FAU SUPERLATIVES: Offensive Newcomer of the Year | Defensive Newcomer of the Year | Offensive Most Improved | Defensive Most Improved | Offensive Unsung Hero | Defensive Unsung Hero | Biggest Offensive Surprise | Biggest Defensive Surprise | Offensive MVP | Defensive MVP
BOCA RATON – Prior to the start of the season, choosing the 2018 Defensive MVP seemed like a forgone conclusion.
Senior linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair had already proved himself to be the heart and soul of the FAU defense. Entering his final season, Al-Shaair already led FAU career tackles. He was the Owls’ captain, a missile constantly targeting ball-carriers.
Midway through the season, however, FAU lost Al-Shaair for the season to a knee injury. The Owls needed a new face to play that lead-dog role.
To say that fellow linebacker Rashad Smith suddenly appeared to fill that role is inaccurate. A junior starting for the second consecutive season, Smith’s 51 tackles at the time of Al-Shaair’s injury were actually eight more than his mentor though six games.
In 2018 Smith showed he could be an all-around defensive force. His team-high 86 tackles included a 16-tackle afternoon against Air Force in the season’s second week. Smith’s 5.5 tackles for loss on the season were third most among the Owls.
And he even led FAU in pass interceptions with four, despite never really being known as being great in pass defense prior to 2018.
Smith’s rapid development as a junior makes him the easy choice for FAU football’s 2018 Defensive MVP. Knowing that he’ll return should be comforting not only to coach Lane Kiffin, but it should also offer new defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer a player to build his scheme around for 2019.
While Smith clearly earned this award, some others deserved consideration. Al-Shaair enjoyed a sparkling start to his senior season and he continued to help his teammates from the sideline after the injury.
In year’s past safety Jalen Young provided stability in the defensive backfield and he did so again this year for much of the season. But a knee injury suffered against Air Force hampered him the remainder of the season, limiting Young to 59 total tackles and only one interception.
The job senior Andrew Soroh did as Al-Shaair’s replacement shouldn’t be overlooked. A converted safety, Soroh’s 56 tackles placed him third among Owls, and his 5.5 tackles for loss tied him with Smith.
And cornerback James Pierre showed how bright his future can be by recording 55 tackles, many coming on some of the biggest hits delivered by the Owls all season.