College football: Appalachian State places four on Division I-AA All-American team

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 21, 2006

By Ralph D. Russo

Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — No wonder Appalachian State is set to play for its second consecutive I-AA national championship. The Mountaineers have a roster dotted with All-Americans.

Appalachian State placed four players on The Associated Press I-AA All-America team released Wednesday, and had two more players make the third team.

Defensive end Marques Murrell, safety Jeremy Wiggins and offensive linemen Kerry Brown and Michael Isenhour were selected to the first team, and running back Kevin Richardson, who leads the nation with 27 touchdowns, and tight end Daniel Bettis were third-team picks.

No other school had more than two first-teamers or four players on the three teams.

The Mountaineers (13-1) face Massachusetts (13-1) in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Friday night.

Coastal Carolina’s Tyler Thigpen, second in the nation in total offense with 3,952 yards, is the All-American quarterback in a backfield with two Gateway conference runners. Southern Illinois’ Arkee Whitlock and Youngstown State’s Marcus Mason each has run for more than 1,800 yards.

The receivers are New Hampshire’s David Ball, who broke Jerry Rice’s NCAA record for touchdown receptions this year, and Alex Watson of Northern Arizona.

Ball, Hampton linebacker Justin Durant and Murrell repeated as All-Americans.

Murrell has 12.5 sacks this season, and left a lasting impression in the 2005 national title game against Northern Iowa. He forced a fumble that linemate Jason Hunter returned for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter of a 21-16 victory.

“He’s got good foot speed and is a great competitor,” Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore said of Murrell.

The senior forced six fumbles this season. Moore said NFL teams are looking at the 245-pound Murrell as a possible outside linebacker.

Wiggins holds down the back end of a defense allowing 14.7 points per game. The senior safety has 77 tackles, five interceptions and three recovered fumbles.

“He’s undersized by Division I standards, but he’s like a lot of guys that play in the NFL — 5-9, 5-10 defensive backs who anticipate things well,” Moore said. “He’s been a key player all along for us. A great leader on and off the field.”

Richardson leads the nation with 162 points, despite sitting out much of the second half in six Appalachian State blowouts this season. Bettis played both ways for the Mountaineers early in the season, also seeing time at defensive end.

“In the last month, he’s really come on and had a really big year,” Moore said. “He’s such a team guy.”

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Tyler Thigpen set nearly every Coastal Carolina passing mark in 2005, yet came up empty on postseason awards. He and his coaches knew something had to change.

So Thigpen lost about 20 pounds during the offseason and established a stronger connection with the Chants other offensive standouts. The effort resulted in Thigpen accounting for nearly 4,000 yards this season and he was named the Division I-AA AP All-America first-team quarterback Wednesday.

Thigpen almost doubled his 2005 output of 2,026 yards of total offense this season, finishing with 3,952 yards. He also threw for 29 TDs and rushed for five more.

“That’s not a bad little season, is it?” said Coastal Carolina coach David Bennett, who went to the school after coaching at Catawba.

Thigpen didn’t do it alone, either. Three teammates, receiver Jerome Simpson; offensive lineman Brad Poston; and safety Quinton Teal, were named to the AP’s second-team.

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