CARBONDALE — Running back/punt returner Javon Williams Jr. was one of nine Salukis selected for Phil Steele's preseason Missouri Valley Football Conference team this year.
Williams, a 6-foot-, 239-pound sophomore from Centralia, was the only SIU football player on the preseason first team. Williams, the league's leading scorer (including kickers) last season with 19 touchdowns and 114 points, was also fifth in all-purpose yardage for all games (113.2 yards per game). He was the only player on the preseason first team to be selected at two different positions, running back and all-purpose back.
Williams rushed for a team-best 1,038 yards and 17 touchdowns last year as a redshirt freshman on 162 carries. He caught 10 passes for 209 yards and two scores, including an 85-yard touchdown at UMass, an FBS program, that helped the Salukis win 45-20 in their second game of the season. Williams also had a 64-yard touchdown run in that win, SIU's first over an FBS program since beating Northern Illinois in 2007.
Williams rushed for 100 yards or more six times, including the last three games of the year. He rushed for 107 yards and four touchdowns on 15 carries in a win at South Dakota and 149 yards and three scores on 19 carries in a victory at Western Illinois. The former all-state quarterback became the first player in SIU history to throw a touchdown pass, rush for a touchdown and catch a touchdown pass in the same game when he did it against 18th-ranked Youngstown State. The Salukis beat the Penguins 35-10 on Homecoming at Saluki Stadium.
Wide receiver Landon Lenoir, offensive guard ZeVeyon Furcron, defensive end Anthony Knighton and safety Qua Brown made the second team on Phil Steele's list, which was constructed by the college football guru and draftscout.com. Wide receiver Avante Cox and linebackers Bryce Notree, Makel Calhoun and Cody Crider made the third team.
Lenoir was SIU's second-leading receiver last season with 41 catches, 616 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games. Furcron, a second team all-conference pick last year by MVFC coaches, sports information directors and media, has started 24 consecutive games. Knighton, a fifth-year senior this year, has 21.0 career sacks, tied for third in school history with Sterling Haywood (1982-84), and is 3.0 sacks away from setting a new Saluki record. His 34.5 career tackles for loss are sixth all-time in SIU history.
Brown was the Salukis' leading tackler last season, with a career-high 105 stops in 12 games.
Cox, who was joined by his twin brother, D'Ante' Cox from Division II Missouri Baptist, this year, led SIU with 47 catches for 617 yards and five touchdowns last year. The Salukis' fourth-leading rusher last season with 212 yards and three touchdowns, Avante Cox was seventh in the MVFC in all-purpose yards per game (85.4). Notree was SIU's starting middle linebacker before an injury limited him to two games last season. Calhoun had a breakout season in 2019 with 45 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and a team-high 7.0 sacks. Crider received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA for 2020.
North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance, the first freshman or redshirt freshman in the history of the FCS to win the Walter Payton Award last year, was the MVFC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. Northern Iowa defensive lineman Elerson Smith was selected as the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. Lance and Smith were also picked as the magazine's national preseason offensive and defensive players of the year.
SIU opens training camp for the 2020 season Friday. The MVFC is scheduled to announce its preseason all-conference team and preseason poll Aug. 3, the first of two media days.
On Twitter: @THefferman
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