The Best of the Best - Part XI

Irish Eyes resumes its off-season feature highlighting the best single-season Irish football players spanning the last three decades.

Today we continue our look back at the 1997-2001 seasons with a focus on the Davie Era Defensive Linemen.

(4-3) Defensive End Anthony Weaver (2000)

Weaver burst onto the scene as a freshman starter at left defensive end in 1998 (on a team that would finish 9-3) and emerged to rank second on the squad in tackles-for-loss (six) including two sacks. As a sophomore, Weaver played both DE and DT, starting seven games inside due to the dearth of game-ready defensive linemen, and by his junior season of 2000, the versatile DL had developed into a bona fide front four force.

Weaver led the squad in sacks (8) and tackles-for-loss (13). He added five pass breakups, three forced fumbles, two interceptions, and a fumble recovery in 12 starts. He was a one-man wrecking crew in September, finishing with an aggregate 26 tackles, 3 sacks, and an interception in four games vs. No. 23 Texas A&M; No. 1 Nebraska; No. 13 Purdue and No. 23 Michigan State.

Weaver continued his stellar play through the season's final seven weeks, recording either a tackle-for-loss, sack, or forcing a turnover vs. six of ND's next seven opponents (all Irish victories). 2000 was a dominant season for Weaver…yet still not the best of his oft-overlooked Irish career.

Weaver at his best in ‘00: Facing the Spartans in East Lansing and the Irish trailing 20-14 with just over eight minutes remaining, Weaver dropped into coverage from his down position to intercept a Jeff Smoker pass to set up the Irish with a first and goal at the MSU 2-yard line. The Irish took a 21-20 lead but eventually fell 27-21 in what became known as the Herb Haygood Game (Haygood scored the game-winner for the Spartans on a 3rd down, 68-yard catch and run with under two minutes remaining).

(4-3) Defensive End Anthony Weaver (2001)

The 2001 Fighting Irish Football team will never be remembered as one of the era's best. It struggled to score, to move the ball with any consistency, and despite the presence of a newly-signed five-year contract extension for head coach Bob Davie, the 2001 team struggled from mid-October through season's end with the knowledge that its leadership was to be shown the door when the year mercifully ended.

One aspect of the team that did not struggle was the Irish defense, a unit that finished the season ranked 14th in total defense; 10th in pass defense; and yielded just 19.5 points per contest while trying to offset an offense that ranked 110th in the nation.

And the best player on this forgotten defensive effort of 2001 was senior DE Anthony Weaver. Weaver was voted team MVP and Lineman of the Year; was named honorable mention All-American by Football News (considering the Irish were a national afterthought by late September this was no small accomplishment), and was a 2nd Team All American selection by ABC News. His 59 total tackles ranked third on the squad and Weaver's 21 tackles-for-loss still ranks as the 2nd highest total in Notre Dame history (Ross Browner's dominant 1976 effort of 28 TFL and an astounding 205 yards lost remains the untouchable record for all DL to aspire).

The future 2nd round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens added three passes broken up (career total of 10); three forced fumbles (career total of 6); seven sacks (17 in his four years to rank eighth all-time at the school), added the third interception of his career, and finished his Notre Dame tenure as a 41-game starter on the defensive line. Weaver either forced a turnover or recorded a tackle behind the line of scrimmage in 10 of the 11 games played in 2001.

Weaver at his best in ‘01: In a 27-10 season-opening loss to Nebraska in Lincoln, Weaver was a one-man show, finishing with eight tackles (two for lost yardage), a sack, and a forced fumble against the nation's No. 1 team.

(3-4) Defensive End Melvin Dansby (1997)

Dansby provided a pocket-collapsing presence from his 3-4 right defensive end spot for an Irish squad that finished 24th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. His 103 total tackles is the fourth highest single-season total for a defensive linemen in team history and placed him second on the '97 squad behind ILB Jimmy Friday. Dansby paced the Irish with 10 tackles for lost yardage.

A converted linebacker, Dansby overcame a neck and knee injury earlier in his Irish career to earn Honorable Mention All-American honors from Football News as a senior and was named Notre Dame's 1997 Lineman of the Year. Additionally, the team leader and captain was the recipient of the Nick Pietrosante Award, honoring the player who best personifies the leadership characteristics of the late Irish fullback.

Dansby was a consistent weekly producer along the Irish front wall, posting double-digit tackles in five contests and recording at least six stops in six others.

Dansby at his best in ‘97: In a Week Nine 21-17 victory vs. Navy, Dansby recorded an amazing 18 total tackles – roughly 26% of the team's total stops for the game – one in which the Irish were outgained by the Midshipmen by nearly 120 yards and needed a late game-saving push from CB Allen Rossum to end Navy's (completed) Hail Mary threat at the Irish one-yard line.

Honorable Mention Defensive Ends

Honorable Mention Defensive Tackles

  • Cedric Hilliard 2001
  • B.J. Scott 2000
  • Lance Legree 2000

Up Next: The Davie Era defense continues with the top linebackers of 1997-2001. Top Stories