It didn't matter whether the offense or the defense was on the turf this past season as Western Illinois had an All-American on the field either way.
Senior linebacker Brett Taylor and senior wide receiver Jaelon Acklin headline the WIU list of All-American selections. Taylor landed on the following All-American teams as a First Team selection: Athlon, Walter Camp Football Foundation, AFCA FCS Coaches, Phil Steele, STATS, HERO Sports and Associated Press. In addition, the Macomb native was named as Steele's Defensive Player of the Year.
Western placed four players on STATS FCS' and Phil Steele's All-American teams, respectively. Taylor, Acklin and center Jacob Judd received honors on both squads, while defensive lineman Khalen Saunders was placed on Phil Steele's All-American list.
Taylor and Judd also were named College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Academic All-Americans.
"Academic would mean the most to me, not everyone understands the daily struggle of student athletes, it requires a lot of dedication and sacrifice. I’m most proud of that. And then secondly would be the AFCA, to have all different coaches throughout the country recognize your play is very humbling. All these awards would not be possible without the best teammates and coaches in the world."
A First Team All-American by the Associated Press and HERO Sports, Acklin set school single-season records in 2017 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. Acklin was also as a Second Team All-American by STATS FCS and Third Team by Phil Steele.
"I would say AP All-American means the most to me. That or Hero Sports just because I was granted first team."
A native of Mountain View, Mo., Acklin finished the campaign 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). He concludes his career eighth in WIU history with 1,733 receiving yards and tied for 10th with 12 receiving touchdowns.
"What Jaelon accomplished in astounding, eye-popping to be honest with you. What people forget about what Jaelon did was that he rushed for 250 yards, which is an accomplishment from the wide receiver position on our jet sweep package."
--WIU head coach Charlie Fisher
A Third Team All-American by both STATS FCS and Phil Steele, Judd helped the Leatherneck offense finish among the nation's top 30 in team passing efficiency (10th, 154.36), red zone offense (15th, 87.8), turnovers lost (18th, 13), scoring offense (19th, 34.2), time of possession (20th, 31:43), first downs (23rd, 241), third down conversions (24th, 42.2) and passing offense (29th, 241.3).
Judd was also named a CoSIDA Academic All-American for the second year in a row, just the second Leatherneck to ever accomplish that feat. He concludes his career as a three-time All-Missouri Valley Football Conference and three-time academic All-MVFC honoree, including a First Team selection in 2017.
A Phil Steele Third Team All-American, Saunders ranked fifth in the conference in both forced fumbles (three, 41st nationally) and sacks (7.5, 54th nationally). The junior defensive lineman from St. Louis' 12.0 tackles for loss placed sixth in the MVFC.
Saunders--listed at 6-foot-2 and 310 pounds--also collected 57 tackles, four quarterback hurries, three breakups and a fumble recovery while scoring a touchdown on offense in the season-opening contest at Tennessee Tech, helping him earn First Team All-MVFC honors.
Saunders will return for his senior season next fall for Western. Expect the St. Louis native to land on numerous preseason All-American lists.
Taylor is the second Leatherneck to be honored as a Walter Camp Football Foundation FCS All-American twice. Edgerton Hartwell was a repeat honoree in both 1999 and 2000.
Taylor has been invited to the STATS FCS Awards Banquet on Jan. 5 as a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, which honors the nation's best defensive player. He led the FCS this season with 162 tackles, 13.5 stops per game and 96 assisted tackles. Taylor also recorded 13.0 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, four breakups, two forced fumbles and one quarterback hurry on the season.
The Missouri Valley Football Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Taylor earned four league Player of the Week awards this year. He finishes his Western Illinois career as a three-time All-MVFC selection and three-time Academic All-MVFC Selection. His 469 career tackles and 266 career solo stops each rank third in school history. Taylor's 203 career assisted tackles place fourth.