The nation's leading tackler and Western Illinois' single-season receiving record holder can't seem to get near the postseason all-star ball.
To date, WIU linebacker Brett Taylor and receiver Jaelon Acklin have yet to get any postseason all-star showcase invitations.
Taylor, who grew up in Macomb and was a regular at WIU practices from a young age, was the nation's leader in tackles (162), stops per game (13.5) and assisted tackles (96). In addition, Taylor recently became the fourth-ever Leatherneck to win a conference Defensive Player of the Year award.
Taylor collected four Missouri Valley Football Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors and totaled 13.0 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, four breakups, two forced fumbles and one quarterback hurry on the season.
A 2016 STATS FCS All-American and three-time All-MVFC honoree, Taylor concluded his Western career with 469 tackles and 266 solo stops, which are each the third-most in school history, respectively. His 203 career assisted tackles rank fourth in program history.
Acklin joined Taylor as a first-team All-MVFC selection. The Mountain View, Mo. native finished the season second in the nation in receiving yards (1,369), fifth in receiving yards per game (114.1), seventh in total touchdowns (14), ninth in all-purpose yards per game (135.33), 11th in receptions per game (7.0) and 14th in receiving scores (10).
Acklin set school single-season records with 84 receptions for 1,369 yards. The senior wide receiver's five 100-yard receiving games matched a program record, while his 10 receiving touchdowns tied for fifth. Against South Dakota on Sept. 30, Acklin set school records with 19 catches (MVFC record) for 343 yards (fourth-most in FCS history), scoring three touchdowns. He concluded his career eighth in WIU history with 1,733 receiving yards and tied for 10th with 12 receiving touchdowns.
"It's very disappointing for both Taylor and Acklin, two guys who each had All-American caliber seasons," sports editor Scott Holland of The McDonough County Voice said. "They both received plenty of notoriety nationally and from The Valley because each were named Players of the Week this season, so ignorance is not an excuse. Hopefully they do receive some invite because both are deserving.
"It's also disappointing for the program. Not only are the postseason bowls an honor and exposure for the players, but the program as well. It's a good way to show recruits that yes, they can receive national recognition and attention at Western and can get a shot at the next level."
Holding out hope
Taylor is still holding out hope that an invitation will come. He recently took to Twitter with this Dec. 5 tweet directed at the three major postseason all-star games: "What do people have to do to get an invite?"
Former Northern Iowa defensive end and 2016 Buck Buchannan Award winner Karter Schult replied with a tweet that read: "It’s actually really sad that great players in the FCS and MVFC almost written off automatically because of 'competition level' or other ridiculous reasons of bias. Let production speak for itself!"
"I would love the opportunity to play in one of the games and represent Western Illinois University and the town of Macomb. It’s been the best five years of my life and I wouldn’t trade it for a thing," Taylor told Prairie State Pigskin. "Jaelon had the best season I have ever seen out of receiver and made amazing plays every week."
Acklin told Prairie State Pigskin, "I try not to pay attention to stuff like that, I already know what I can do. I played against four All-American type defensive backs, two of which already got an invite to the Senior Bowl (Taron Johnson of Weber State) and Shrine Game (Davontae Harris of Illinois State). I know what level I can play at."
Buck Buchanan Award finalist
Taylor is one of three finalists for the STATS FCS Buck Buchanan Award, which honors the FCS Defensive Player of the Year. Taylor is invited to the STATS FCS Awards Banquet on Jan. 5 in Frisco, Tex., where the Buchanan Award winner will be announced. James Madison's Andrew Ankrah and Jacksonville State's Darius Jackson are the other two finalists.
Jackson, the two-time defensive player of the year in the Ohio Valley Conference, accepted an invitation to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in early November.
Response from the all-star games
Prairie State Pigskin contacted the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl about its invitation process.
Carl Francis, NFLPA Communications Director, replied, "The Collegiate Bowl has a very comprehensive scouting process led by a 25-year scouting veteran in Tony Sofli. Tony has spent over 10 years serving as the GM for the Carolina Panthers and St. Louis Rams. He has coordinated an experienced staff that includes scouts, who were all former NFL Scouts to evaluate players in four different regions of the country.
"The scouts visit almost every school in the country where players have been graded by the National Scouting Service. Many of the these players have been graded by NFL scouts. I am not sure why Brett and Jaelon have not been invited to the our game or others, but I am sure he will have a chance to showcase his talent at their Pro Day and if invited, at the NFL Combine."
Meanwhile, the East-West Shrine Game's website states: "Players are selected based on their potential to make an NFL roster. A consensus of the 32 NFL teams is taken into consideration to field two teams of players who meet this criterion. The general divide used to assign East and West teams is the Mississippi River; however, exceptions are made to ensure that the best 100 players are selected for the game, regardless of location. Players must be college seniors and currently eligible to play for their school. All divisions are considered."
Teresa Whitney, department coordinator for the East-West Shrine Game, told Prairie State Pigskin, "Players must be college seniors and currently eligible to play for their school; all divisions are considered."
One linebacker from the Missouri Valley, North Dakota State's Nick DeLuca, has accepted a Senior Bowl invitation.