Zach Cunningham becomes Vandy's first unanimous All-American

Vanderbilt inside linebacker Zach Cunningham officially became the school's first unanimous All-American on Wednesday when he was named first team All-American defense by the American Football Coaches Association. 

The AFCA honor joins the Associated Press, Walter Camp Football Foundation, Football Writers Association of America and the Sporting News in naming Cunningham a first team All-American. Since 2009, the NCAA has recognized the All-American teams of those five entities to determine consensus All-Americans. Cunningham achieved the consensus honor last week when he was named to the first team of three of the five teams. This week he earned the last two honors, which by rule designates him as a unanimous All-American. 

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Six Commodores before Cunningham had earned the consensus honor, but none had ever reached the defined unanimous criteria until now.  The last consensus All-American for Vanderbilt was Ricky Anderson in 1984. 

Cunningham has been named first team All-American by over a dozen national foundations and publications including CBS Sports, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, Phil Steele and SBNation with more All-American teams still pending at other publications. 

A finalist for the Butkus Award as the nation's top overall linebacker, Cunningham was also recognized as the SEC's Most Valuable Lineman/Linebacker by the Birmingham Monday Morning Quarterback Club on Tuesday night. 

The two-time first team All-SEC selection has been one of college football's top linebackers over the last two years, and enjoyed a stellar 2016 regular season that helped Vanderbilt post a 6-6 record and earn a trip to the Camping World Independence Bowl, the program's first bowl game since 2013. 

Cunningham registered a SEC-best 119 total tackles, which ranked him 11th nationally. He also registered 16.5 tackles for loss, finishing second in the SEC and 22nd nationally while his four fumble recoveries tied for second and just one behind the national leader. Cunningham also played his best ball against league opponents as he posted 89 total tackles, 51 solo stops with 12 tackles for loss. He also pulled off some of the more amazing individual plays in those games, including a big fourth down tackle virtually out of nowhere to thwart Georgia in the Commodores' season-changing win in Athens. Other big plays against Auburn, Florida, Ole Miss and Tennessee not only helped the Commodores be competitive throughout the season, they also made Cunningham a rising star on the national scene. 

Cunningham's sweep of both the Associated Press and Coaches All-SEC first team honors for a second straight year marks just the fourth time a Vanderbilt player has done so, joining Jamie Duncan in 1996-1997, Moses Osemwegie 2004-2005 and Jordan Matthews 2012-2013. 

Cunningham was a finalist for the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker of the year and was a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation's top overall defender. 

A former Top 247 prospect in high school, Zach Cunningham will likely play his final game as a Commodore in Shreveport, Louisiana on December 26th against North Carolina State in the Camping World Independence Bowl. Cunningham is expected to forego his final year of eligibility to enter the 2017 NFL Draft as a projected first round selection once the season is complete. 

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