Ohio State Football: The Buckeyes' Mount Rushmore of Linebackers

Ohio State Football: The Buckeyes' Mount Rushmore of Linebackers

BuckeyeWire

Ohio State Football: The Buckeyes' Mount Rushmore of Linebackers


Here at Buckeye Wire, we’re going through the best of the best of each position group in Ohio State football history during our Mount Rushmore series. Next up is the linebacker position, which is one of the deepest groups in the school’s rich history.


Mount Rushmore Of: Wide Receivers | Offensive Linemen | Quarterbacks Tight EndsRunning Backs |  Defensive EndsInterior Defensive Linemen

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Our Mount Rushmore series continues as we move on to the linebacker position. Much like the other positions, it’s incredibly difficult to pick just four given all of the talented athletes that have played for the Buckeyes over the years.

So, which four players made the final cut? Was someone left out that shouldn’t have been? Be sure to Tweet at us @BuckeyeWire.

Randy Gradishar

Woody Hayes called him the best linebacker that he ever coached. The leader of the Buckeye defense in the early 70’s, Gradishar earned All-American honors in 1972 and 1973 – when he was a unanimous selection. He was especially impressive in his final season in Columbus, recording 134 tackles, highlighted by a 23-tackle performance in a 27-3 win over Washington State. As a result of his stellar play, he finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting, four spots behind OSU tackle John Hicks.

He was every bit as successful in the NFL. Gradishar played ten seasons in the league – all with the Denver Broncos – earning a spot in the Pro-Bowl seven times. He finished his career with 2,049 tackles and 20 interceptions, while capturing NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1978.

Chris Spielman

What defense doesn’t need a guy that can do it all? A two-time All-American, Spielman definitely falls into that category. While he certainly got the job done against the run, Spielman also excelled in pass coverage, picking off 11 passes in his career – including six in 1986. The following year, he won the Lombardi Trophy, which is awarded annually to the best lineman / linebacker in the nation.

As great as Spielman was at Ohio State, he’s better known for what he accomplished as a member of the Detroit Lions. During his successful career with the Lions, he made it to four Pro Bowls and guided the team to the playoffs four times. He set the franchise record for tackles in a season (148 in 1997) and is still the team’s all-time leading tackler.

James Laurinitis

Quick: who’s the only Ohio State linebacker to win All-American honors three times? It wasn’t any of the players above nor was it Tom Cousineau, AJ Hawk, or Andy Katzenmoyer (who many of you guessed).

The only Buckeye ‘backer to accomplish this rare trifecta was James Laurinitis.

That probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. After all, Laurinitis won the Bronco Nagurski Award (best defensive player) in 2006, the Butkus Award (best linebacker) in 2007, and the Lott Impact Trophy in 2008. In addition, he won the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award twice – the only player to do so.

Although he wasn’t as successful as he was at the college ranks, Laurinitis had a solid pro career. He played eight years in the NFL, starting 115 games during that span. He recorded 100 or more tackles in seven of his eight seasons and became a captain for the Rams in 2012.

Pepper Johnson

I realize that this selection might raise a few eyebrows (and feel free to reach out to me on Twitter if you disagree), but Johnson belongs on this list. He finished with 379 career stops and led the Buckeyes in tackles in 1984 and 1985. The fact that he did that on a defense loaded with stars – including future NFL draft picks Spielman, Byron Lee, and Larry Kolic – tells you all you need to know about how good Johnson was.

He also had a lengthy professional career, playing 13 seasons in the league. He won two Super Bowls with Bill Parcells as a player and captured three more with Bill Belichick as an assistant coach with the Patriots.

It’s hard to argue against someone that won so consistently at every level of football.

 

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