BLOOMINGTON — Most football coaches in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin probably didn't know who Jordan Hassan was before this season began.
Illinois Wesleyan's senior linebacker completely understood.
“I was a no-name,” said Hassan. “I had four tackles on special teams (last season). I was not a huge role player on the defense at all.”
Hassan actually cheated himself. He had 10 tackles a year ago, but that doesn't matter. To say he's come a long way in a year was underscored Tuesday when Hassan was named the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin Don Larson Defensive Player of the Year in voting by league coaches.
A more well-known Titan before the season also was honored.
Norm Eash collected his sixth CCIW Bob Reade Coach of the Year award after leading No. 11-ranked IWU (9-1) to a share of the league title with North Central and into an NCAA Division III first-round playoff game at noon Saturday against No. 16 Case Western Reserve (10-0) at Tucci Stadium.
“That award goes to your players and staff. That's all it is,” said Eash, who gained his 200th career victory and CCIW record-tying 142nd win during last Saturday's 31-6 triumph over Millikin. “I might be the one named in that, but it's not a Norm Eash thing. It's an Illinois Wesleyan Titan football award.”
Eash was more pleased that 13 IWU players were selected to the all-conference team.
Titans joining Hassan on the first team were junior defensive back Trevor Staley, junior defensive lineman Eric Dubose, senior offensive lineman Nicholas Monferdini and sophomore wide receiver Jack Healy.
IWU players on the second team included sophomore defensive back Trevor Koepke, senior linebackers Josh Akin and Brinton Wilkey Jr., senior defensive lineman Justin Krzeczkowski, sophomore quarterback Brandon Bauer, junior running back Morgan Alexander and senior offensive linemen Connor Melvin and Mike Mulcrone.
“We had a great year and we were recognized for our efforts today,” said Eash before Tuesday afternoon's practice. “There is no way you share a conference title and not have some talented football players. I think the coaches recognized that.”
Eash was especially pleased for the 5-foot-11, 210-pound Hassan, who waited for his chance after playing three seasons behind all-CCIW middle linebacker Sean Garvey.
Hassan thrived under first-year IWU defensive coordinator Jeff McDonald. He led the CCIW with 70 solo tackles and was second in overall tackles with 92. Hassan also registered 11 tackles for lost yardage, which included 5½ sacks, and intercepted two passes.
“Here's a kid who didn't start for three years and got his opportunity and has played big in all the games,” said Eash. “His biggest ballgames were against the best people. He had 15 tackles against North Central and 14 tackles against Wheaton. He's done it consistently all year.”
Hassan spearheaded a unit that led the CCIW in rushing defense (49.9 yards per game) and scoring defense (10.8 ppg).
“That's what I think is so cool to me about it. It wasn't me just playing on my own,” said Hassan. “It was because of my defensive line, the other linebackers, my coach. It was an overall team effort and showed throughout the year how well we played on defense.”
According to Hassan, much of the credit for him becoming the first IWU player to earn the league's top defensive award since Nick Nikolich in 2009 goes to McDonald.
“He put me in the right place at the right time the whole season. All of us have had career years so far,” said Hassan. “He's a football guy and a football nerd, loves the game and knows exactly what to do every week.”
IWU was picked to finish tied for third in the coaches' preseason poll. The Titans began the season with a 17-10 upset victory over Wisconsin-Whitewater and became what Eash called “the most resilient team I've ever been around.”
“The coaches recognized our season and what we've done and what we did for the CCIW in beating Whitewater,” said Eash about capturing his first CCIW Coach of the Year award in eight years. “Other coaches told me what a great job you did representing our conference when you play a team out of league like that. It's a humbling award.”
North Central placed a league-high 14 players on the all-conference team. Cardinal running back Austin Breunig, who rushed for 1,266 yards, was named the CCIW Art Keller Offensive Player of the Year.