Record Three Big South Players Selected in NFL Draft
The Big South Conference had a record three football players selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, including two from the same school for the first time. Liberty's Walt Aikens was the League's first selection in the 4th round at No. 125 overall to the Miami Dolphins, with Coastal Carolina's Lorenzo Taliaferro going to the Baltimore Ravens 13 picks later. Coastal's Matt Hazel was selected in the sixth round (190th overall) by the Dolphins, giving the Big South nine all-time NFL picks -- all since 2007 with five coming in the past three years.
Aikens became the seventh player in Liberty program history to be selected in the NFL Draft, and is the first Flame selected in the draft since Rashad Jennings was taken in the seventh round in 2009. Aikens ties Liberty Athletics Hall of Fame selection Kelvin Edwards as the program's second fourth round pick in an NFL Draft. Edwards was taken in the fourth round of the 1986 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints and picked three seasons in the NFL (New Orleans – 1986; Dallas Cowboys – 1987-88).
Aikens is a three-time Big South all-conference honoree, taking first-team honors in 2013 and second-team accolades in 2011 and 2012. Aikens tied for the team lead in 2013 for the Flames with 62 tackles. He led the Flames and ranked third in the Big South with 50 solo tackles. He helped Liberty rank No. 5 in the country in interceptions (19), individually recording three interceptions to give him seven for his career. Aikens' draft stock rose after his collegiate career was finished, as he showcased his athletics talents at two collegiate bowl game workouts. After finishing up the best year of his Liberty career, Aikens was able to participate in the inaugural Medal of Honor Bowl in Charleston, S.C., and the 65th annual Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. The native of Charlotte, N.C., gives Liberty three former standout alums of the program on current NFL franchise rosters.
Taliaferro had a memorable day as he participated in the University's graduation exercises in the morning prior to be selected. Taliaferro and Hazel are the first Chanticleers to be drafted in the same season as well as being the first teammates in Big South history to accomplish the feat. Taliaferro and Hazel are now the fourth and fifth Chanticleers, respectively, to be drafted by the NFL following Tyler Thigpen (seventh round in 2007), Jerome Simpson (second round in 2008) and Josh Norman (fifth round in 2012).
Taliaferro was a finalist for the 2013 Walter Payton Award, selected to play in the 2014 Senior Bowl and named the 2013 Big South Offensive Player of the Year after having a record-setting senior campaign. He additionally was named to four All-American teams and was the Big South Offensive Player of the Week a record-tying five times. He rushed for 1,729 yards on 276 attempts (6.3 avg.) with 27 touchdowns while averaging 115.3 yards per game. He added 23 receptions to 153 yards and two scores.
Hazel, a three-time All-Big South selection, set Coastal Carolina records for single-season and career receptions and became just the third Chanticleer to earn an invitation to the prestigious East-West Shrine Game. Hazel caught a CCU season-best 70 passes in 2013. He finished the 2013 season with 990 yards and nine touchdowns, which tied for the Big South lead.
The duo helped Coastal Carolina post a 12-3 record, win a second-straight Big South Championship, reach a program-best quarterfinals of the NCAA Division I Championship and finish seventh in the final FCS polls.