A trio of University of Louisville football players have been named to the 2017 Bronko Nagurski Trophy Watch List, the Football Writers Association of America announced Thursday.

The Cardinals’ Jaire Alexander, Drew Bailey, and James Hearns each were chosen to the list that recognizes college football’s best defensive player. The three are part of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s nation-leading 20 selections to the list, followed by the Big Ten’s 16, and the Southeastern Conference’s 14.

The list, comprised of 103 players, features 30 defensive backs, 29 linebackers, 25 defensive ends, and 19 defensive tackles.

Alexander, a junior cornerback, was a second-team all-ACC performer in 2016. He led the team with five interceptions, including two against Clemson and two more versus Virginia. The Charlotte, N.C., native also had 39 tackles and one forced fumble.

A defensive lineman, Bailey heads into his senior campaign with 67 tackles, 10 for loss, and 2.5 sacks through 25 career games. The Jacksonville, Fla., native appeared in all 13 games last season. The 6-foot-3 Bailey had six games with five or more tackles, including a season-best 11 against Duke. He capped the campaign with nine stops against LSU in the Citrus Bowl.

Hearns started 12 games at linebacker last year and emerged as one of the team’s top pass rushers. He logged 43 tackles, 11 for loss, and eight sacks. His five forced fumbles were the second most in a season in school history. The Tallahassee, Fla., native also tallied four pass breakups. He enters his junior campaign with 10.5 sacks through 24 games played.

Players may be added or removed from the watch list during the course of the season. The FWAA will announce a National Defensive Player of the Week each Tuesday throughout the season. If not already on the watch list, each week’s honored player will be added at that time. The FWAA and the Charlotte Touchdown Club will announce five finalists for the 2017 Bronko Nagurski Trophy on Nov. 16.

The Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner will be chosen from those five finalists. The FWAA All-America Committee, after voting input from the association’s full membership, selects a 26-man All-America Team and eventually the Nagurski Trophy finalists. Committee members, by individual ballot, select the winner.

The annual Bronko Nagurski Trophy Banquet, presented by ACN, will be held on Dec. 4 at the Charlotte Convention Center. In addition to the 2017 Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner’s announcement, the banquet also will celebrate the recipient of the Bronko Nagurski Legends Award, sponsored by the CTC and Florida East Coast Railway. Notre Dame’s Ross Browner, a member of the FWAA’s 1976 and 1977 All-America Teams, the 1976 Outland Trophy winner and a College Football Hall of Famer, will be honored. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart will be the keynote speaker at the banquet.

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@UofLSheriff50. Louisville native, University of Louisville Business School Grad c/o 2004. Co-Founder of TheCrunchZone.com

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