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Weston Steelhammer, Damontae Kazee lead Mountain West DBs on Thorpe Award watch list

QBs beware.

NCAA Football: San Jose State at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterbacks in the Mountain West had a lot to think about whenever they dropped back to pass in 2015. A wealth of talent across the conference’s defensive backfields led to 140 total interceptions on the season, and the best of the best have found their way onto this year’s Jim Thorpe Award watch list.

The honor, given annually to the nation’s top defensive back, includes four MWC entrants with a chance to make big impacts this season. Last year’s defensive player of the year, San Diego State’s Damontae Kazee, makes another watch list appearance after being named to the Bednarik Award list last week. It’s his second straight Thorpe list, as well, and obviously deserved after leading the conference with eight interceptions.

Air Force safety Weston Steelhammer also makes his second straight Thorpe list after leading one of the conference’s most active defenses to the Mountain West title game. He led the Falcons with five interceptions and was an easy first-team all-MWC selection in 2015, though there’s still work to do after the Academy finished just eighth in the conference in opposing QB rating and ninth in yards allowed per attempt.

His teammate, cornerback Roland Ladipo, was tested often last year and responded with three interceptions and 17 passes broken up, the latter figure ranking 6th in the FBS. A few less breakups and a few more INTs could catch the eye of many voters.

Finally, Wyoming safety Andrew Wingard often had a thankless job as the last line of the Cowboys’ defense, but he led all freshman defenders with 122 tackles and earned Freshman All-American honors for his efforts. Wingard, one of just three sophomores on the Thorpe list, figures to be a cornerstone in Craig Bohl’s reloading defense.

It could take a truly special season for one of these four to earn serious consideration, as they’ll be in the field with last year’s winner, Iowa cornerback Desmond King.