The Pioneer Football League announced its annual All-Conference first and second teams on Tuesday.
A total of 62 student-athletes from across the PFL were selected to the 21st annual team. The players were selected by vote of the league’s 12 head coaches, who were not allowed to vote for their own players.
Stetson was represented on the first team by defensive back Donald Payne who, on Monday, was also named the PFL Defensive Freshman of the Year.
In addition, freshman defensive back Chris Atkins was named to the second team. That duo was joined by fullback Mike Yonker, defensive end Davion Belk and punter James LaGamma, who were all selected as honorable mention All-PFL.
“I am very proud of this group of young men,” Stetson head coach Roger Hughes said. “They all worked for a full year with no games to get ready for this season, and they continued to work to get better throughout the year. The best thing about all of them is that they will all be back for three more seasons.”
Payne, a native of Fayetteville, Ga., headlined the Hatters’ league honorees. In addition to being named the PFL Defensive Freshman of the Year, he was a three-time PFL Defensive Player of the Week during the season.
Payne finished the year with a team-high 113 tackles, including 71 solo stops. He tied with Drake’s John Hugunin for most overall tackles in the PFL and led the league in solo stops. He ranked second in the PFL with 16 tackles for losses of 86 yards including 4.5 sacks, which tied for 16th in the league. He forced two fumbles and recovered three, had a pair of interceptions and was credited with 12 pass breakups. He ranked third in the PFL in passes defended.
Nationally, Payne ranks 27th in fumbles recovered, 10th in passes defended, fifth in solo tackles, 16th in tackles for loss and13th in total tackles.
Atkins, a native of Jacksonville, Fla., led the PFL with six interceptions on the season. That total was good for fourth in the nation in per game average and tied for third nationally overall. He ranked second in the PFL and seventh nationally in total passes defended.
“There was no doubt from the start that Chris would be our best cover guy,” Hughes said. “We put him up against the best receiver every week and he welcomed that challenge. The interceptions are certainly a stat that stands out but, as the season went on, he became a much better tackler in the open field.”
Atkins finished the year with 39 total tackles to go with his six interceptions, one of which he returned 48 yards for a touchdown against Birmingham-Southern.
The three Hatters who were selected as honorable mention to the All-Conference teams were all in the unsung hero mold.
Belk, a native of Chicago, was a stalwart on the defensive line who also served as a team captain, along with Payne, QB Ryan Tentler and center Fletcher Eldemire, all season. Belk finished fifth on the team in total tackles with 58, but was second to Payne with 9.5 tackles or loss. Of those, three were sacks.
“Davion improved so much during the year,” Hughes said. “He became much more of a force on the defensive line as the year wore on. He is so athletic and, as he continues to grow into his body and get stronger, he has a chance to be a dominant player for us in the coming years.”
It is not often that a team has a fullback as one of the leading receivers, but that is what Mike Yonker did in 2013. A native of Cocoa Beach, Fla., Yonker finished with the highest yards per catch average on the team among the 10 receivers with at least 10 catches. He finished fourth on the squad in total receiving yards despite having just 18 receptions.
To go with the 18 receptions, Yonker had 17 rush attempts on the year and finished fifth on the squad in all-purpose yards. He was also a regular contributor on special teams with five tackles.
“Mike is one of those players who just does everything right,” Hughes said. “He became an offensive threat during the year as a receiver out of the backfield, but he was also a great blocker, helping to protect our quarterbacks. It is rare to see a role player receive recognition like this, but he is certainly deserving.”
The third, and final, honorable mention pick for the Hatters, kicker/punter James LaGamma, was a secret weapon for Stetson throughout the year. Selected as a punter, LaGamma had just two of his 73 punts go for touchbacks, while placing 18 punts inside the opponent 20 yard line. He had eight punts of longer than 50 yards, including a long effort of 70 yards against Florida Tech.
In addition to averaging 38.7 yards on his punts, LaGamma also connected on six field goals and converted a fake field goal into an eight-yard touchdown run in the season opener against Warner. He was named the PFL’s special teams player of the week for his effort in that game. He was successful on 16-of-18 PAT kicks during the year.
“There is no doubt that James was one of the best punters in the league, even though his overall average may not show that,” Hughes said. “He did a fantastic job of placing the ball inside the 10 yard line, but he did that to the detriment of his average.
LaGamma put the ball down inside the 10-yard line 10 times during the year. The Hatters opponents had an average starting field position of the 30 yard line after all punts during the season, even after returns.