To the victor goes the spoils.
Fresh off leading Penn football to an Ivy League title, senior linebacker Tyler Drake was awarded the Bushnell Cup as the Ancient Eight’s Defensive Player of the Year Monday.
In a ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, Drake beat out fellow finalist and Dartmouth senior linebacker Will McNamara for the honor.
“He’s a tireless worker. He’s a tremendous athlete,” Penn head coach Ray Priore said of his graduating star. “It’s been really great to see him develop.”
Drake finished atop the conference leaderboards in myriad statistical categories, leading the league with 8.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss and tied with a conference-best four forced fumbles, while taking third at eight tackles per game. With the nod, Drake became the first Penn player to win the distinction since linebacker Jake Lewko in 2009.
“It’s amazing to be acknowledged as one of the greats in the Ivy League,” Drake said following the announcement. “It’s fantastic to be chosen from among these great football players and great competitors.”
Drake was a key cog in a Red and Blue defense that vastly surpassed expectations en route to a highly unlikely conference title. Penn’s first major upset of the year came against Villanova on Sept. 24, when, led by two key forced fumbles by Drake, they knocked off their Philadelphia rivals for the first time since 1911.
After a pair of tough losses — including a 48-45 near-epic-comeback against Fordham in which Drake registered four sacks, the most by any Ivy player this season — the Quakers won their next six games, rolling to a 6-1 conference record, good for a share of the Ivy League title, a crown they shared with Dartmouth and Harvard. During Penn’s win over the Crimson on the penultimate week of the season — which halted Harvard’s 22-game win streak — Drake notched a game-high 12 tackles.
Drake was not the only member of the team present at the ceremony — sophomore wide receiver Justin Watson was nominated for the Ivy’s Offensive Player of the Year, losing to Harvard senior quarterback Scott Hosch. If Watson had won, he would have been the Quakers’ first offensive winner of the Bushnell Cup since quarterback Mike Mitchell in 2003.
“Our offense has never been about me. It never has been and never will be,” Watson said. “It’s an individual award, but it took a team effort to get here.”
The other Red and Blue hero to be decorated in New York on Monday was coach Ray Priore, who was named the conference’s Coach of the Year a week ago.
Priore — in no small part due to Drake and Watson’s efforts — led a monumental program turnaround in his first season as Al Bagnoli’s successor, steering a U-turn of a program that had finished 2-8 in 2014.
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