NW FOotball - McKeller

Northwest football senior running back Al McKeller rushed through the defense during the Bearcats' 28-9 win over Harding Nov. 27 in Searcy, Arkansas.

After being one of the 36 student-athletes nominated for the Harlon Hill Trophy, Northwest football senior running back Al McKeller has been named one of the eight finalists for the award given to Division II’s most valuable player.

McKeller transferred to Northwest roughly a month prior to the 2021-22 season after spending three seasons at the University of Indianapolis. There, he was nominated for the trophy twice, making this the third straight year he’s been a candidate.

“I would’ve been really disappointed if he wasn’t nominated for it,” Northwest football coach Rich Wright said Tuesday afternoon, a day prior to the finalists being announced. “I’ll be equally disappointed if he’s not one of the finalists.”

Throughout the No. 3 Bearcats first 12 games this fall, McKeller has carried the ball 268 times for 1,527 yards and 18 touchdowns. The senior has averaged a bruising 5.7 yards per carry this year en route to being the country’s third-best active rusher, regardless of level, with a career total of 5,085.

McKeller is second among all Division II rushers in total touchdowns (60), first in all-purpose yards (5,500) and has rushed at least 100 yards in eight of Northwest’s 12 games (66.7%).

“I think his body of work speaks for itself,” Wright said. “Probably the biggest gift of all is what kind of great human being he is, what a phenomenal teammate he’s been. He’s exceeded all of my expectations. … He’s just a special kid, special player, and I hope he wins the darn thing.”

The finalists will now be voted on by the 181 sports information directors across the country to determine which student-athlete will be the recipient of the 2021 Harlon Hill Trophy. Should McKeller take home the award when the winner is announced Dec. 17, he'd be the first Northwest player to do so since the trophy's inception in 1986.

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