Junior Lehigh football linebacker Mike DeNucci is the first Mountain Hawk since 2019 to earn a place on the Buck Buchanan award watch list.
The award, presented by Stats Perform, is awarded annually to the FCS defensive player of the year. The award is named after NFL Hall of Famer Buck Buchanan, who went to Grambling State, an FCS member school.
No Lehigh player has ever won the award.
DeNucci is ranked first among his teammates in unassisted tackles with 46, along with 23 assisted tackles. He picked up 11 of these tackles during Lehigh’s most recent match up against Bucknell on Oct. 22. He also leads the Patriot League in both tackles for loss with 12, and eight sacks.
DeNucci said learning from some of last year’s linebackers, picking their brains and studying what they do has helped him prepare for this season and learn the defense’s system and schemes.
Freshman linebacker Tyler Ochojski said DeNucci is an intelligent football player who is a veteran leader on the team.
“He is a video junkie, and an amazing athlete who just plays with a lot of finesse,” Ochojski said.
Ochojski said DeNucci is not only a leader for the whole team, but also a personal mentor for himself. He said DeNucci has taken him under his wing.
Junior linebacker Liam McIntyre said DeNucci is someone who does everything above and beyond. He said not every football player gives his all in the weightroom, but when DeNucci exercises with his team during practice, he gives it everything, every single time.
“(DeNucci is) a freak athlete who can jump higher and further than most guys on the team,” McIntyre said.
McIntyre said DeNucci’s speed and strength are aspects of his play that contribute to his potential as a football player, and some hard coaching and more effort will help DeNucci reach his maximum potential as a player.
McIntyre said some younger players also love to be around DeNucci because they see him as a role model to surround themselves with.
DeNucci said, without the players on the defensive line, including seniors Dean Colton and Mikhari Sibblis and junior Ben Murphy, he wouldn’t be where he is now.
Even after losing six straight, with three upcoming conference games against Holy Cross on Nov. 5, Colgate on Nov. 12 and Lafayette on Nov. 19, DeNucci said the Mountain Hawks are a “no-quit team” and that they will persevere through adversity.