GREENWOOD, IN – Bluffton University's Ryan Aelker (New Bavaria, Ohio/Holgate) has been named the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Men's Athlete of the Year following a senior season in which the senior defensive lineman earned All-America honors on the gridiron.
Aelker led the nation in sacks for the second-straight season, while adding the most tackles-for-loss in NCAA Division III to his resume. Aelker racked up a school-record and NCAA-best 15.5 sacks as a senior and broke his own school record with 24 tackles for loss. The senior also led the conference with three forced fumbles this fall.
The Bluffton standout earned the Cliff Harris Award and was one of two athletes in NCAA Division III to earn the honor which is presented to the top small college defensive player annually.
The senior also claimed All-America honors from D3football.com as the Beavers finished the season with a 6-4 overall record.
The New Bavaria, Ohio native is the first player to earn HCAC Defensive MVP honors twice since Matt Lawless from MSJ (2004, 2006) and is only the second player to win the award in back-to-back seasons.
"Ryan's statistics and achievements make him one of the most talented and remarkable players to ever play for Bluffton University," said Bluffton head football coach Denny Dorrel. "I will look back on the two years I had the opportunity to coach Ryan as some of the best in my coaching career, not because of how he dominated opponents' offenses, but for the type of person Ryan was to me, my family, my coaches and his teammates."
The HCAC Player of the Year award is in its third year of existence. The award is voted on by the sports information directors of each member institution.
HCAC Men's Athlete of the Year
2014 Kyle Linville, Football Franklin College
2015 Max Kittle, Track & Field Anderson University
2016 Ryan Aelker, Football Bluffton University