All-Time Greatest – No. 11: Randy Gradishar

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. 11: linebacker Randy Gradishar.

Some players have dazzling collegiate careers and then fizzle in the pros. Others have more non-descript careers in college, then come out of nowhere to become All-Pros. Randy Gradishar was different. He was a star linebacker for Ohio State in the early 1970s and continued to improve in the NFL as a member of the Denver Broncos.

Randolph Charles Gradishar was born March 3, 1952, in Warren, Ohio, and quickly became a blend of power, speed and intelligence at an aptly named high school – Champion. Gradishar earned all-state honors in both football and basketball for the Golden Flashes, but never seriously considered playing any kind of college sports.

"I had never considered going to college until my senior year (of high school)," Gradishar said in the book What It Means To Be A Buckeye. "I didn't have any clue, really, as to what my future would hold. I didn't start playing football until the ninth grade, and I wasn't highly recruited. I thought I might be better at basketball."

That was until Woody Hayes showed up at his high school one day. After that, it didn't long to convince Gradishar to become a Buckeye. But not long after he suited up in the Scarlet and Gray for the first time, he wondered if he'd made a mistake.

"While checking into my dorm as a freshman, I saw all these all-staters and All-Americans (and) I was all-nothing," Gradishar said. "I questioned myself.

"One time in practice, we called a blitz and I broke free and was just about to tackle Rex Kern when all of a sudden John Brockington came out of nowhere and hit me so hard … I thought he broke my sternum. But I healed, and I figured out I could play with those guys."

As a sophomore in 1971, Gradishar and the rest of the Buckeyes had the daunting task of trying to replace Kern, Brockington, Jack Tatum and the rest of the star-filled senior class of 1970 that had won a national championship and 27 of 29 games in their careers.

The team won six of its first seven games, but then collapsed with a three-game losing streak at the end of the season. The Buckeyes lost those games to Michigan State, Northwestern and Michigan by a total of just 14 points, but nevertheless finished at 6-4.

Gradishar had an excellent sophomore season in his first year as a starter, accounting for 84 tackles that included six for loss.

The following season, he continued to improve and so did the Buckeyes. Thanks to an influx of talent from such freshmen as Archie Griffin, Ohio State rebounded with a 9-1 regular-season record that included a hard-fought 14-11 victory over Michigan.

Despite missing two games with a knee injury, Gradishar totaled 102 tackles for a team that tied for the Big Ten championship and earned a spot in the Rose Bowl against Southern Cal. Unfortunately, the Trojans were just too tough that season and sent the Buckeyes home with a 42-17 defeat.

In 1973, Gradishar had his finest season as the leader of one of the best defensive units in OSU history. While the Buckeyes were piling up 413 points on offense, the stop troops were yielding only 64, giving up an average of just 5.8 per game. Gradishar led the Buckeyes with 134 tackles that season as the team rolled to a 10-0-1 record that included a 42-21 revenge victory over USC in the Rose Bowl.

Unfortunately, the only blemish was a 10-10 tie against Michigan and it prevented Ohio State from capturing the national championship. The Buckeyes finished second to Notre Dame in the final Associated Press poll that season and third in the UPI rankings behind Alabama and Oklahoma.

Despite the disappointment of not being able to attain the team's goal of a national title, Gradishar arguably had one of the finest seasons any college linebacker has ever had.

In addition to earning his second consecutive first-team All-America honor, he finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy balloting – almost unheard of for a linebacker. In fact, he was one of three Ohio State players to finish among the top six in the '73 Heisman voting. Offensive tackle John Hicks was second behind eventual winner John Cappelletti of Penn State and Griffin finished fifth.

He was also named an Academic All-American and became only the fifth Buckeye to win a scholarship from the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame for combined excellence in academics and athletics.

Gradishar finished his OSU career with 320 tackles in just three seasons, a mark that still ranks him 11th all-time in school history 35 years after he played his final game. His season average of 106.7 tackles ranks fifth all-time. He is also one of only 10 Buckeyes ever to record 22 or more tackles in a single game, chalking up 22 in a 27-3 win over Washington State during his senior year.

Following his collegiate days, Gradishar became a first-round selection in the 1974 NFL draft by the Denver Broncos. In 10 seasons with the Broncos, he earned seven trips to the Pro Bowl including each of the last three years he played. The 1978 AFC Defensive Player of the Year, he appeared in 145 career games for the Broncos and totaled 20 interceptions and 1,958 tackles, still the all-time franchise record.

He retired following the 1983 season and settled in Denver, becoming president of the Broncos Youth Foundation, the team's non-profit organization to benefit Denver area youths.

In 1983, Gradishar was inducted into the OSU Athletic Hall of Fame along with such other past Buckeye greats as football player Dwight "Ike" Kelley and basketball player Larry Siegfried. Nine years later, he was selected as Ohio State's first inductee into the GTE/CoSIDA Academic Hall of Fame. And in 1998, he received induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Gradishar has been a ballot finalist several times for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and has each time narrowly missed getting the necessary votes for induction. He left the Broncos organization in 1992, but continues to live in the Denver area and donates much of his time to charitable causes such as the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

He has also made several trips to the Middle East, visiting U.S. military troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as visiting Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Yesterday: No. 12 Chris Spielman

Tomorrow: No. 10


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