College Hall of Fame Ballot--4 Greats You Should Remember
This week the National Football Foundation sent out its ballot for this year’s College Football Hall of Fame class. It's fun see the names of guys you coached, or the names of teammates or guys you recruited or that you coached against.
First as a former player and coach at Penn State I have to mention Penn State’s three nominees. They include a former teammate, offensive linemen Steve Wisniewski, who was just as solid a technician as you will ever see. Two other guys played at Penn State when I coached there. Offensive linemen Jeff Hartings and Wide receiver Bobby Engram were part of the 1994 Penn State offense which contains arguably the greatest assembly of offensive talent in one unit in college football history. The top 14 players on that unit played 112 combined years in the NFL—an average of 8 years per player.
There are always big names on the list—which is what you’d expect. This year’s list is no different. For all the big NFL names like Troy Polamalu, Ray Lewis or Tony Gonzalez there are others that were outstanding college players that we may not recall as well.
Sometimes the years fade the memories. But there are four guys that even as years have passed, I remember vividly having watched them on film and in person.
1. Ricky Dixon—Safety—Oklahoma. In 1985 watching film with my father in prepping for the 1986 Orange Bowl against Oklahoma it was obvious that their defense was outstanding. While LB Brian Bosworth got the hype, guys like DT Tony Casillas and Ricky Dixon were the guys who made it special. Ricky was the rare combination of a hard-hitter who could cover ground and come up with interceptions. If you ever watch the 1986 Oklahoma-Miami game on ESPN Classic Ricky Dixon will JUMP off the screen.
2. Byron Hanspard—RB—Texas Tech. In 1995 Penn State opened with Texas Tech at home. The Red Raiders were an unknown but played one heck of a game. Hanspard was a handful for the PSU defense. After losing on a last-second field goal to Penn State, Texas Tech finished 9-3 and ranked #20. Hanspard rushed for over 4,000 career yards and won the 1996 Doak Walker Award given to the Nation’s best running back.
3. Raghib “The Rocket” Ismail—WR/RB/KR/PR—Notre Dame. This guy was one of the most electric football players I have ever seen. He had great straight-ahead speed but also lateral quickness, change of direction and vision that was off the charts. Every time he got his hands on the ball in the open field you held your breath. If Notre Dame was on and he was playing you stopped what you were doing to see what he would do as a receiver, a running back, a punt returner or kick returner. In the1989 Michigan game he had two returns for touchdowns. In the 1991 Orange Bowl only a shady clipping penalty prevented his punt return TD from beating eventual National Champion Colorado.
4. Antwan Randle-El—QB—Indiana. Atwan played on some Indiana teams where he had very little in the way of a supporting cast. In 1999 he almost single-handedly put up 24 points against a Penn State defense that included the top 2 picks in the 2000 NFL draft. Week after week in the Big 10 he made future NFL stars look silly grasping for air trying to tackle him. He was tough enough to stay healthy through four years on the field and play basketball for Bobby Knight. His career numbers are insane: 7,469 passing yards, 3,895 rushing yards, and 92 touchdowns and he was the Big Ten MVP in 2001. Penn State’s Joe Paterno said of him “"He is just the whole offense. It is scary to watch him. He is just an amazing athlete. I don't know how you get ready for him."
This week when the ballot arrived these names resurfaced and for a moment I took time to recall their brilliant college careers. Now you can too.