GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – Syracuse senior punter Nolan Cooney has been named the recipient of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s 2020 Brian Piccolo Award, the league announced on Tuesday.
The Piccolo Award has been given annually since 1970 in memory of the late Brian Piccolo to the “most courageous” football player in the ACC. As a standout running back at Wake Forest, Piccolo was the ACC Athlete of the Year in 1965 and played for the Chicago Bears before his career was cut short when he was diagnosed with cancer. His courageous fight against the disease was an inspiration to the Bears and the entire football community.
Cooney, a native of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, was diagnosed with testicular cancer as a high school junior. During surgery, doctors discovered the cancer had spread to his lungs, requiring Cooney to undergo chemotherapy. He missed nine weeks of school and could not take part in sports due to his compromised immune system.
A three-sport athlete in soccer, basketball and baseball prior to his diagnosis, Cooney followed up on his father’s suggestion to try developing his skills as a football punter. He spent time in his driveway and street teaching himself how to punt, and then attended a kicking and punting camp determined to take his new skill to a higher level.
After one year punting at Bridgton Academy, he enrolled at Syracuse with no scholarship offer or prior contact with the football coaching staff. Cooney earned a spot on the roster behind three-time All-ACC punter Sterling Hofrichter but worked his way onto the field as the regular holder for Lou Groza Award winning placekicker Andre Szmyt.
When Cooney finally got the chance to punt for the Orange on a regular basis this season, he made the most of that opportunity. He ranks third in the ACC with an average of 44.8 yards per punt, and he leads the conference in punts downed inside the 20-yard line (24) and in punts that traveled more than 50 yards (25) with only three touchbacks.
Cooney was named the Ray Guy National Punter of the Week on Oct. 20 and was named to the watch list for the Ray Guy Award, which is presented to the top collegiate punter in the nation.
“Nolan has been a fantastic person to have in our football program, both on and off the field, and very deserving of this award,” Syracuse head coach Dino Babers said. “For him to have gone through that battle at a young age and accomplish his goal of playing football at a high level in the ACC says a lot about his perseverance.”
Cooney becomes the first student-athlete from Syracuse’s to earn the ACC’s Brian Piccolo Award since the university’s entrance into the conference in 2013.
ACC Brian Piccolo Award Winners
1970 Paul Miller, QB, North Carolina
1971 Jim Webster, LB, North Carolina
1972 Mark Johnson, QB, Duke
1973 Al Neville, QB, Maryland
1974 David Visaggio, DG, Maryland
1975 Scott Gardner, QB, Virginia
1976 Jeff Green, DE, Duke
1977 Ralph Stringer, DB, NC State
1978 Rex Varn, DB, Clemson
1979 not available
1980 Jack Cain, DB, Clemson
1981 Aaron Stewart, DB, Duke
1982 Kenny Duckett, WR, Wake Forest
1983 John Piedmonte, OLB, Wake Forest
1984 J.D. Maarleveld, T, Maryland
1985 Danny Burmeister, DB, N. Carolina
1986 Ray Williams, WR, Clemson
1987 no recipient
1988 Jerry Mays, TB, Georgia Tech
1989 Michael Anderson, RB, Maryland
1990 Marc Mays, WR, Duke
1991 Scott Adell, T, NC State
1992 Dan Footman, DE, Florida State
Randy Cuthbert, TB, Duke
1993 Scott Youmans, DL, Duke
1994 Chris Harrison, T, Virginia
1995 Warren Forney, DT, Clemson
1996 John Lewis, RB, Wake Forest
1997 Sam Cowart, LB, Florida State
1998 Anthony Poindexter, DB, Virginia
Corey Simon, DT, Florida State
1999 Chris Weinke, QB, Florida State
2000 Ed Wilder, FB, Georgia Tech
2001 Matt Crawford, T, Maryland
2002 Anquan Boldin, WR, Florida State
2003 Kevin Bailey, OL, Virginia
2004 Frank Gore, RB, Miami
2005 Ryan Best, S, Virginia
2006 Glenn Sharpe, Miami
2007 Matt Robinson, DE, Wake Forest
2008 Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
2009 Toney Baker, RB, NC State
2010 Mark Herzlich, LB, Boston College
Nate Irving, LB, NC State
2011 Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina
2012 Shayon Green, DE, Miami
Chris Thompson, RB, Florida State
2013 Robert Godhigh, RB, Georgia Tech
2014 Duke Johnson, RB, Miami
2015 Hunter Knighton, OL, Miami
2016 James Conner, RB, Pitt
2017 Trevon Young, DE, Louisville
2018 Greg Dortch, WR/KR, Wake Forest
2019 Richard Yeargin, DE, Boston College
2020 Nolan Cooney, P, Syracuse