All-Time Greatest – No. 19: Antoine Winfield

BuckeyeSports.com counts down the days until Ohio State's 2008 season opener with its list of the 50 greatest Buckeyes of all-time. The series continues today with No. 19: cornerback Antoine Winfield.

If you want to get a friendly argument going among Ohio State football fans, ask their opinion about the best defensive back ever to play for the Scarlet and Gray. Many have their favorites over the years, but chances are that many will come up with the name Antoine Winfield.

Born June 24, 1977, in Akron, Ohio, Winfield was almost an unbelievable star at cornerback because he stood only 5-9 and weighed 180 pounds. But he more than held his own against bigger and stronger wide receivers, earning the 1998 Jim Thorpe Award as college football's most outstanding defensive back.

A prep All-American at Garfield High School in his hometown, Winfield was the Division I defensive player of the year in Ohio as a senior in 1994. In addition to his prowess in the secondary, he also featured plenty of talent as a running back, averaging 7.1 yards per carry as a tailback for the Golden Rams.

He made an immediate impact as an OSU freshman in 1985, playing in all 13 games – one of only two freshmen to accomplish that feat – and wound up eighth on the team in tackles with 56. That season began an unprecedented run of four consecutive years in which the Buckeyes totaled double-digit wins, and Winfield was a big part of that.

As just a sophomore in 1996, Winfield quickly earned the reputation as the team's shut-down corner and opposing defensive coordinators simply stopped throwing in his direction. Still, he managed to total 47 tackles, break up two passes and grab his first career interception. That season, he helped the Buckeyes to an 11-1 record and within a whisker of the national championship.

When he returned for his junior year, Winfield threw a new wrinkle into his game. If opposing coaches wouldn't throw his way, he decided to become more of a force against the running attack.

As a result, he rolled up 100 tackles, one of the highest totals in OSU history for a pure cornerback.

He proved especially adept at the corner blitz, disguising his coverage just long enough to blow past would-be blockers to register sacks or simply disrupt the quarterback's timing. He had only three sacks that year, but 82 of his 100 total stops were solos. He also added another three interceptions.

Winfield's teammates named him the OSU most valuable player after the '97 season, making him the first defensive player to be so honored in eight years and the first cornerback ever to win the award. He also was named first-team All-Big Ten as well as first-team All-America.

Deciding to spurn an offer to turn pro, Winfield returned for his senior season in 1998 and had another outstanding year.

The Buckeyes again came within an eyelash of winning the national championship, and Winfield turned in another stellar performance with 75 tackles, the third-highest total on the team. He also saved one of his best games for last, registering 10 tackles (nine of them solos) against Michigan in the Buckeyes' 31-16 win over the Wolverines.

Following the 1998 season, Winfield earned his second straight All-America honor and was also named the Thorpe Award winner, particularly symbolic of his outstanding play since he failed to record a single interception during his senior season.

When he finished his career, he had become the first non-linebacker (and only fifth player total) to record more than 200 career solo tackles and the first cornerback ever to lead the team in tackles when he did so with his 100 stops as a junior in '97.

The Buffalo Bills made Winfield their first-round selection in the 1999 NFL draft with the 23rd overall pick, one of three OSU first-rounders that year. David Boston to Arizona and Andy Katzenmoyer to New England were the others.

In five years with the Bills, Winfield missed only eight games and totaled 355 tackles, an amazing 313 of which were solos. He parlayed that performance into a six-year, $35 million free agent contact with Minnesota that he signed before the 2004 season.

For his nine-year NFL career so far, Winfield has totaled 590 tackles in 128 games, including 511 solos, 18 interceptions and 55 passes defended.

Yesterday: No. 20 David Boston

Tomorrow: No. 18


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