1. Mathias Kiwanuka. This is the obvious choice. Kiwi didn’t have the year many hoped, but he was still the biggest difference maker on the field. His ability forced the opposing teams to double him or adjust their gameplans, which opened the doors for his teammates. The three things that stood out in my mind: him chasing down Booker in the FSU game, his overpowering performance against N. C. State and his response to the Brad Butler incident. Those three moments/games really capture what a unbelievable talent he was (running down an all-conference back), his dynamic pass rushing ability, and his heart. Sure he lost his cool against UVA, but at least he didn’t turn the other cheek. I think his demeanor and background made many people think you could push Kiwi around. UVA learned that he could take as well as he could give. Kiwi was a great college player and an even better representative of the school. I wish him the best of luck and thank him for four wonderful years.
2. Jamie Silva. I was on the Silva bandwagon this summer and wondered why we would start Anam over him. He made me look smart shortly into the season. He is known for his big hits, but I think that takes away from his best skill -- his instinct. Jamie constantly seemed to be in the right place at the right time. On a team that has a track record for inconsistent tackling, he was a close as we come to a sure thing when it came to wrapping people up. He had a few plays against Wake that saved the season. Silva was nearly perfect in red zone situations. My fear is that he might start free-lancing too much (he was out of place a few times against BSU), but that is a small gripe considering all that he did for the team this year. Silva was tough, smart, consistent and a pleasure to watch.
3. Ray Henderson. I’ve probably written more negative things about Ray Henderson than anyone else on the team. Some of it was deserved, but I’ll give credit where it is due -- the guy made some big plays this year. Regardless of the missed tackles, Ray’s game against Maryland and his return against Boise St. were critical to our season. Sometimes I think the leadership thing gets overplayed, but when you have a stoic staff somebody needs to fire up the troops like Ray did. Our linebackers might be faster next year. They might be better tacklers. I doubt they will be as heads up as Ray was this year.