NATCHITOCHES, La. -- Northwestern State had a league-best four representatives, seniors Chrishard Buhl and Eric Piccione along with repeat selections Ryan Reed and Chris Zirkle, on the 2017 Southland Conference Football All-Academic Team released Tuesday.
The Demons headed the way on the 25-man team along with Southland champion Central Arkansas and Stephen F. Austin, which produced the obvious winner of the Student-Athlete of the Year award, senior safety Marlon Walls, who finished with a 4.0 grade point average and was the national Academic All-American of the Year for Division I football.
Walls and Zirkle last week were named to the 49-player FCS Athletic Directors Association Academic All-Star Team.
Buhl, a linebacker from Woodway, Texas, and Reed, a safety from St. Francisville-West Feliciana High School, joined Zirkle on the Academic All-District 6 first team announced in November by the College Sports Information Directors of America. All three were on the Academic All-America ballot for Division I.
Piccione, whose clutch field goals won two games for NSU this season, tied the school single-game record with four field goals with four, including the game-winner, Nov. 4 against Abilene Christian.
Buhl had a cumulative 3.57 grade point average in psychology, while Reed, a junior, owns a 3.59 GPA in industrial engineering. Piccione had a 3.61 in business administration while Zirkle is at 3.87 in business administration.
Buhl was the Demons’ fourth-leading tackler with 69 stops, 32 solos. He made seven tackles for loss (accounting for minus 19 yards), including a sack, and broke up four passes, forced and recovered a fumble and made two quarterback hurries.
Piccione went 13 of 18 on field goals last season, including making six of seven from 40 yards or longer with a long of 49. He also handled kickoffs, with his placement key as NSU ranked second in the conference in kick coverage.
Reed was the Purple Swarm defense’s third-leading tackler with 71, including 50 solo stops. He had two tackles for lost yards (-12), two pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a quarterback hurry. He made a career-best 14 tackles in the win over Abilene Christian.
Zirkle led the Demons’ offensive line with an 81.2 percent average grade and topped 80 percent eight times in 11 games.
Southland Conference All-Academic Teams are voted upon by a head coach, sports information director and academic/compliance staff member from each school. Student-Athletes of the Year are voted upon by an awards committee which consists of one administrator from each member school. Voting for one’s own athletes is not permitted.
To be eligible for all-academic distinction, an athlete must hold a minimum 3.00 cumulative GPA through the semester prior to the sport’s championship, completed at least one full academic year at the nominating school prior to the current season, and participated in at least 50 percent of the team’s competitions during the most recently completed season.