OXFORD — The Mid-American Conference office announced that seven RedHawks were named All-MAC on Wednesday afternoon. Heath Harding (first-team), Collin Buchanan (second-team), JT Jones (second-team), James Gardner (third-team), De’Andre Montgomery (third-team), Junior McMullen (third-team) and Maurice Thomas (third-team) were voted All-MAC by the 12 conference head coaches.
Just as Miami has improved from three wins in 2015 to six wins in 2016, Miami’s All-MAC honorees continue to climb. In fact, the seven award winners this season matches Miami’s total from 2014 (5) and 2015 (2) combined. Also of note, five of Miami’s All-MAC honorees will be back in 2017.
Harding is Miami’s lone first-team All-MAC honoree, finishing the year third on the team with 65 tackles and adding four interceptions and 10 pass breakups for the league’s top overall defense. Harding, who played just three games in 2015 before an injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season, rebounded with a remarkable campaign in 2016, highlighted by his contest versus Ball State in which he recorded seven tackles, an interception and a career-best three pass breakups. He had a season-high nine tackles and an interception versus Ohio and had six stops and an interception in a win over Eastern Michigan.
Buchanan started 11 games in 2016 at right tackle for the Red and White earning second-team honors. The fifth-year senior was part of an offensive line unit that helped Miami average 133.5 yards on the game this season and 168.5 yards per game on the ground during Miami’s current six-game win streak to help Miami become bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.
Jones, a third-team All-MAC award winner last season, improved his play in 2016 to earn second-team honors. Overall, he recorded 40 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, a forced fumble and four quarterback hurries. His best game this season was at Eastern Michigan in which he recorded five tackles and two sacks in Miami’s 35-24 victory. He added a sack and forced fumble at Iowa and had six tackles and a sack at Bowling Green.
Gardner is one of four sophomore RedHawks to earn third-team honors this season. Gardner, who missed two games due to injury, still managed to record 40 catches for 658 yards and five touchdowns. He began the season with six grabs for 95 yards and a pair of scores at Iowa. Two weeks later he had five receptions for a career-high 136 yards and one touchdown versus Western Kentucky. At Bowling Green, despite missing the entire second half with an injury, still managed to post nine receptions for 120 yards.
Montgomery finished the year with 61 tackles, four interceptions, seven pass breakups, 5.0 tackles for loss and one fumble recovery. The sophomore had a game for the ages in Miami’s 35-24 win at Buffalo. Not only did he record six tackles, he added two touchdowns. He first recorded a pick-6, intercepting a bubble screen for a score, and later returned a fumble 92 yards for a touchdown versus the Bulls. Montgomery, who tied for the team lead with four interceptions, also recorded picks against Eastern Illinois, Western Kentucky and Bowling Green.
McMullen is currently second on the team with 82 tackles to earn third-team All-MAC. The middle linebacker added 6.0 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a sack on the season. His best game of the year was at Cincinnati, where he recorded 14 stops, earning MAC East Defensive Player of the Week. He added double-digit tackle performances versus Kent State (10) and Buffalo (10), both Miami wins.
Thomas earned third-team All-MAC as a kick returner, averaging 23.5 yards per return in 2016. He added a 94-yard return at Cincinnati, the longest play in Miami football history to not go for a touchdown. Overall, he had 22 returns for 516 yards and had at least one 20-yard return in every game he played this season.