BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The winner of nine straight games and the North Division regular-season title, the New Jersey Generals are feeling confident as they prepare to play in the United States Football League’s (USFL) inaugural playoffs that begin June 25 in Canton, Ohio.
Their confidence just got another boost as the Generals earned three of the four top USFL awards.
Voted on by all eight USFL head coaches, Generals Wide Receiver and Returner KaVontae Turpin was named the inaugural USFL Most Valuable Player, while teammate and star Running Back Darius Victor was honored as Offensive Player of the Year. Houston Gamblers dominant Defensive End Chris Odom was chosen Defensive Player of the Year, while former Alabama standout and current New Jersey Head Coach Mike Riley was selected by his peers as the USFL Coach of the Year.
USFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Daryl Johnston visited Generals practice on Tuesday to inform the team about their impressive haul of awards. He then spoke with Odom to give him the good news.
A threat to score every time he touched the ball, the versatile Turpin was an explosive playmaker who led the USFL in receiving yards to help the Generals become the league’s top-rated offense. An All-USFL Team Wide Receiver and Punt Returner, Turpin earned his MVP honor by consistently producing some of the most exciting and memorable plays of the inaugural season on both offense and special teams, including the USFL’s first-ever punt return for a touchdown.
But no one in the USFL scored more touchdowns than Victor. As the workhorse and red zone finisher in the Generals’ potent attack, Victor secured the Offensive Player of the Year with 10 touchdowns in 10 regular-season games. The 230-pound bruising running back finished third in league rushing yards while also providing one of the most memorable quotes of the USFL season when he proclaimed during a national television interview, “Thick thighs save lives.”
Victor demonstrated the physical brand of football that came to be a hallmark of the inaugural USFL season. No player exhibited that trait more than Odom, a dominant edge rusher for the Houston Gamblers. The USFL Defensive Player of the Year terrorized quarterbacks all season, leading the league with 12.5 sacks and helping the Gamblers create a league-leading five defensive touchdowns. In Week 8 against the Tampa Bay Bandits, he had one of the best individual performances of the year with 3 sacks, 5 tackles, and one forced fumble, earning him Player of the Week honors. In Week 10 on special teams, he blocked his league-leading third field goal that resulted in a Gamblers defensive touchdown to seal a victory over the New Orleans Breakers.
The USFL does not have a Coach of the Week award, but if it did, Riley would have undoubtedly won that honor a few times. Beloved by his players, Riley always had his team in the great position to succeed, especially when it counted most. Nine of 10 games played by New Jersey were one-score contests. Thanks to the unflappable Riley and his creative play calling, the Generals went 8-1 in those close games and were the first team to clinch a playoff berth on the road to Canton.
Riley, Turpin, Victor, and the rest of the Generals (9-1) earned a trip to Canton’s Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium on Saturday June 25, where they will battle the Philadelphia Stars (6-4) in the North Division Final starting at 3:00 PM ET on FOX. After a special performance by multi-platinum entertainer Trace Adkins, Game 2 of the inaugural USFL Playoffs will feature the South Division Final, as the Birmingham Stallions (9-1) face the New Orleans Breakers (6-4) at 8:00 PM ET on NBC. The two winners will remain in Canton to compete in the USFL Championship Game on Sunday July 3 at 7:30 PM ET on FOX.
“KaVontae Turpin, Darius Victor, Chris Odom, and Mike Riley epitomize the outstanding football played in the USFL’s first season” Johnston said. “They represent the best of the best in the USFL, and we look forward to giving our fans more exciting performances during the playoffs in Canton.”