Christmas takes SWAC preseason honor

Published 8:00 am Saturday, July 14, 2018

BIRMINGHAM -— De’Arius Christmas finished last season as the best defensive player in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. He’s starting this season the same way.

Christmas, the Grambling linebacker and former Warren Central star, was named the SWAC’s preseason Defensive Player of the Year at the league’s media day on Friday.

Christmas also was the SWAC’s 2017 Defensive Player of the Year, and has been named to four Football Championship Subdivision All-America teams by various publications this summer.

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In 2017, Christmas led the Tigers with 88 tackles, including 48 solos. He had 17.5 tackles for loss and five sacks, five quarterback hurries, two pass breakups and two forced fumbles. He helped Grambling win its second consecutive SWAC championship, and was the Defensive MVP of the 2016 conference championship game as well.

Christmas was one of 10 Grambling players selected to the first-team preseason All-SWAC team, and one of five on the defensive side of the ball. He was joined by defensive linemen Linwood Banks, La’Allan Clark and Brandon Varner, and defensive back Percy Cargo.

Other first-team defensive players were Alabama A&M defensive lineman Vernon Moland and defensive back Dylan Hamilton; Mississippi Valley State linebacker Patrick Harbin; Alcorn State linebacker Trae Ferrell; Southern defensive back Andre Augustine; and Prairie View A&M defensive back Ju’Anthony Parker.

Alcorn State running back P.J. Simmons was named the preseason Offensive Player of the Year. The senior averaged 8.6 yards per carry last season while helping the Braves win the East Division championship.
Simmons only had 80 carries while splitting the workload, but gained 687 yards and scored seven touchdowns.

Alcorn had 11 players selected to the All-SWAC team, including three first-teamers on offense. Simmons, quarterback Noah Johnson and lineman Mustaffa Ibrahim all made the first team.

Other first-team selections were Arkansas-Pine Bluff running back KeShawn Williams; Southern offensive lineman Jeremiah Abby; Prairie View lineman Corbin Finlayson; Mississippi Valley State wide receiver Quinn McElfresh; and Grambling linemen William Waddell and Kyle Davis, wide receiver Darrell Clark and tight end Jordan Jones.

Grambling had another first-team selection on special teams with kicker Marc Orozco. Arkansas-Pine Bluff had the other two special teams slots with punter Jamie Gillan and Williams as a return specialist.

Alcorn’s Corey McCullough was also a two-time selection as the second team punter and kicker.
Alcorn State and Grambling were picked by the league’s coaches to win the East and West Division, respectively. The two schools have played each other in the league championship game each of the past three seasons, with Grambling winning the last two.

In the East, Alcorn topped the poll with 95 points, and was followed by Alabama State (72), Jackson State (55), Alabama A&M (51) and Mississippi Valley State (27).

Grambling was first in the West with 96 points and was followed by Southern (78), Prairie View A&M (65), Texas Southern (31) and Arkansas-Pine Bluff (30).

The SWAC championship game is Dec. 1 in Birmingham.