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Rutgers’ Olakunle Fatukasi named semifinalist for Butkus award

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Can LB bring home one of college football’s most prestigious individual achievements?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 21 Michigan at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Olakunle Fatukasi has officially placed himself in a place where many Rutgers fans knew he belonged—among the top linebackers in college football.

On Monday morning, the Butkus Foundation released its list of the top 16 linebackers in the nation and Fatukasi made the cut as a semifinalist.

Through six weeks of the season, Fatukasi leads the Big Ten in tackles with 75, which is 14 more than Iowa LB Nick Niemann, who is in second place. Fatukasi also has nine tackles for a loss, good for second in the conference. He currently ranks fifth in the nation with 12.5 tackles per game, and has added 2 sacks.

According to Rutgers’ official website, Fatukasi has the most tackles by a Scarlet Knight in the first six games since Brian Sheridan recorded 83 to start the 1997 season.

Sheridan racked up 161 tackles in 1997, but with the shortened season, Fatukasi won’t have a chance to make a run at that Rutgers record. His 2020 season has put him in company with some recent all-time greats, however.

Courtney Greene was a hard hitting safety on Greg Schiano’s Scarlet Knights teams the first time around and recorded 386 tackles between 2005-2008. Khaseem Greene was named to the Butkus Award Watch List prior to 2012, after he finished with 141 tackles in 2011. His teammate, Steve Beauharnais also made the list in 2012. Steve Longa finished his career with 335 tackles from 2013-2015. Tyshon Fogg, Fatukasi’s teammate and 2017 recruiting class peer, finished 2019 third in the Big Ten with 104 tackles.

Now Fatukasi has some bragging rights against them all and could add to it at season’s end. He is one of just two B1G semifinalists for the award, along with Ohio State’s Pete Werner. The Big Ten has always been known as a conference for top linebacking talent, but the last time the Butkus Award was given to a Big Ten linebacker was in 2007—to the Buckeyes’ James Laurinaitis.

Fatukasi had a strong junior season in 2019, finishing 11th in the Big Ten with 85 tackles, but has taken a huge jump this season. He has recorded double-digit tackles in five of the six games so far and earned the Bednarik Award National Player of the Week against Michigan State in the Scarlet Knights season-opening win. He recorded 10 tackles, a forced fumble and recovered two fumbles against the Spartans. For his week one performance, he was also named Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week.

Fatukasi will look to become just the second Scarlet Knight to bring home an individual major college football award. Brian Leonard won the Campbell Trophy in 2006. Finalists for the award will be announced on Dec. 7.