WESTFIELD, Mass. - Westfield State University graduate student linebacker Zach Howard (Prouty HS/Spencer, Mass.) was named the 2018 Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference football Defensive Player of the Year, the league announced on Thursday.
Howard was also a first-team All-Conference selection as a linebacker, and was joined on the first-team by senior running back Travon Holder (Cheney/Hartford, Mass.) and on the second team was Owls offensive guard Chris Saba (Methuen, Mass.).
Howard claimed the player of the year award with his fine all-around play. He led the Owls in tackles (78), and was among the team and league leaders in sacks, tackles for loss, forced fumbles and interceptions. He returned an interception for a touchdown in the Owls win against Worcester State. Howard was named to the All-Conference team for a third straight season, completing a remarkable comeback story that included three knee surgeries between his senior year of high school and five years of college, as he used his medical redshirt year to play this season as a grad student.
A criminal justice major, Howard is pursuing an accelerated master's program and looks forward to pursuing a career in law enforcement.
Holder lands on the first team for the second straight season. He led the MASCAC in rushing yards (1,132), yards per game (125.8), all-purpose yards per game (159.8) and touchdowns (15) in nine games played. Holder ranked in the top 20 in the nation in several offensive categories. Holder wraps up a stellar four-year career at Westfield with 3,428 rushing yards, 37 catches for 314 yards, and 38 total touchdowns. Holder ties the school record with 38 career touchdowns, is second on the all-time scoring list, and third on the all-time rushing list.
Saba anchored an Owls offensive line that propelled the league's top rushing offense, as Westfield garnered 231 yards per game on the ground and 24 rushing touchdowns. The 6-1, 255-lb. lineman helped Holder attain first team all-league status, and when he missed the opening game of the season, sophomore running back RJ Darby stepped in and rushed for more than 200 yards. The Owls led the league (and rank ninth in the nation) in time of possession at 34:33 per game thanks to offensive line play.
Westfield finished 5-5 overall and 4-4 in the MASCAC. The Owls capped the season with a 27-13 win at regionally ranked Western Connecticut last Saturday.
The all-conference awards are voted on by the league's coaches. Read the full MASCAC All-Conference release and team listing.