When Penn State’s Dan Connor and USC’s Keith Rivers are chosen in this year’s NFL Draft, they will continue a tradition that has entrenched their schools as two of the preeminent linebacker-producing schools in the country.
JoePa’s program has had such a propensity for producing first-rate linebackers, the school is one of several that have earned the nickname “Linebacker U,” and Connor is only the latest to come down the line.
Last year, Paul Posluszny was drafted in the second round by the Buffalo Bills after twice being named an All-American and Bednarik Award winner. And next in line is Sean Lee, who some will no doubt call one of the greatest Nittany Lion linebackers of all time.
The names of great Penn State linebackers is a who’s who of college football defensive greats: LaVar Arrington, Brandon Short, Mark D’Onofrio, Andre Collins, Shane Conlan, and of course, Jack Ham.
Certainly, any conversation about linebacker-producing schools has to have Happy Valley in the mix. But it doesn’t end there.
The USC Trojans have an extremely storied history as a top-flight linebacker producing school as well. Rivers is expected to go in the first round of this year’s draft, and he’s the latest to become a star in the storied #55, following Junior Seau, Willie McGinest, and Chris Claiborne, who all rank among legendary USC linebackers, along with Richard Wood, Chip Banks, and current Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio, to name a few, along with current Seahawks star Lofa Tatupu. The 2009 draft could see a pair of Trojans, Brian Cushing and Ray Mauluga, go in the first round as well.
But perhaps the school with the biggest stake to the claim “Linebacker U”, is the Miami Hurricanes. In fact, some may argue that the Hurricanes have produced more and better linebackers than either USC or Penn State.
When you look at the names, there certainly is an argument: Ray Lewis, Jon Beason, Michael Barrow, Darrin Smith, Jessie Armstead, Nate Webster, Dan Morgan, DJ Williams, Jonathan Vilma and Rocky McIntosh all hail from “The U.”
That list includes four first rounders, four Pro Bowlers and two MVPs.
Of course, being hailed as THE university for a particular position is all relative. The Hurricanes have also been called “Quarterback U,” but what about USC? Or, to some extent, Notre Dame? Every major college program produces so many NFL-caliber players, almost by default they will send on any number of elite players from a particular position. USC is also known as ‘Tailback U,’ having produced five Heisman Trophy-winning running backs starting with Mike Garrett in 1965 to Reggie Bush 40 years later.
For a time during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Texas A&M was being called “Linebacker U” after producing players such as Quentin Coryatt, John Roper, Aaron Wallace, Marcus Buckley and Dat Nguyen.
Since then, the moniker has tapered off and is moving on to schools like USC and now Ohio State.
The Buckeyes have produced the likes of Na’il Diggs, Andy Katzenmoyer, AJ Hawk, Mike Vrabel, Steve Tovar, Lorenzo Styles, and current star James Laurinaitis.
But they have also shown a knack for producing great corners (Shawn Springs, Antoine Winfield, Nate Clements, Ahmad Plummer, Malcolm Jenkins).
Anytime you declare a team “Position U,” you’re going to be second-guessed by countless devotees to a particular college.
Penn State is Linebacker U?
Tell that to Georgia Bulldog fans, who have seen the likes of Randall Godfrey, Kendrell Bell, Charlie Clemons, Boss Bailey, David Pollack, Odell Thurman, and Thomas Davis play between the hedges.
Or Virginia? Take Jamie Sharper, Chris Slade, James Farrior or Darryl Blackstock.
Florida State? How about Peter Boulware, Henri Crockett, Sam Cowart, Reinard Wilson, Marvin Jones, Derrick Brooks, or Ernie Sims.
So, who is truly “Linebacker U?” I’ll leave that to you to decide.