Sooners Nik Bonitto, Isaiah Thomas land on Chuck Bednarik Award watch list

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It is that time of year again. At the cusp of the 2021 college football season, watch list season begins commemorating some of the playmakers between the hash marks. The Oklahoma Sooners are once again in contention for the national title, and several players donning Crimson and Cream will likely receive accolades for their accomplishments on the gridiron this upcoming season.

Both Nik Bonitto and Isaiah Thomas were named to the Chuck Bednarik watch list, the Maxwell Football Club announced on Monday. The Chuck Bednarik Award is presented annually to the outstanding defensive player in college football.

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The Bednarik Award watch list features 90 candidates on defense. The winner will be announced during the ESPN Home Depot College Football Awards Show on December 9, 2021. The award has been presented each year dating back to 1995 and is given in honor of Chuck Bednarik, a prolific player from the University of Pennsylvania. He was a member of both the College Football Hall of Fame (class of ’69) and the NFL Hall of Fame (class of ’67).

Nik Bonitto has made his mark with the Sooners and across the college football landscape. He is the top returning edge rusher in 2021. Last season he notched 10.5 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks, two pass breakups, and a team-high 10 quarterback hurries.

From a two-point stance in Alex Grinch’s scheme, Bonitto’s power and speed combination off the edge are lethal. Following his impressive campaign, Bonitto was credited by PFF with the nation’s top pressure rate (25.7%), pass rush grade (93.5), and pass-rush win rate (28.5%). He helped turn Grinch’s defensive front into one of the most formidable, along with Isaiah Thomas.

Thomas played both defensive end and defensive tackle last season and was rated by PFF at the conclusion of 2020 as the nation’s No. 74 overall player. He led the Sooners in sacks (8.5) and tackles for loss (13.0). In addition, he notched 32 tackles, two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble, eight quarterback hurries, and two pass breakups. Thomas helped set the tone in the trenches.

Both are key cornerstones in Grinch’s scheme and will be players to keep an eye on in 2021.