Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - There's so much to be said for the comfort level that familiarity brings to an athlete.
Fordham quarterback Michael Nebrich has found it in a coach and offensive system. Lehigh wide receiver Lee Kurfis and Samford all-purpose back Fabian Truss have found it in FCS programs close to their hometowns.
The three players' stellar play in the first half of the season led on Tuesday to Nebrich, Kurfis and Truss becoming candidates for the 27th annual Walter Payton Award, which will be presented by The Sports Network to the outstanding player in the FCS following the regular season.
This year's winner will join a list of Payton Award greats such as Steve McNair, John Friesz, Brian Westbrook, Tony Romo, Brian Finneran and Armanti Edwards.
Nebrich, a 6-1, 205-pound junior, transferred from the University of Connecticut to Fordham before the 2012 season, following his former offensive coordinator with the Huskies after Joe Moorhead became the Rams' head coach. Behind Nebrich this season, Fordham has posted its first 7-0 start since 1930, beating such teams as Temple, Villanova and Lehigh. He ranks third in the FCS with 365.6 yards of total offense per game. He has completed nearly three- quarters of his pass attempts, 190-of-256 (74.2 percent), for 2,166 yards and 17 touchdowns with only one interception. He also has rushed for 393 yards and five touchdowns.
Kurfis, a 6-2, 190-pound senior, attended high school in West Chester, Pa., before he enrolled at nearby Lehigh. He has been unstoppable this season, leading both the Patriot League and the FCS in receptions (64) and receiving yards (934) while the Mountain Hawks have started the season with a 5-1 record. He opened the campaign with back-to-back games of at least 200 receiving yards and two touchdown receptions. Dating back to last season, he has posted seven straight games of at least 100 receiving yards. His 14 receptions against Columbia this past Saturday tied the school record for a single game.
Truss, a 5-foot-9, 185-pound senior, stayed in his hometown of Birmingham, Ala., to attend Samford. He is one of the most versatile offensive players in the FCS and its active leader in all-purpose yards. This season, he leads the nation in all-purpose yards per game (226.3) on a mix of rushes, receptions, and kickoff and punt returns. He has scored nine touchdowns, including two on kickoff returns, during Samford's 5-2 start. Having finished third nationally in all-purpose yards per game as a junior, he is on pace to post a second straight season of at least 1,000 rushing yards.
Other nominees on the Watch List are quarterbacks Vernon Adams of Eastern Washington, Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois, Brock Jensen of North Dakota State, Jeff Mathews of Cornell, DeNarius McGhee of Montana State and Jerick McKinnon of Georgia Southern; running backs Zach Bauman of Northern Arizona, Shakir Bell of Indiana State, Isaiah Crowell of Alabama State, Timothy Flanders of Sam Houston State, Kyle Harbridge of Saint Francis (Pa.), David Johnson of Northern Iowa, Terrance West of Towson and Zach Zenner of South Dakota State; and wide receivers Jordan Harris of Bryant, Erik Lora of Eastern Illinois and Walter Powell of Murray State.
Bios of all 20 players can be found at http://tinyurl.com/yhv6oh8.
Other players considered for the Watch List: Lehigh quarterback Brandon Bialkowski; North Dakota wide receiver Greg Hardin; Montana quarterback Jordan Johnson; Fordham running back Carlton Koonce; Colgate quarterback Gavin McCarney; Samford linebacker Justin Shade; Central Arkansas quarterback Wynrick Smothers; and Coastal Carolina running back Lorenzo Taliaferro.
The Payton Award Watch List can undergo revision during the season. Ballots will be sent to a national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries following the regular season. The top three vote-getters will be invited to The Sports Network FCS Awards Presentation Dec. 16 in Philadelphia.
The Sports Network also presents the Buck Buchanan, Jerry Rice and Eddie Robinson awards. The Buchanan Award honors the outstanding defensive player in the FCS, the Rice Award goes to the FCS freshman of the year and the Robinson Award honors the FCS coach of the year. The winners of those three awards also will be invited to the national banquet.