It started as a simple tweet.
While watching WVU dismantle TCU this past Saturday, I took to Twitter to proclaim that David Long is one of the Top 10 Mountaineer linebackers I’ve witnessed in 38 years.
It sparked some fun discussion with, among others, John Antonik, the Director of Digital Media at WVU. Where exactly does Long rank? We see he’s special. Our eyes tell us so. So do the stats. So far, the 5-11, 221-pound standout has 84 tackles (56 solo) with seven sacks and four break-ups. When it comes to the blitz, he’s lethal. He’s been named one of the 10 semifinalists for the 34thButkus Award, which honors the nation’s best linebacker.
Yet is he the best Mountaineer linebacker ever? Well, the answer is no because of a gentleman named Darryl Talley, who was anything but gentlemanly on the football field. Talley was a consensus All-America player for WVU, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2011. He played 14 seasons in the NFL and participated in four Super Bowls with Buffalo.
Also, one must take into account Sam Huff. He was a pro and college Hall of Fame player. He was a revolutionary player for the New York Giants and Washington Redskins. The problem, though, is he played guard and tackle for WVU. Yet he was drafted as a linebacker and played the position in the NFL after then-Giants defensive coordinator Tom Landry went to a 4-3 alignment. It led to quite a “violent world.” Chuck Howley was likewise a down lineman at WVU before starring in the NFL.
And here’s another quandary: Should we lump in Bruce Irvin, who was drafted No. 15 overall in 2012 by Seattle as a linebacker, and Gary Stills, who was listed as an outside linebacker that played years in Kansas City? I decided not to because I see the pair as defensive ends, pass rushers.
So, those points established, my list:
- Talley – Simply a beast on the field. Period.
- Canute Curtis – A consensus All-America pick who played six years with the Cincinnati Bengals.
- Long – Undersized, but makes up for it with killer speed.
- Grant Wiley – Another consensus A-A pick who had 99 unassisted tackles in 2003.
- Steve Grant – Went on to play six seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.
- Barrett Green – Played both safety and linebacker. Had 107 unassisted tackles in a season. Undersized a la Long.
- Nick Kwiatkoski – Now in his third season with the Chicago Bears.
- Chris Haering – Don Nehlen once called him pound-for-pound the best linebacker he had. Fiesta Bowl player in 1989.
- Delbert Fowler – Talley’s former running mate, Fowler played for years in the Canadian Football League.
- Dennis Fowlkes – Helped Nehlen jump-start the program. Played a couple years for the Minnesota Vikings.
- J.T. Thomas – Once signed a 3-year, $12 million contract with the New York Giants. Sixth-round pick of Chicago in 2011.
- Najee Goode – Fifth-round pick of Tampa Bay who just won a Super Bowl with Philadelphia.
- Terence Garvin – Nice NFL career from 2013-2017. Broke the jaw of Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber.
- Matt Taffoni – Had 255 tackles in his career for WVU.
- Steve Dunlap – The former WVU assistant had 190 tackles in 1974.
- Dale Farley – Sporting News A-A pick in 1970. (I was 10.)
- Steve Hathaway – Played six games with Indy in 1984.
- James “Dirty” Davis – Played defensive back, end and linebacker. Played in the NFL with Detroit and the New York Giants.
- Fred Smalls – Drafted in the seventh round by the San Diego Chargers. Arena League player.
- Derek Christian – Another favorite of Nehlen.