Our list of the MAC's 68 best returning football players started off with a Miami senior, Austin Boucher, who is finally getting the reigns of the Miami offense after waiting behind Zac Dysert. We now come to another Miami senior - Dayonne Nunley, whose career at Miami has been slightly different than Boucher's.
They both started on similar notes - with dominant performances at the 2011 GoDaddy.com Bowl, where Boucher took home the Offensive MVP award while Nunley was named the Defense MVP after recovering a fumble and returning an interception for a touchdown, one that gave the RedHawks the lead for the first time in a 35-21 victory over Middle Tennessee State. Since then, while Boucher has had to wait on the bench, Nunley has developed into a dominant cover corner. The two-time All-MAC player returns for his fourth year as a starter and one of the unquestioned leaders of a Miami team desperate to turn their fortunes around after back-to-back 4-8 seasons.
On the defensive side of the ball, doing that will have to start with Nunley. He has 12 career interceptions, more than any active player in FBS heading into the season. Miami's school record is 16, putting Nunley on pace to tie it. Asked if it was on his mind, he told Rick Cassano of the Dayton Daily News, "I’m hungry for it. It’s somewhere there inside of me." Nunley has been named one of the 48 players on the Jim Thorpe Award watch list, given annually to the best defensive back. No MAC player has ever won the Thorpe Award, given out since 1986.
Nunley also discussed having to sit out most of spring practice as he recovered from a season-ending knee injury suffered late in the season last year on a kick return against Central Michigan. "I feel like I haven’t missed a beat. I’m right back where I used to be, if not better. I want to get out and show this country, the world, that I can play," he said.
While he has already proved he can compete with the best receivers the MAC has to offer, he will be eager to prove to those doubting his ability to play at the next level that his 5'8" size is not a hindrance. NFL.com named him one of the 16 MAC senior prospects to watch this season, but pointed out that his size could limit his potential.
It hasn't limited his performance so far, though. Playing defense in an offense-happy league so full of MACtion can be a tough task for any player, and in my opinion, probably unfairly pushes him down this list, as I think a good argument could be made that Nunley is a top five player in the MAC. Nunley has been simply dominant in the MAC, and in addition to the interceptions, he'll come in this season with 172 tackles, 19 of them for a loss. But alas, our esteemed panel has deemed him to be in this position, and so he brings our list into the single digits. Meanwhile, he's heading into his senior season with a clear outline of both individual and team goals. Despite being picked to finish 5th in the MAC East by the media, Nunley says the team's focus is clear. "MAC title. Bowl game. Those are always our goals. People are doubting us, so let’s go out and prove everybody wrong."
And finally, yes, Nunley has definitively answered the question that's on everyone's mind: he loves the new uniforms. "I can’t wait to put in on. The new chrome is sweet… I love it," he told the Miami Student. "In this day in age, you look good, you feel good and if you feel good you play good." Nunley and the RedHawks will be hoping that they will be looking and feeling better than they have in the last two seasons.