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Senior linebacker Garrett Morris (center) tackles a Princeton wide receiver during the game at Powers Field in Princeton, N.J. on Nov. 19. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Finishing off a season with its most wins since 2010, Penn football had a lot of players step up big this season. The Daily Pennsylvanian takes a look at some of the Quakers’ brightest stars on the year.

Most Valuable Player: Jake Heimlicher, Outside Linebacker

Heimlicher has always been a force to be reckoned with on defense, but he really marked his last season with a bang. The leader of a pass rush that was described by multiple opponents as the best in the entire FCS, Heimlicher recorded nine sacks this season for a resurgent defensive unit, but the stats don’t tell the whole story. Even when he wasn’t taking the quarterback all the way down to the ground, he was creating pressure on opposing signal callers that likely had them seeing the jersey No. 15 in their nightmares for weeks. 

Overall, Penn’s defense kept its team in a lot of games this season, and being the clear-cut best player on that unit, Heimlicher takes home the highest honor. 

Offensive Player of the Year: Trevor Mayberry, Left Tackle

This award was one of the toughest to pick, as it could have gone to a number of players. However, the mammoth blindside protector arguably played a bigger role in the success of the offensive unit than any of his teammates. When he wasn’t keeping his quarterback’s pocket clean, he was opening up huge holes for his tailbacks. Nothing proved this more than the success that running back Jonathan Mulatu had in his mid-season fill-in role for fellow ball carrier Trey Flowers — who missed a few games with injury — behind the expert blocking of Mayberry. 

Still just a sophomore, Mayberry will be a key player for the Red and Blue over the next two years and will certainly have a chance to win this award again. 

Defensive Player of the Year: Garrett Morris, Linebacker

You could’ve gone a lot of ways with this one. Senior defensive backs Kendren Smith and Jaden Key held their own against some of the best receivers in the Ivy League, with the former doing so after missing most of last season with an injury. Junior defensive end Joey Slackman enjoyed a breakout season for the much-improved Penn defensive line, ranking second on the team with 4.5 sacks. 

But the guy who has made arguably the biggest impact on the defensive side of the ball this season is linebacker Garrett Morris. The fifth-year senior led the team in tackles this season with 71, and also notched two sacks and an interception. Most importantly, he was a key component of a Quaker rush defense that went from sixth in the Ivy League in 2021 to first in 2022. Morris consistently made plays in the backfield or second level to prevent big runs, and he did a good job dropping back into pass coverage when needed. Penn’s defense was a huge reason why the Quakers had the success they did this season, and Morris excelled in a major role for it.

Newcomer of the Year: Dan Swanstrom, Offensive Coordinator

After ranking last in the Ivy League in scoring and total yards last season, coach Ray Priore decided it was time for a change. Dialing up the former Penn quarterbacks coach and then-head coach at Ithaca College, the head honcho couldn’t have made a better call. 

Penn’s offense flipped a switch this season and scored seven more points per game than they did last year, shooting to the top half of the Ivy League in scoring. Not that he deserves all the credit, but he oversaw a potent rushing attack and the development of sophomore quarterback Aidan Sayin, who threw the same number of interceptions but 13 more touchdowns than he did as a freshman. If Swanstrom could have this kind of an effect in just one offseason, it will be exciting for Penn fans to see what he can do next year and beyond.

 Play of the Year:

No surprise about this one. Don’t let the lag in commentary distract you from how remarkably clutch this play or final drive was. Penn was down to its final offensive play of the season and, for many of the seniors on the team, their final snap. Penn got the ball trailing 19-14 with just over five minutes left, with a chance to spoil Princeton’s Ivy League title hopes and beat the Tigers for the first time since 2017. The Quakers had a first-and-goal on the one-inch line, but Flowers was tackled in the backfield for a loss of four. Sayin’s passes fell incomplete on second and third downs, leaving Penn with one final shot. On fourth-and-goal, Flowers redeemed himself, quickly abandoning his block to go into the end zone where Sayin fired to him for the game-winning score. Not a bad final play for his career in the Red and Blue.