Honors Nation’s Small College Defensive Player of the Year

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas – Sam Roberts, senior defensive lineman from Division II Northwest Missouri State was selected as the winner of the 2021 Cliff Harris Award presented annually by the Little Rock Touchdown Club and Wright Lindsey Jennings.  The award honors the nation’s small college defensive player of the year representing Division II, Division III and NAIA colleges and universities.

Roberts, a 6’5 292 defensive lineman from Waynesville, Missouri, was a dominate force on one of the top defenses in America, helping lead the Bearcats to a final national ranking of No. 4 and 11-2 record. He was a 1st team AFCA and DCCA All-American and a 2nd team AP All-American. He was the National Region 3 Defensive Player of the Year and the MIAA Conference Player of the Year. Roberts’ disruptive play in the trenches was a key factor on the #2 nationally ranked Bearcat defense finishing his senior season with 18 tackles for losses.

More than 5,000 defensive players from over 500 colleges are eligible to win the award. The $3,000 Cliff Harris Trophy will be presented by Cliff Harris at the Little Rock Touchdown Club’s annual awards banquet on January 14, 2022. Special guest speaker for the banquet will be NFL great Joe Theismann.

From Cliff Harris:

First, let me say congratulations to all of our 2021 Cliff Harris Award finalists and nominees. All of you have played tremendous defense this season and I’m really proud to have each of you associated with my name and football legacy through the Cliff Harris Award.

As always it is extremely difficult to select one player as our winner when you have a group of 500 colleges and 5,000 defensive players from which to choose. Our 2021 winner Sam Roberts was a disruptive force from his defensive line position. His tremendous size, explosiveness and intensity was a key factor behind the Bearcats’ top ranked defense. Congratulations Sam!

The Cliff Harris Award recognizes the top vote recipients from all three divisions.

Top vote recipients from Division III and NAIA Include:


Division III

JEFFERSON FRITZ – 5’11, 205 – Safety
Mary Hardin-Baylor – Final National ranking #1 (15-0) National Champions
-2021 AFCA All-American
-2021 Gagliardi Trophy Finalist
-2021 ASC Defensive Player of the Year,
-2021 Defensive Player of the Year
-2021 64 total tackles, eight pass breakups, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries



SAGE CHEN-YOUNG – 5’10, 182 – Cornerback
Keiser University – Final national ranking #7 (9-3)
-2021 AFCA All-American (3rd straight season 2019, 2020, 2021)
-2021 AP All-American (2021, 2020)
-2021 First Team All-Conference 4th consecutive season (MSC Sun Division)
-CoSIDA Academic All-American 2021
-Collected his 20th career interception
-Helped lead Keiser to 27 wins in past 3 seasons

The award is named in honor of former Dallas Cowboy great Cliff Harris, an Arkansas native who was offered only one college scholarship to then-NAIA Ouachita Baptist University. Harris was passed over for the 1970 NFL draft. He signed a free agent contract with the Cowboys and then helped lead Dallas to five Super Bowl appearances during the next decade. The hard-hitting Harris played in six Pro Bowls and changed the way the position of free safety was played and was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in the summer of 2021. For more on the Cliff Harris story, go to