The Valparaiso University football team boasted five members of the Preseason All-Pioneer Football League Team, which was announced by the league office on Wednesday.
Running back Robert Washington (Huntersville, N.C. / East Gaston), linebacker Jaxon Peifer (Normal, Ill. / Normal Community), defensive back Keyon Turner (Chicago, Ill. / Marist), kicker Brian Bartholomew (Sugar Grove, Ill. / Kaneland) and punter Ben Niesner (Black Diamond, Wash. / Tahoma [Portland State]) were recognized as part of the Preseason All-PFL Team. All five were members of the Spring 2021 All-PFL First Team.
Washington was one of seven unanimous All-PFL selections, while Turner was the lone freshman on the all-league first team. Washington was named the first PFL Offensive Player of the Year in program history last spring, while Niesner shared PFL Special Teams Player of the Year accolades. In addition, Niesner was tabbed an FCS National Punter of the Year Semifinalist. Turner was named a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award (FCS National Freshman of the Year) and earned HERO Sports Freshman All-American honors.
Peifer finished with a team-high 42 tackles including 22 solos during the six-game spring season. He accounted for 3.0 tackles for loss totaling 15 yards, made a pair of sacks, broke up two passes, forced two fumbles and was credited with a QB hurry. Peifer helped Valpo rank third in the league in scoring defense thanks to his 7.0 tackles per game, which ranked seventh among all PFL players. He was one of four players in the league with multiple forced fumbles.
Peifer had a season-high nine tackles on two occasions, the March 27 home victory over rival Butler and the April 10 game at Morehead State. He had five or more stops in all six games and had six solos in each of the two games against Butler.
Bartholomew boasted the league’s best field-goal percentage at 87.5 percent, converting seven of his eight attempts. He had the most point-after attempts without a miss in the league, going a perfect 13-for-13 on PATs. The redshirt sophomore ranked sixth in the PFL in scoring at 5.7 points per game.
Bartholomew’s season-long 49-yard field goal came at a crucial time as it represented the first points of an eventual 10-7 win over Drake, the program’s first win over the Bulldogs since 2003 and its first-ever win in Des Moines, Iowa. Bartholomew also averaged 51.6 yards per kick on 25 kickoffs, booting a pair of touchbacks. He posted Valpo’s best single-season field-goal percentage since at least 2005.
Turner finished his rookie season as the FCS nation’s true leader in takeaways with six. He recovered fumbles in Week 1 and Week 6 sandwiched around a four-game stretch of contests with an interception in Weeks 2-5. The rookie was named the co-PFL Defensive Player of the Week for Week 3.
Turner’s four picks helped him become one of only five Valpo players with four or more interceptions in a single season over the last 12 years despite the fact that the Spring 2021 slate was shortened to six games. He ranked in the top 10 nationally in interceptions per game, led the nation in interceptions per game among freshmen, became the first Valpo player with interceptions in four straight games in over two decades and became the first Valpo freshman with four interceptions in a season in over 20 years.
Washington ranked eighth nationally in FCS in rushing yards per game at 108.8. He accrued 100 or more rushing yards on four occasions including a season-high 199 on 39 carries in the March 13 season opener at Butler, the highest single-game rushing output by a Valpo player since 2012. His 199-yard performance marked the ninth-highest single-game rushing number in the nation this season, and he was one of three players nationally with multiple games of 180+ rushing yards.
Washington, who totaled 653 yards and five touchdowns on 140 carries over six games, had the most rushing yards in a season by any Valpo player since Brandon Hall’s 855 in 2014 despite this year’s slate being shortened to six games. Washington was named the PFL Offensive Player of the Week once and earned a pair of College Sports Madness PFL Offensive Player of the Week nods. In addition, the Valpo running back ranked 11th nationally in total rushing yards and 12th in all-purpose yards per game (129.33).
Niesner tied Greg Wood’s program record for single-season punting average at 43.6. When taken to the next decimal point, Niesner’s 43.58 is narrowly behind Wood’s 43.64, which is also the Pioneer Football League record. Niesner’s mark is the second-best in PFL history. He ranked eighth nationally in punting average in Division-I FCS in Spring 2021.
Niesner booted seven punts for 50+ yards this season including a career-long 72 in the season finale vs. San Diego. He pinned the opposition inside the 20 on nine occasions while totaling 1,351 yards over his 31 boots. Niesner earned a pair of PFL Special Teams Player of the Week accolades this past spring.
After finishing with the program’s highest winning percentage since 2003 in Spring 2021, head coach Landon Fox’s team will embark on the fall slate on Sept. 4 at Indiana Wesleyan before PFL play gets underway on Sept. 25 at Drake. The home opener is slated for Sept. 18 vs. Dartmouth.
2021 Preseason All-Pioneer Football League First Team
Pos. Player School Ht. Wt. Yr. Hometown
WR BJ Byrd (1) Morehead State 6-2 190 Sr. Richmond, Calif.
WR Michael Carner (1) San Diego 6-1 190 RSo. Westlake Village, Calif.
WR Yogi Flager (2) Butler 5-10 165 RFr. Fairview Heights, Ill.
QB Mark Pappas (1) Morehead State 6-2 213 Jr. Avon Lake, Ohio
QB Jack Cook (1) Dayton 6-0 207 Sr. Cranberry Township, Pa.
TE Derek Kline (1) San Diego 6-5 230 RSo. Phoenix, Ariz.
RB Jake Chisholm Dayton 5-9 182 Jr. Union, Ky.
RB Dylan Sparks (1) Davidson 6-0 201 Jr. Centreville, Va.
RB Robert Washington (1, PotY) Valparaiso 5-11 215 Sr. Huntersville, N.C.
FB Coy Williams (1) Davidson 5-11 202 Sr. Lumberton, Texas
A-P BJ Byrd (2) Morehead State 6-2 190 Sr. Richmond, Calif.
OL Billy Corte (1) Stetson 6-5 285 RSr. Cleveland, Ohio
OL Antonio Derry (1) Stetson 6-4 308 RSr. Baltimore, Md.
OL Cam Marriott (1) Morehead State 6-3 300 Jr. Redlands, Calif.
OL Khalil Miller (1) Davidson 6-3 299 Sr. Lithonia, Ga.
OL DJ Wright (1) San Diego 6-4 275 RJr. Pittsburg, Calif.
DL Jonathan Hammond (2, FRotY) Davidson 6-2 218 So. Dunwoody, Ga.
DL Jake Hoper (2) Drake 6-4 269 Sr. South Beloit, Ill.
DL Vaughn Taylor Jr. (1) Morehead State 6-2 252 Sr. Washington, D.C.
DL Fermon Reid (1) Stetson 6-0 254 Gr. Naples, Fla.
DL Aaron Acosta (H) Marist 6-0 285 RJr. Mount Laurel, N.J.
LB Jake Alexander (1) Davidson 6-0 189 Sr. Belmont, N.C.
LB Kyle Bilchik (1) San Diego 5-10 210 Sr. Simi Valley, Calif.
LB Kama Kamaka (1) San Diego 6-1 210 Sr. Kailua, Hawaii
LB Jaxon Peifer (1) Valparaiso 6-1 235 Sr. Normal, Ill.
LB Zach Rumpke (H) Dayton 6-0 196 RSo. Cincinnati, Ohio
LB Vincent Winey (1) Morehead State 6-1 230 Sr. Lindenhurst, N.Y.
DB Brandon Easterling (1) Dayton 6-0 203 Sr. Fairborn, Ohio
DB Kyle Fleitman (2) Marist 6-0 178 Gr. Islip Terrace, N.Y.
DB Michael Hawkins (1) San Diego 6-1 200 Sr. San Diego, Calif.
DB Danny Morales (2) Drake 5-11 180 Sr. Temecula, Calif.
DB Hunter Nichols (1) San Diego 6-0 185 Jr. Los Angeles, Calif.
DB Keyon Turner (1) Valparaiso 5-9 160 So. Chicago, Ill.
PK Brian Bartholomew (1) Valparaiso 5-11 160 RJr. Sugar Grove, Ill.
PK Sam Webster (2) Dayton 5-10 215 So. Richfield, Ohio
P Ben Niesner (1, PotYhamm) Valparaiso 6-0 190 RSr. Black Diamond, Wash.
RS Jaylon Johnson (1) Stetson 5-10 156 RSo. Olive Branch, Miss.
LS Ryan Kriceri (1) Drake 6-2 235 5th Aurora, Ill.
Notes in parentheses: 1-was a first-team selection; 2-was a second-team selection; H-was an honorable mention selection in previous year of
competition. (Dayton and Marist student-athletes from 2019 all others from 2020 All-PFL Teams). PotY-2020-21 Player of the Year (Offensive, Defensive
or Special Teams), FRotY- 2020-21 Freshman of the Year (Offensive or Defensive).