with a touchdown in UT’s home win vs. Tarleton.. In all, he posted six 100-yard plus rushing games on the season and scored at least one touchdown in six games overall.
Malaki finished his final season as a Trailblazer third on the team and sixth in the WAC in total tackles (78). The senior recorded at least five tackles 10 of 11 games played with two double-digit tackle outings, highlighted by a season-high 12 tackles (8 solo) with 0.5 tackles for loss vs. Sam Houston
Malaki followed that up with 10 tackles (8 solo) and a forced fumble in UT’s upset win at Stephen F. Austin. Malaki finished his storied career as Utah Tech’s all-time tackles leader with 305 total tackles and he wound up fourth in career TFLs with 25.0.
Grayson , who earned 2021 second team all-WAC and Freshman All-America honors, closed the 2022 regular season as the WAC leader in solo tackles (56) and co-led the conference in total tackles (84) in 11 starts at safety. Grayson recorded six or more total tackles in nine of 11 games on the year, highlighted by a season-high 14 total tackles (10 solo) at Sacramento State.
The sophomore also tallied 11 tackles (7 solo) at Weber State and collected eight solo tackles in UT’s road upset win at Stephen F. Austin. He followed that up with eight tackles, including a career-high 3.0 TFLs and his second collegiate sack in UT’s home win vs. Southern Utah.
Leota, who also earned second team all-WAC last year, joined Grayson atop the conference tackles list with 84, which included 40 solo stops. The sophomore has registered double digits in tackles three times this season, highlighted by a career-high 16 total tackles (10 solo) with 1.0 TFL at Stephen F. Austin.
Leota also collected 14 tackles with 1.0 TFL at Northern Iowa and had 12 tackles, 1.0 TFL and a career-high two pass break-ups in the home win vs. Tarleton. He then closed the year with nine stops and 0.5 TFL last Saturday at BYU.
Webster co-led the WAC in sacks (5.5) and posted at least three total tackles in nine of 11 games played and registered at least 0.5 TFL in seven of those games overall.
The sophomore was credited with a season-high six tackles, 2.0 TFLs with one sack, one forced fumble and one pass break-up in the season opener at Sacramento State. Webster also recorded a career-high three sacks (4 total tackles) and forced a fumble in UT’s win vs. Southern Utah.
Pongia started all 11 games at right guard as anchor of the Trailblazer offensive line propelled Utah Tech’s “Spread-N-Shred” offense to 425.4 yards per game, including a WAC-best 310.3 yards passing, and 36 total touchdowns.
SFA receiver Xavier Gipson repeated as WAC Offensive Player of the Year, while Sam Houston LB Kavian Gaither was voted as the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. Tarleton quarterback Beau Allen was named Newcomer of the Year, and ACU’s Keith Patterson was tabbed as Coach of the Year.