DALLAS (FWAA) – Illinois linebacker Dele Harding posted 12 tackles and returned an interception 54 yards for a touchdown as the Illini (5-4) beat Rutgers, 38-10. Harding also had two tackles for losses and forced a fumble, compiling an overall stat line that earned him the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week honor for games of the weekend of Nov. 2, as selected by the Football Writers Association of America.

Harding, a 6-1, 230-pound senior from Elkton, Md., became just the second player in the nation in the last 20 seasons to have 12 or more tackles, 2.0 TFL’s, a forced fumble, an interception and a touchdown in a single game. Kentucky’s Mike Edwards was the other against Middle Tennessee in 2018.

As both of Harding’s turnovers led to Illini touchdowns, Illinois is tied for the national lead with five defensive touchdowns this season. The Illini captain is currently tied for fourth in the FBS and leads the Big Ten in tackles (106 and 11.8 per game), almost two full tackles per game ahead of second place in the Big Ten. For the season, Harding has 8.5 TFL’s, three interceptions (ties for 20th nationally) and two touchdowns, having returned another interception 40 yards at Minnesota on Oct. 5. He is the No. 16 graded linebacker and No. 3 in the Big Ten by Pro Football Focus.

“First off, he’s a smart player, he gets it. And when guys are watching you, he does everything right, so he has everybody’s attention,” Illinois coach Lovie Smith said in Monday’s press conference. “So knowing what to do and being a voice, that’s good. But in the end when you start playing you need to play good football and no one has played better ball than Dele has, and it gets your attention a little bit more. (Harding) makes a lot of checks based on formations and there’s a ton of communications going on, and there’s a lot on his plate before he had to line up, and he has done it well.”

This is only the second time for an Illinois player to earn this honor. The only other Illinois player to earn the FWAA’s National Defensive Player of the Week came in 2001 when cornerback Eugene Wilson posted three interceptions and five pass breakups in a 33-28 win over Penn State. Illinois has had three players as finalists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy in the past, most recently 2011 with defensive end Whitney Mercilus, along with linebacker Kevin Brown (1995) and linebacker Dana Howard (1994).

Each Tuesday during the regular season, the FWAA has selected a Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week since 2001. Harding will be added to the Bronko Nagurski Trophy Watch List. The FWAA and the Charlotte Touchdown Club will announce five finalists for the 2019 Bronko Nagurski Trophy on Wed., Nov. 20. The winner will be chosen from those five finalists who are part of the 2019 FWAA All-America Team.

The FWAA All-America Committee, after voting input from the association’s entire membership, selects a 26-man All-America Team and eventually the Bronko Nagurski Trophy finalists. The committee members then select the winner as the best defensive player in college football.

The 25th Annual Bronko Nagurski Trophy Awards Banquet will be held on Monday, December 9th in Charlotte, NC. In addition to the 2019 Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner’s announcement, UCLA’s 3-Time All American Jerry Robinson from the Class of 1978 will receive this year’s Bronko Nagurski Legends Award. The keynote address will be delivered by Ohio State head coach Ryan Day. The Charlotte Touchdown Club will also be presenting the Defender of the Nation Award to Kyle Johnson from the United States Air Force Academy sponsored by The Independence Fund.

The FWAA has chosen a National Defensive Player of the Year since 1993. In 1995, the FWAA named the award in honor of the legendary two-way player from the University of Minnesota. Nagurski dominated college football then became a star for professional football’s Chicago Bears in the 1930s. Bronislaw “Bronko” Nagurski is a charter member of both the College Football and Pro Football Halls of Fame.

Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America consists of 1,400 men and women who cover college football. The membership includes journalists, broadcasters and publicists, as well as key executives in all the areas that involve the game. The FWAA works to govern areas that include game-day operations, major awards and its annual All-America team. For more information about the FWAA and its award programs, contact Steve Richardson at tiger@fwaa.com.

About the Charlotte Touchdown Club
The Charlotte Touchdown Club is a non-profit organization founded in 1990 for the purpose of promoting high school, collegiate, and professional football in the Charlotte, N.C., region. The club’s activities and services focus community attention on the outstanding citizenship, scholarship, sportsmanship, and leadership of area athletes and coaches. Since 1990, the club has raised more than $2 million to benefit area high school and collegiate athletics. For more information, contact John Rocco (704-347-2918 or jrocco@touchdownclub.mysites.io). The official website of the Charlotte Touchdown Club is touchdownclub.mysites.io.

2019 Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Players of the Week
• Weekend of Aug. 31: Alijah Halliburton, Wyoming
• Weekend of Sept. 7: Evan Weaver, Cal
• Weekend of Sept. 14: David Reese II, Florida
• Weekend of Sept. 21: Demetrius Taylor, Appalachian State
• Weekend of Sept. 28: Benny Walls, Temple
• Weekend of Oct. 5: Jordyn Brooks, Texas Tech
• Weekend of Oct. 12: Israel Mukuamu, South Carolina
• Weekend of Oct. 19: Amik Robertson, Louisiana Tech
• Weekend of Oct. 26: Chase Young, Ohio State
• Weekend of Nov. 2: Dele Harding, Illinois

Related link:
• Bronko Nagurski Trophy (All-Time Winners, Finalists and Players of the Week)