Ohio State's Football U: Linebacker

Ohio State football boasts some of the best players in the sport's history at multiple positions and the deepest may be linebacker. We've given the Buckeyes the deserving moniker of Football U and move on with our series today looking at the best linebackers in Ohio State history.

This week we are running through the various majors of study that makeup Ohio State’s Football U. Schools around the country lay claim to various position groups, adopting the monikers of Linebacker U or Running Back U, but Ohio State possess such a rich depth of talent in its years of football excellence that it makes more sense for the Buckeyes to be dubbed Football U.

With President Woody Hayes and Provost Urban Meyer leading the university, we take a look at each different college of study. We got things started with The College of Running Back Monday and followed with The College of Wide Receiver and The College of Offensive Line the past two days. Today we move on to The College of Linebacker.

Program Overview
With the possible exception of running back, this is the position most closely associated with Ohio State and that is no accident. Starting with Ike Kelley in 1964 and 1965, Ohio State has produced an astounding seven two-time All-Americans at the linebacker position including James Laurinaitis who garnered the honor three consecutive years. In total, 11 different Buckeye linebackers have been named All-Americans a total of 19 times in program history. Twice an Ohio State linebacker has won the Lombardi Award as the best linebacker or lineman in the country with Buckeye ‘bakers named semifinalists on six other occasions. The Buckeyes also have two Butkus Award winners as the best linebackers in the country with five more finalists in program history. Ohio State linebackers have gone in the first round of the NFL Draft 10 times and two Buckeye linebackers are in the College Football Hall of Fame, a number sure to grow as the hall recognizes more recent contributors.

Dean: Chris Spielman
While there are many worthy choices to head up the College of Linebacker, Spielman is the first among equals. An iconic Buckeye, Spielman and his hard-nosed playing style are likely the first things to come to mind when thinking of Ohio State linebackers. A two-time All-American (1986 and 1987), Spielman’s name still litters the Ohio State record books. His 205 tackles in 1986 are the second-best single-season mark in school history while the 156 takedowns he recorded in 1987 is tied for fifth, making him the only player to appear more than once in the top five. His 140 tackles from the 1985 season puts him 16th for good measure.

Spielman was one-man wrecking crews for Earle Bruce’s Buckeyes with his absurd single-game tackle record of 29 matching Tom Cousineau for the most in school history. He concluded his career with 546 career tackles, third all-time, but is the best Buckeye in history at taking a ball-carrier down alone with 283 solo tackles. He recorded 11 interceptions as well. Spielman won the Lombardi Award in 1987, the first Buckeye to garner the honor, and is one of two Ohio State linebackers to be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.

A second-round pick of the Detroit Lions in 1988, Spielman put together a nice 11-year NFL career. He led the Lions defense during his eight seasons in Detroit that saw the team advance to the playoffs four times and remains the team’s all-time leading tackler with 1,138. Spielman was a four-time Pro-Bowler and was an NFL All-Pro three times. He concluded his professional career with 1,181 tackles, 19 fumbles recovered, 10.5 sacks and six interceptions.

Tenured Faculty
Tom Cousineau: A two-time All-American like Spielman, Cousineau finds his name right there alongside Spielman in the Ohio State record books. Cousineau recorded at least 21 tackles in a game an astounding six times in his Buckeye career and holds the record with Spielman for the most in a game with 29. He recorded 211 tackles in 1978, the second of his two All-American seasons, and that mark still stands as a single-season record for Buckeyes and would be the NCAA record had the association kept defensive statistics before 2000. His 569 career tackles is second all-time at Ohio State

Cousineau was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1979 draft, a selection of the Buffalo Bills. He chose to sign instead with the Canadian Football League Montreal Alouettes as they were offering more money and he starred north of the border, named the Grey Cup Most Valuable Player in 1979. He did go on to play four seasons for the Cleveland Browns and two for the San Francisco 49ers.

Randy Gradishar: The only Buckeye linebacker in the College Football Hall of Fame aside from Spielman, Gradishar starred for Ohio State in the early 1970s. In three seasons at a starter he recorded 320 career tackles, then an Ohio State record that now sits 12th on the all-time list. The hard-hitting Gradishar was a two-time All-American, earning the honor in both 1972 and 1973 and finished sixth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy in his senior season and was a semifinalist for the Lombardi Award that year. In that 1973 season Gradishar led a Buckeye defense that allowed just 64 points in 11 games, 21 of them coming in a Rose Bowl victory over USC.

Gradishar was the 14th overall selection by Denver in the 1974 NFL Draft and spent his entire 10-year professional career with the Broncos. He was a seven-time Pro Bowler and a first-team All-Pro selection five times. He was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1978. He has twice been a finalist for the NFL Hall of Fame, though he has yet to be inducted.

Steve Tovar: Yet another two-time All-American linebacker for the Buckeyes, Tovar led Ohio State in tackles for each of his final three seasons and finished his career with 408 total tackles, the fourth-most in school history and the most by any Buckeye in the last 28 years. His 239 career solo tackles is also the fourth-most in school history. An All-American in 1991 and 1992, Tovar was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in his senior season.

Tovar was a third-round selection by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1993 NFL Draft and played professionally for eight seasons. He finished his NFL career with 498 tackles.

A.J. Hawk: One of two Lombardi Award winners in school history, Hawk was the linchpin of the Ohio State defense early this century. A unanimous All-American in 2004 and 2005, Hawk finished his career with 394 tackles, the fifth-best mark in Buckeye history. He led the Buckeyes in tackles in each of his final three seasons and was an All-Big Ten selection each of those years. His 41 career tackles-for-loss are the ninth-most in Ohio State history and the third-most of any Buckeye linebacker.

Hawk was a first-round pick of the Green Bay Packers in the 2006 NFL draft and played his first nine seasons in Wisconsin. He has recorded 921 career tackles to date and was a part of the Packers team that won Super Bowl XLV. He is currently signed to a contract with the Bengals.

James Laurinaitis: Picking up the mantle of great Ohio State linebackers after the departure of Hawk, Laurinaitis is the most decorated linebacker in Buckeye history. The only three-time All-American at linebacker for Ohio State, Laurinaitis won the Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation’s best defensive player as a sophomore and was a finalist for the Butkus and Bednarik awards the sesame season. He won the Butkus award his junior season. Laurinaitis finished his career with 375 career tackles, seventh all-time.

Laurinaitis was selected with the third pick in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Rams and has recorded at least 100 tackles in each of his seven seasons in St. Louis.

Adjunct Professors
Marcus Marek: An All-American in 1982, Marek can get lost in the crowded shuffle of great OSU linebackers, at least until you look at the record books. Marek led the Buckeyes in tackles each year from 1980 through 1982 and finished his career with 572 total tackles, a record that still stands today. He recorded 140 or more tackles in each of his final three seasons in Columbus. He played three seasons in the United States Football League.

Pepper Johnson: A star for Earle Bruce in the mid-1980s, Johnson was an All-American in 1985 when he recorded 141 tackles. He is sixth all-time in tackles among Buckeyes with 379, a mark that was third all-time when he left the school. Johnson may have had the most successful professional career of any Ohio State linebacker. Drafted by the New York Giants in the second round of the 1986 NFL Draft, he was a member of the team that won both Super Bowl XXI and Super Bowl XXV. Upon the conclusion of his playing career, Johnson has carved out a nice role as a position coach in the NFL, winning three more Super Bowls as a coach with the New England Patriots. He is currently the defensive line coach for the New York Jets.

Andy Katzenmoyer: A star from the start, Katzenmoyer was the first true freshman to ever start at linebacker for Ohio State. Katzenmoyer may be the greatest Buckeye linebacker in history in terms of getting into the backfield. He is fourth all-time in school history in tackles for loss with 50, the most by a linebacker. The 12 sacks he recorded as a true freshman is tied for the fourth-most in a single season in Buckeye history. He returned two interceptions for touchdown in his Ohio State career. He was a first-round selection by the Patriots in the 1999 NFL Draft, but played only 24 career games because of a neck injury.

Current Students
Joshua Perry: Last season’s tackle leader with 124, Perry enters his senior season with 193 career tackles and has a chance to move into the top 15 all-time with a similar output in his senior season. Perry may not be the most talented linebacker on the Buckeyes 2015 roster, but he figures to be the most consistent and as a sure-fire captain is the leader of the defense for Ohio State.

Darron Lee: With just one season under his belt there is good reason to be excited about Lee. He recorded 16.5 tackles-for-loss in his redshirt freshman season, tied for the 12th-best single-season total in school history. His 7.5 quarterback sacks last season is a top 20 mark in Buckeye history.

Raekwon McMillan: A part-time player last season, much will be expected of the five-star prospect entering his true sophomore season. He recorded 54 tackles, 6.5 tackles-for-loss and 2.5 sacks while splitting time at middle linebacker. Expect all of those numbers to increase dramatically next season.

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