The Best of the Best - Part X

We continue our look back at the best single-season Irish football players spanning the last three decades. Today's feature: Part Two of the Davie Era and the best offensive linemen and tight end from 1997-2001.

To read the first segment of the Davie era, the Skill Position Stars, click here.

Right Tackle Mike Rosenthal (1998)

Referred to as "Strong Tackle" in those days, Mike Rosenthal started at Right (Strong) Guard both as a sophomore in '96 and junior in '97 prior to moving outside for the 9-3 squad of 1998.

A Tri-Captain (along with LBs Bobby Howard and Kory Minor), Rosenthal was part of an offensive line that allowed just eight sacks in '98 and his power on the edge helped pave the way for senior RB Autry Denson's third consecutive 1,000+ yard season. Rosenthal (at both guard and tackle) blocked for more than 3,600 of Denson's school-record 4,318 yards and 39 of his 47 career touchdowns.

Rosenthal was named the 1998 squad's Lineman of the Year, and the senior from nearby Penn High School in Granger represents one of just six offensive linemen to receive the honor for an award first presented in 1986.

Rosenthal was named to multiple All-American teams including 2nd Team honors from the Associated Press and Football News and 1st Team honors from the Walter Camp Foundation. He was drafted by the New York Giants in the 5th Round of the 1999 NFL Draft.

Left Tackle Luke Petitgout (1998)

Petitgout began his Irish career as a tight end, moved to offensive guard as a sophomore, and evolved into a respected back-up right tackle entering his junior (1997) season. After a season-ending injury in the home opener to starting RT Chris Clevenger, Petitgout moved into the starting lineup and finished the season as the team's best offensive lineman.

In '98, Petitgout moved to the left side – QB Jarious Jackson's blind side – and powered the Irish running attack to 2,338 yards and 212.5 yards-per-contest to rank 16th in the nation. Along with Rosenthal (above) Petitgout was instrumental in a pass protection group that allowed Jackson to be sacked just eight times in 11 starts.

Petitgout first appeared on NFL scout's radar with a dominant effort in the season-opening win over defending National Champion Michigan. On the game's key drive, Petitgout threw key blocks to spring FB Joey Goodspeed for back-to-back gains of 13 and 10 yards; and another for Autry Denson on the game-sealing four-yard touchdown run to give the Irish a 30-13 lead in the eventual upset.

Petitgout was drafted in the 1st Round of the '99 NFL draft by the New York Giants.

Honorable Mention Tackles: Jordan Black (2000); Kurt Vollers (2000)

Guard Mike Gandy (1999 and 2000)

Gandy was a mainstay on the Davie Era offensive line, starting 26 games at guard from 1998-2000. As a fifth-year senior in 2000, Gandy was named third-team All-American by The Sporting News, and he and the rest of his line mates paved the way for an Irish offense that ranked 14th in rushing and 17th in passing efficiency while allowing just 12 sacks on the season. Gandy earned the team's Guardian of the Year Award as the top offensive lineman for his efforts as a player that took part in every offensive snap in seven different games.

Despite a 5-7 record in ‘99, the Irish offense produced more yards per game (419.7, ranking 19th in the nation) than either of the nine win squads ('98 and '00) that bookended the frustrating season.

Gandy was a third round pick of the Chicago Bears in the 2001 NFL Draft and the former Irish star started at tackle for the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.

Honorable Mention: Mike Rosenthal (1997), Jerry Wisne (1998)

Center Jeff Faine (2001)

Faine's best season in an Irish uniform was as a senior in 2002, highlighted here but his efforts in '01 for a disjointed offense should not be overlooked. An honorable mention All- America selection by Football News, Faine led an Irish rushing attack that finished the season ranked 30th (despite the complete lack of a passing threat) in the nation.

An 11-game starter, Faine led the squad in minutes played and was named to both the Rimington and Lombardi Award watch lists. His '01 performance earned Faine a ranking as the nation's fifth-best Center from both The Sporting News and Lindy's entering 2002.

Honorable Mention: Faine (2000), John Merandi (1998)

Tight End Jabari Holloway (1999)

Holloway, a 3 ½ year starter at tight end for the Irish and senior captain in 2000, was named Football News honorable mention All-American after the 1999 season, catching 12 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns. Additionally, a hustling, heads-up Holloway made the game-winning fumble recovery touchdown to defeat USC in a wild 25-24 rain-soaked contest at Notre Dame Stadium. Holloway was named the game's MVP after an outstanding effort blocking on the edge in the 19-point comeback.

His play vs. the Trojans is but one example of the unheralded by vitally important tight end who started 32 of 34 games he played in an Irish uniform. Holloway caught three passes in the '99 heart-breaking loss at Michigan , one of which gave the Irish the lead, a 21-yard throwback from Jarious Jackson with 4:08 remaining. The star-crossed tight end was a near hero again in the season-finale at Stanford, catching a TD pass with just 1:42 remaining to tie a contest the Irish eventually lost, 40-37.

Holloway was one of the school's best combination tight ends: a top level run-blocker and dangerous receiver, mired in an era in which the program inexplicably ignored several solid players at the position (Dan O'Leary, John Owens, and Holloway were all NFL draft picks despite limited production in an Irish uniform).

This is the 10th installment in the Best of the Best series. For the beginning the series, click here. Top Stories