JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi State's Jeffery Simmons won the Conerly Trophy on Tuesday night after being an anchor in the middle of one of the nation's best defenses.
The Conerly is awarded to Mississippi's top college football player, and past winners include current and former NFL stars like Eli Manning, Deuce McAllister, Patrick Willis and Dak Prescott. Simmons beat out three other finalists on Tuesday: Ole Miss receiver A.J. Brown, Southern Mississippi receiver Quez Watkins and Alcorn State quarterback Noah Johnson.
The 6-foot-4, 300-pound defensive tackle became the first defensive player to win the award since Mississippi State linebacker Chris White in 2010.
Simmons faced double teams all season that sometimes limited his production. He said he was honored that the fans and media who voted on the award still recognized his ability to change games.
"It's just a big part of the defense — stopping the run up the middle," Simmons said. "I take a lot of pride in it."
The Macon, Mississippi, native finished the regular season with 59 tackles, including a team-high 14½ for a loss. The junior formed a potent one-two combo with defensive end Montez Sweat, who had 11 sacks.
Mississippi State's defense is allowing just 12 points per game, which is the best mark in the country. The Bulldogs finished with an 8-4 record in the regular season, including a 35-3 win over Ole Miss in Egg Bowl on Thursday.
Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead said Simmons is a special talent.
"In 20 years, I've not seen one like Jeffery in college," Moorhead said. "He does things from a strength standpoint against 320-pound guys that a human being shouldn't be able to do.
"You couple that with unbelievable athleticism, effort and precision and there's a reason he's going to be a top (NFL) draft pick someday."
Simmons' main competition for the award came from Brown.
The 6-foot-1, 230-pound junior was among the most productive receivers in the country, catching 85 passes for 1,320 yards and six touchdowns. He was trying to become the third two-time Conerly winner after earning the award last season.
Brown was a fan favorite at Ole Miss partly because of his production, but also because he came to the Rebels after playing in high school in Starkville, which is the home of rival Mississippi State.
The two-time winners of the Conerly are quarterbacks Manning and Prescott.
The other nominees for the Conerly were Belhaven's Denarrius Noel, Delta State's Patrick Shegog, Jackson State's Christian Jacquemin, Millsaps' Chandler Coleman, Mississippi College's Tiberias Lampkin and Mississippi Valley's Booker Chambers.