Johnson Defensive NOY as Big 12 Announces Award Winners

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas first-year safety Isaiah Johnson led Kansas with five interceptions and was second on the team with 73 tackles and for those efforts was named the Big 12 Conference Defensive Newcomer of the Year Wednesday. Johnson was one of eight Jayhawks, including All-Big 12 Second Team selections Ben Heeney and James Sims, honored by the league’s coaches.

Johnson, a sophomore junior college transfer from Cary, N.C., was one of seven Jayhawks to receive honorable mention honors in 10 different categories and was KU’s first Defensive Newcomer of the Year since Chris Harris was tabbed with the title by the Associated Press in 2007. Heeney and Sims, who were both honored by the Associated Press Monday, earned All-Big 12 Second Team honors for the second consecutive season.

Kansas players who earned All-Big 12 Honorable Mention were Ngalu Fusimalohi (OL), Johnson (DB), Dexter McDonald (DB), Jimmay Mundine (TE), Trevor Pardula (P, ST PoY), JaCorey Shepherd (KR/PR, DB), and Sims (Off. PoY).

A wide receiver when he first entered college, Johnson was successful not only as a newcomer to the Jayhawks, but as a newcomer to the defensive backfield. The former Iowa Western Community College defensive back finished the 2013 campaign with the most interceptions by a Jayhawk since 2008, when Darrell Stuckey also picked off five passes. One of Johnson’s best games came on the road at Texas, when he recorded five tackles and intercepted two passes.

Heeney, a junior from Hutchinson, Kan., missed a pair of games in the middle of the conference slate but still finished with a team-best 88 total stops, including 11.5 tackles for loss and the first three interceptions of his career. Heeney, also selected as an All-Big 12 Second Team selection by the Associated Press Monday, was fourth in the conference with 8.7 tackles per game and ranked fifth in tackles-for-loss per game with 1.15. Heeney reached double figures in tackles in six of his 10 games played, including four Big 12 contests.

Sims, who was picked as an All-Big 12 First Team selection on Monday by a panel of media, was the Big 12’s leading rusher in conference games with 92.1 yards per contest and finished the 2013 campaign with a league-best 1,110 yards overall. That mark made Sims the first player in Kansas history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. Sims rushed for at least 70 yards in nine of 12 games this season, including a career-best 211 and three touchdowns in KU’s win over West Virginia.

A senior from Irving, Texas, Sims closed his Kansas career among the leaders in several categories. Sims’ 3,592 rushing yards rank third on KU’s all-time charts, his 34 career rushing touchdowns is second, and his breakout performance against the Mountaineers was the 15th-best single-game rushing total by a Kansas player.

Sims and junior punter Trevor Pardula each earned honorable mention for specialty awards, with Sims receiving votes for offensive player of the year and Pardula votes for special teams player of the year. Pardula earned honorable mention honors at punter after booting 24 punts of more than 50 yards, including a career-best 78 yard punt, for an average of 43.7 yards per kick. Pardula also placed 25 punts inside the 20. 

Fusimalohi, a junior offensive lineman from Daly City, Calif., started every game of his first season at Kansas on the interior of the line and earned honorable mention honors for helping open holes for Sims and the Kansas rushing attack. 

McDonald, a junior from Kansas City, Mo., and Shepherd, a junior from Mesquite, Texas, proved to be a formidable duo at corner in their first seasons as full-time starters and earned honorable mention after logging two interceptions each and combining for 23 pass break-ups. Shepherd was also received honorable mention for his return ability after returning 24 kicks for an average of 22.8 yards per return, including a season-best 69-yard kickoff return against Oklahoma State.

Mundine was also tabbed as honorable mention after he finished the year as KU’s leader in receiving touchdowns (5), was second in receiving yards (229) and tied for third in total receptions (20). Mundine caught a pass in each of the first eight games of the season, including four straight with touchdown catches. Four of Mundine’s five touchdowns came against Big 12 opponents.

Kansas finished the 2013 season with a 3-9 overall record, including the team’s first win over a Big 12 Conference opponent since 2010, and went right to work building for next season with the hiring of offensive coordinator and offensive line coach John Reagan from Conference USA champion Rice on Saturday. The official online source for Kansas Athletics, Williams Education Fund contributions, tickets, merchandise, multimedia, photos and much, much more.