IRVING, Texas – The National Football Foundation (NFF) & College Hall of Fame announced today the finalists for the 2023 William V. Campbell Trophy®, college football’s premier scholar-athlete award that annually recognizes an individual as the absolute best in the nation for his combined academic success, football performance and exemplary leadership. Among the 16 national finalists is Benedict College senior defensive lineman Loobert Denelus.
“I was definitely surprised,” Denelus said, after receiving the news after practice. “I was very grateful for the way it was presented to me. To have all my teammates and coaches there, and to see their smiles on their faces, meant a lot to me.”
“The entire Benedict College football family is extremely proud of one of our team members Mr. Loobert Denelus on his selection to the 2023 William V. Campbell Trophy list of finalists,” said Benedict head coach Chennis Berry. “Congratulations on this monumental recognition. Mr. Denelus is extremely deserving of any award that he’s up for because he exudes everything great about being an excellent student-athlete. His commitment to discipline, integrity, God, dedication, effort, execution and pride embodies everything we look for in a productive student-athlete on and off of the football field. Loobert Denelus will be successful and whatever endeavor he chooses because of his work ethic and attention to detail. We couldn’t be more proud of Loobert and all of his many accomplishments as a student-athlete at Benedict College.”
“Benedict College is extremely proud of Loobert Denelus for earning this incredibly high honor,” said Willie Washington, Benedict College Director of Athletics, who made the surprise announcement to Denelus and the football team. “He has brought the Benedict College football program national attention with his incredible talent on the field, and now he is being nationally recognized for his hard work and dedication in the classroom. He embodies the true meaning of being a student-athlete.”
“Loobert Denelus is most deserving of this honor,” said Benedict College President Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis. “He is a disciplined, committed and dedicated scholar-athlete who exemplifies the BEST of BC on the field, in the classroom and in his personal life. We could not be more proud of this exceptional young man!”
The 16 finalists will each receive an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship as a member of the 2023 NFF National Scholar-Athlete Class Presented by Fidelity Investments®. Of the 16 national finalists, Denelus is the only representative from Division II. There are three finalists from Division III and 12 are from Division I. Denelus is one of two representatives from HBCUs, joining North Carolina Central quarterback Davius Richard.
Denelus said earning this scholarship will give him an opportunity to pursue a post-graduate degree.
“I was just talking to one of my professors and he asked if I had any plans to pursue a graduate degree, and I said I didn’t want to go into debt,” Denelus said. “You can see God’s work and God’s hand in this process. I definitely will capitalize on this opportunity.”
The definition of a leader on and off the field, Loobert Denelus has established himself among the best defenders in Division II while earning a 3.96 GPA in classroom at Benedict College. The Naples, Florida, native now becomes the first-ever NFF National Scholar-Athlete in Tiger history.
Majoring in psychology and on pace to graduate in May, Denelus has produced a near flawless academic record, earning him the distinction as the first player in school history to garner CSC First Team Academic All-America honors. He also claimed the NCAA Division II ADA Academic Achievement Award in 2022, and his accomplishments landed him on the SAIC Commissioner’s All-Academic Team.
A two-year team captain and the first player in school history to be named a First Team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association, Denelus was also named an HBCU All-American by BOXTOROW in 2022. The 2022 SIAC Defensive Player of the Year, Denelus was the heart and soul of a Tiger defense that led Division II in fourth-down conversion percentage (.130) and ranked third in third-down conversion defense (.248) last season. The contributions of the 6-foot, 255-pounder played a major role in the Tigers’ perfect 11-0 regular season en route to a SIAC title, berth in the Division II Playoffs, and a final No. 12 ranking in 2022.
In his first two seasons, Denelus totaled 92 tackles, 30 tackles for loss, 16.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, five fumbles recovered and one blocked kick. His 2022 totals led the SIAC in numerous categories, including tackles for loss (22), sacks (14), forced fumbles (3) and fumbles recovered (4). The totals also ranked him nationally at No. 4 for sacks and sixth for tackles for loss. This year he has amassed 32 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and one forced fumble through the first eight games, ranking him second in sacks per game and fifth in tackles for loss per game this year in Division II, and he is the key figure in the Benedict defense that ranks first in total defense; second in scoring defense; second in tackles for loss; and fourth in sacks. Denelus played his freshman season at Southeastern University in Florida.
Denelus has volunteered numerous hours, including as a mental health aid, visiting elementary schools, participating in food drives, and assisting with clean-up projects in the community.
The 16 finalists were selected from a record number of 201 semifinalists nationwide from among all NCAA divisions and the NAIA.
The finalists will travel to the ARIA Resort & Casino in Las Vegas for the 65th NFF Annual Awards Dinner Presented by Las Vegas on Dec. 5, where their accomplishments will be highlighted in front of one of the most powerful audiences in all of sports. Live during the event, one member of the class will be declared as the winner of the 34th Campbell Trophy® and have his postgraduate scholarship increased to $25,000.
“We are extremely proud to announce the finalists for this year’s Campbell Trophy®,” said NFF Chairman Archie Manning, whose sons Peyton (Campbell Trophy® recipient) and Eli were NFF National Scholar-Athletes in 1997 and 2003, respectively. “These young men have an unrelenting commitment to excellence in all aspects of their lives, and they represent all that is right in college football. As strong leaders in the vein of the trophy’s namesake Bill Campbell, they all serve as living examples that the ‘Future For Football’ is bright. We are excited to honor their hard work and outstanding leadership with postgraduate scholarships.”
Submitted by their schools, which are limited to one nominee each, candidates for the Campbell Trophy® must be either a senior player who will complete his final year of eligibility during the 2023 season or be a graduated player who has been enrolled in school at least three (3) years (even if he has remaining eligibility); must have minimum cumulative GPA of 3.2 on a 4.0 scale; must have outstanding football ability as a starter/significant contributor; and must have exhibited exemplary leadership on the field, in the classroom and within the community.
“The NFF Awards Committee did an excellent job in selecting this year’s National Scholar-Athletes,” said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell. “Chosen from a record-breaking number of semifinalists, the finalists have undoubtedly distinguished themselves as some of the best student-athletes in the country. Each of these men is a leader on and off the field, and we know that they have only begun to reach their potential.”
Following the 65th NFF Annual Awards Dinner Presented by Las Vegas, the recipient of the 2023 Campbell Trophy® will be honored at several other prestigious events. On Thursday, Dec. 7, he will be interviewed live during the “The Home Depot College Football Awards” on ESPN. On Sunday, Dec. 10, he will sit on the dais during the Heisman Trophy dinner. Then on Monday, Dec. 11, a reception will be held in his honor at the New York Athletic Club (NYAC), the official home of the trophy since 2013.
Launched in 1959, the NFF National Scholar-Athlete Awards Presented by Fidelity Investments celebrate their 65th year in 2023. The awards were the first initiative in history to grant postgraduate scholarships based on both a player’s academic and athletic accomplishments. Since 2011, Fidelity Investments, a leading provider of workplace savings plans in higher education, has served as the presenting sponsor of the NFF National Scholar-Athlete Awards.
As part of its support of the NFF National Scholar-Athlete Awards, Fidelity Investments helped launch the NFF Faculty Salutes, which recognize the contributions of the faculty athletics representatives at each of the institutions with a finalist for the Campbell Trophy®. The NFF presents each of the faculty athletics representatives with a plaque and Fidelity donates $5,000 for the academic support services at each school. The salutes have recognized 186 FARs since the program’s inception, and Fidelity has made a total of $930,000 (including $80,000 this year) in donations.
Including the 2023 Campbell Trophy® finalists, the NFF has honored 922 individuals with National Scholar-Athlete Awards, and this year’s postgraduate scholarships will push the program’s all-time distribution to more than $12.6 million.
Loobert Denelus joins an elite group of former honorees.
A total of 42 former National Scholar-Athletes have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and seven are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Tony Boselli (Southern California), Derrick Brooks (Florida State), Dave Casper (Notre Dame), Peyton Manning (Tennessee), Merlin Olsen (Utah State), Lee Roy Selmon (Oklahoma) and Steve Young (BYU). Click here for a database of all the past NFF National Scholar-Athletes.
“It’s very shocking to be on the list with those kind of names,” Denelus said.
The Campbell Trophy® was first awarded in 1990, adding to the program’s prestige. Past recipients include two Rhodes Scholars, a Rhodes Scholar finalist, two Heisman Trophy winners and eight first-round NFL draft picks.
The trophy is named in honor of the late Bill Campbell, an All-Ivy League player and the captain of Columbia’s 1961 Ivy League championship team who found his true calling after an unlikely career change at age 39 from Columbia football coach to advertising executive. His ability to recruit, develop and manage talented executives – all lessons learned on the gridiron – proved to be a critical component of his ability to inspire his business teams to the highest levels of success. His contributions have been captured in a book titled “The Trillion Dollar Coach,” and during his lifetime, he affectionally became known as the “Coach of Silicon Valley.”
Campbell joined the NFF Board in 1978 while he was still a coach at Columbia, and he continued to serve with distinction until his passing in 2016. In 2004, the NFF recognized Campbell’s contributions and accomplishments by presenting him with the NFF Gold Medal, the organization’s highest honor. In 2009, the NFF renamed college football’s premier scholar-athlete award as The William V. Campbell Trophy® as an inspiration to future generations.
This year’s 16 national finalists:
Cooper Beebe, OL – Kansas State (3.84 GPA – Social Studies Education)
JD Bertrand, LB – Notre Dame (3.62 GPA – Marketing)
DeWayne Carter, DT – Duke (3.47 GPA – Psychology)
Loobert Denelus, DE – Benedict [SC] (3.96 GPA – Psychology)
Jacob Dobbs, LB – Holy Cross (3.76 GPA – Economics & Religious Studies)
Olu Fashanu, OT – Penn State (3.45 GPA – Supply Chain & Info Systems)
Zach Frazier, C – West Virginia (3.88 GPA – Sport Management)
Owen Grover, LB – Wartburg [IA] (3.99 GPA – Biology)
Leo Lowin, LB – Army West Point (3.92 GPA – Engineering Management)
Ladd McConkey, WR – Georgia (3.85 GPA – Finance)
Bo Nix, QB – Oregon (3.62 GPA – Communications)
Davius Richard, QB – North Carolina Central (3.59 GPA – Business Administration)
Luke Schuermann, DE – Johns Hopkins [MD] (3.61 GPA – Mechanical Engineering)
Taulia Tagovailoa, QB – Maryland (3.61 GPA – Family Science)
Liam Thompson, QB – Wabash [IN] (3.87 GPA – Rhetoric)
Zak Zinter, OL – Michigan (3.53 GPA – Sport Management)