In the continuing friendly rivalry for individual honors between LSU’s outstanding cornerbacks, it’s Morris Claiborne’s turn once again.
Claiborne is one of five finalists for the Bronko Nagurski Award, being handed out Monday night by the Charlotte (N.C.) Touchdown Club to the player voted as the nation’s best defensive player.
Claiborne will be in attendance in Charlotte along with the four other finalists: Alabama strong safety Mark Barron, Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus, Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still and Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly.
While much of the award season attention has been devoted to fellow LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu — he was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy and won another defensive player of the year honor, the Chuck Bednarik Award — Claiborne has also filled an impressive trophy case.
Apart from being named to virtually every All-American team released so far, Claiborne on Thursday also received the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to the nation’s top defensive back.
Claiborne was also named Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year by a vote of the league’s coaches. Mathieu was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year by The Associated Press.
Claiborne will be trying to become the second Tiger to win the Nagurski Award, which was first presented in 1993. Former defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey won the Nagurski in 2007.
A 6-foot, 185-pound junior from Shreveport, Claiborne finished second in the SEC in interceptions with six this season behind only Georgia’s Baccari Rambo (seven). His 11 career interceptions ranks sixth in LSU history, tying him with Greg Jackson (1985-88), Tony James (1992-95) and Craig Steltz (2004-07).
Claiborne also piled up an NCAA-best 173 interception return yards in 13 games, including a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown Dec. 3 to cap LSU’s 42-10 victory over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
Claiborne scored an even bigger touchdown Sept. 24 at West Virginia. With LSU’s 27-7 lead having dwindled to 27-21 late in the third quarter, Claiborne returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown that put the Tigers on track for a 47-21 victory over the eventual Big East champions.
For the season, Claiborne has 46 tackles with six pass deflections and one quarterback hurry.
Claiborne and the rest of the No. 1-ranked LSU team returns to practice Wednesday to begin preparations for its Jan. 9 meeting with No. 2 Alabama in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans.
The Tigers will practice in Baton Rouge through Jan. 4 — with a break Dec. 22-25 for Christmas — and will head to New Orleans after practice on Jan. 4 to continue their preparations there.