Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham is the True Butkus Award Winner

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AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 5: Linebacker Zach Cunningham #41 of the Vanderbilt Commodores blocks a field goal during their game against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 5, 2016 in Auburn, Alabama. The Auburn Tigers defeated the Vanderbilt Commodores 23-16. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)

Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham is the True Butkus Award Winner

The Voters Got It Wrong

#41 Zach Cunningham of the Vanderbilt Commodores. ( Photo by: Kate Pearson-Halyburton, LWOS)

Zach Cunningham was robbed of the Butkus Award.  Vanderbilt was disrespected. Great players at smaller programs are being denied recognition. The voters need to look at the stats and the complete body of work in a season, regardless of the logo on the jersey. The Butkus Award Foundation and its voters got it completely wrong this time. Cunningham was cheated out of prestigious post-season honors specifically because he plays for Vanderbilt.

Big School Biased At Its Finest

It was Reuben Foster from Alabama who beat out Vanderbilt’s Cunningham for the Butkus Award. Here is a passage directly from the press release on Butkus Award website: The selection committee stated: “Reuben Foster is a complete linebacker with the instincts, closing burst, explosion and on-field leadership traits that set the tone for the nation’s top defense. He is a fearless striker who plays the game with intensity and passion. The way he uncoils on contact and the way his teammates gravitate toward him are both reminiscent of Mr. Butkus. After finishing second to Jaylon Smith in the high school balloting four years ago, Foster distinguished himself in this year’s collegiate class.”

Numbers Do Not Lie

‘Distinguished himself’? The Butkus Award Foundation FAILED to give its voters ALL the facts and stats. Here are the head-to-head stats for Foster and Cunningham over the last two seasons. Foster played in ONE more game this season and three more games than Cunningham in 2015. Yet, his numbers are not even close to matching Cunningham’s stats.

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2016:                              Cunningham:           Foster:

Fumble Return                        1                           0

Solo Tackles                          68                           51

Assisted Tackles                     51                          43

Tackles for Loss                     16.5                        12

Passes Broken Up                     3                            0

QB Hurries                               1                            0

Fumbles Forced                        2                            0

Kicks/Punts Blocked                  1                            0

Sacks                                       0                           4

And just for argument sake here are the 2015 stats:

2015:                              Cunningham:           Foster:

Fumble Return                        0                             0

Solo Tackles                          69                            48

Assisted Tackles                     34                            25

Tackles for Loss                    16.5                            8

Passes Broken Up                     3                             0

QB Hurries                               0                             0

Fumbles Forced                        4                             0

Kicks/Punts Blocked                  0                             0

Sacks                                      0                             1

Need More Than Stats

#41 Zach Cunningham of the Vanderbilt Commodores. ( Photo by: Kate Pearson-Halyburton, LWOS)
#41 Zach Cunningham of the Vanderbilt Commodores with some of the Commodore team. (Photo by: Kate Pearson-Halyburton, LWOS)

Zach Cunningham has had two EXPONENTIALLY better seasons, stat wise, than Foster. How did the voters miss these stats? How did the voters pick Foster over Cunningham? Answers are needed. Do you need more than just stats to sell you on Cunningham? How about this: Cunningham was a total and complete GAME CHANGER, he is the reason Vandy beat Georgia in Athens. With 0:61 left on the clock, Cunningham dropped Isaiah McKenzie on a 4th and one, only a foot shy of the first down marker, adding to a career high of 19 tackles in that game.

More Evidence

To emphasize Cunningham’s football prowess, here is video evidence on the field against Auburn. Although Vandy did not win the Auburn game, Zach Cunningham played his position at the highest level, especially with an incredible block.

Football Factory

First and foremost, Alabama would be undefeated with or without Foster on the field. The Tide is 15 deep in every position, whereas Vanderbilt is not. They are an academic institution that is fielding a promising football team. This season, the Commodores have played relentlessly, proving that they can compete on a extremely tough and highly intelligent level. Vanderbilt is a team packed full of untapped capabilities and limitless potential.

Why Not Co-Winners

Cunningham is on an up and coming Vanderbilt team that receives little to no respect. It is a shame that such an athlete of his caliber was robbed of an honor that statistics show he clearly deserves. It is a travesty that the voters didn’t bother to take the time to look at the candidate’s entire season. Maybe the voters were not given all the information and stats. The only way to right this wrong is for The Butkus Award Foundation to name Zach Cunningham and Reuben Foster Co-Winners. This needs to be fixed. NOW. People need to get mad about the ‘big school bias’.


Please let the Butkus Foundation know how you feel.  Write, email and call:


Ron Arp c/o Butkus Foundation 18920 NE 227th Ave.
Brush Prairie, WA 98606
rarp@butkusfoundation.org
360-601-2991

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