Brett Pyne | Posted: 26 Jul 2021 | Updated: 28 Jul 2021

Butkus Award names Payton Wilgar to watch list

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Wilgar named to Butkus Award Watch List

CHICAGO – The Butkus Award honoring the nation’s best linebackers kicked off its 37th annual selection process today by announcing its collegiate and high school preseason watch lists, recognizing BYU's Payton Wilgar on its list of top college linebackers.

Each watch list contains 51 linebackers, mirroring the legendary “51” pro jersey associated with the Award’s namesake Dick Butkus, who was recognized by NFL Films as the best defensive player in football history. The Collegiate Butkus Award watch list includes candidates from 51 universities, including returning five returning semifinalists. 

Wilgar, a 6-3, 245-pound Covid-year sophomore in 2021, is a key, versatile defender against the run and pass for BYU. In 2020, he helped the Cougars finish ranked No. 11 in the nation with an 11-1 record, making 57 tackles with five tackles for loss while adding a team-best five QB hurries with four pass breakups and forced a fumble. Named to the 2020 Phil Steele All-Independent Second Team, Wilgar's efforts helped the BYU defense rank No. 4  in scoring defense (15.3), No. 10 in total defense (317.4), No. 19 in rushing defense (119.9) and No. 22 in passing defense (197.5) in 2020.

The St. George, Utah, native out of Dixie High School made 54 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss and three interceptions in 2019 to earn Pro Football Focus All-Freshman Team honors. He led BYU in interceptions and tied for No. 2 nationally among linebackers with three picks in 2019. Wilgar was named Defensive Player of the Game in BYU’s win over No. 24 USC in 2019 and also had a season-high 10 tackles against No. 21 Washington.

Semifinalists are expected to be named Nov. 1, finalists Nov. 22, and winners on or before Dec. 7. Appearing on the watch list is not a requirement to win the award. The 2020 Butkus Award collegiate winner was Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame (now Cleveland Browns).

Formed in 1985, the Butkus Award honors linebackers at three levels while supporting causes important to the Butkus family. Causes include Butkus Takes Heart initiative encouraging early cardiovascular screening among adults, and the I Play Clean initiative encouraging athletes to train naturally without performance-enhancing drugs.

The Butkus Award is partnering with Agua Caliente Resort Casino Spa Rancho Mirage to celebrate Butkus Award winners. The event is scheduled Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022. Contact the Butkus Foundation for ticket and sponsorship information.

The Butkus Award is presented by the Butkus Foundation and selected by a 51-member expert panel of coaches, scouts and journalists. The award is part of the National College Football Awards Association (NCFAA) which encompasses college football’s most prestigious awards. NCFAA’s 25 awards have honored more than 800 recipients since 1935. Visit for more information.

Select the following link to view the 2021 Butkus Award Collegiate Watch List.