AAC names Gainwell Rookie of the Year as 14 Tigers were given conference honors

Memphis running back Kenneth Gainwell, left, stiff-arms Navy defender Tama Tuitele during an NCAA college football game Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019, in Memphis, Tenn. (Mark Weber/Daily Memphian via AP)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry, who ranks among the top five players nationally in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, has been chosen as the 2019 American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year, while Temple defensive end Quincy Roche, the league leader in sacks and tackles for loss, was named as The American’s Defensive Player of the Year by the league’s 12 head coaches.

Houston punter Dane Roy and Memphis return specialist Antonio Gibson were chosen as The American’s Special Teams Players of the Year. Memphis running back Kenneth Gainwell was named as Rookie of the Year, while Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo was selected as Coach of the Year.

Perry becomes the second Navy player to be named as The American’s Offensive Player of the Year, joining quarterback Keenan Reynolds (2015). Perry leads The American in rushing at 136.4 yards per game, a number which leads all quarterbacks nationally, and has registered nine 100-yard games in 2019, including each of his last eight contests. Perry enters the annual Army-Navy game with 1,500 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns. He needs 87 rushing yards to tie Navy’s single-season rushing record of 1,587 yards, held since 1983 by Napoleon McCallum. Perry has also passed for 1,027 yards and six touchdowns against three interceptions.

Roche finished the 2019 regular season as the American Athletic Conference leader with 13.0 sacks and 18.0 tackles for loss, ranking fifth nationally in sacks and 10th in tackles for loss. He needs 1.5 sacks to tie The American’s single-season record of 14.5 sacks, held by Louisville’s Marcus Smith (2013) and ECU’s Nate Harvey (2018). Roche also became The American’s career leader in sacks (26.0) in three seasons, surpassing the old mark of 25.5 sacks by Houston’s Steven Taylor from 2013-16. Roche is the second Temple player to be named as The American’s Defensive Player of the Year, joining former Owl linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who won in 2015.

Roy is the second punter in league history, and the first Houston player, to be chosen as The American’s Special Teams Player of the Year (former Memphis punter Tom Hornsey and former Houston return specialist Demarcus Ayers shared the award in 2013). Roy is one of three finalists for the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s top punter after he led The American in 2019 with a 46.9-yard average, which ranks second on the conference’s single-season chart. Roy set a school record with 2,531 yards, hit 22 punts of at least 50 yards and pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line 30 times on 54 punts.

Gibson becomes Memphis’ sixth winner of The American’s Special Teams Player of the Year honor in the conference’s first seven seasons, joining Hornsey (2013), kicker Jake Elliott (2014-15) and return specialist Tony Pollard (2016-17). Gibson enters the postseason as The American’s leader in kickoff returns, averaging 29.5 yards per attempt. He gained 561 yards on 19 returns, including a 97-yard touchdown, and set the conference’s single-game record with 386 all-purpose yards in the Tigers’ divisional win against SMU.

Gainwell is the second Memphis player in three seasons to be named as The American’s Rookie of the Year, joining 2017 winner T.J. Carter. Gainwell ranks fifth nationally in all-purpose yards (1,873) and is 11th nationally in rushing yards (1,381), leading all freshmen in both categories. His rushing average of 115.1 yards per game trails only Perry among American Athletic Conference players, while he finished the regular season as the league leader in all-purpose yards (156.1 ypg).

Niumatalolo was chosen by his peers as The American’s Coach of the Year for the third time (2015, 2016) after he orchestrated a six-win improvement for Navy from 2018 to 2019. The Midshipmen, who were picked fifth in the six-team West Division in The American’s preseason ranking, went 7-1 in conference play to tie for first in the final West Division standings. The Midshipmen enter the annual Army-Navy game at 9-2 overall and are ranked No. 23 in this week’s national polls.

In addition to the major award-winners, The American also named its first, second and honorable mention all-conference teams. Gainwell and SMU wide receiver James Proche became the ninth and 10th players to be unanimously named to the all-conference first team. Proche joins Houston wide receiver Marquez Stevenson, UCF offensive tackle Jake Brown, Cincinnati linebacker Perry Young, Temple linebacker Shaun Bradley and UCF safety Richie Grant as repeat selections to the first team.

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