South Carolina Football: 20 Best Defensive Players in Gamecocks History

Alex RobertsCorrespondent IFebruary 23, 2012

South Carolina Football: 20 Best Defensive Players in Gamecocks History

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    The South Carolina Gamecocks have had their fair share of excellent defenders.  They have been known as a defensive team as of late.  The success isn't limited to recent players, though. 

    When I think about the top 20 players, I don't always think statistics.  Sure, that's a black-and-white way to look at it and definitely factors in.  However, players can prove their worth with more that just statistics.  There have been amazing leaders and players with heart that produced enough to make their way onto this list. 

    NFL career may be mentioned, but they were not taken into consideration for this ranking.  This is my humble opinion of South Carolina's top 20 defenders ever. 

    What's your take? 

20. Jadeveon Clowney (2011), Defensive End

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    OK, before you go all crazy saying Jadeveon Clowney only has one season under his belt, hear me out.

    Clowney belongs on the top-20 list of defenders already.  If it wasn't for Melvin Ingram's monster 2011, the entire nation would be talking about how he exceeded his lofty expectations.  His six forced fumbles were game-changers and his eight sacks showed an ability to get to the quarterback. 

    If you watch film on him, even if he wasn't in on a tackle or sack, Clowney was around the ball.  He was making tackles and chasing down runners.  He is a phenomenal athlete, and it wouldn't surprise me if he moves all the way up to numero uno on this list in two more seasons (because let's be real...no way this kid stays for his senior season.  He's the No. 1 pick of the 2014 draft). 

    He will put up monster numbers as a starter in 2012. 

19. Stephon Gilmore, (2009-2011), Cornerback

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    Don't worry, my top-20 list isn't comprised of just players from the 2000s.  However, Stephon Gilmore will be remembered as an all-time great at his position when it is all said and done. 

    Many fans are disappointed how his career ended.  That may be because the expectations were too high.  He came into the league as a quarterback who would be attempting to grow into a starting corner.  He started pretty much from day one and was widely considered a shutdown corner. 

    He could get burned occasionally due to misreads by the safety or his over-aggressiveness.  He had a stellar and well-rounded career.  He had 181 tackles, seven interceptions, seven sacks, four forced fumbles and numerous pass breakups in his career.  He also contributed on offense and special teams. 

    Eventually fans will grow to remember him fondly as a good player who was a good representative of the school.  He belongs in the top 20.

18. Emmanuel Cook (2006-2008), Defensive Back

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    Emmanuel Cook is the poster child for why you shouldn't declare early for the NFL draft unless you are a guaranteed first- or second-round pick.  His legacy is tarnished because he went against everyone's advice and left to try to make money. 

    He was widely considered one of the best safeties in the SEC.  He was removed from the team towards the end of his junior season and then declared for the draft; he went undrafted.  However, his skill has allowed him to stay in the league after signing with the New York Jets as a free agent. 

    He was a crushing tackler and finished as the No. 5 all-time unassisted tackler in school history.  If he would have stayed for his senior year he would have probably been a first-round pick. 

17. Tony Watkins (1991-1994), Defensive Back

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    Tony Watkins should be a familiar name to South Carolina fans; it was called enough for it to be drilled into their brains.  Watkins finished his career No. 5 on the all-time tackles list and No. 2 in the unassisted tackles list. 

    He played angry and craved contact.  He played with a chip on his shoulder.  He often played like a linebacker more than a defensive back.  However, Watkins was one nasty defender and belongs on this list. 

    He was as smooth as a baby in a basket.  (Couldn't find an image of him, so this line will help make the picture make more sense.  Right?  Right?)

16. Jasper Brinkley (2006-2008), Linebacker

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    The best pure middle linebacker in South Carolina history, Jasper Brinkley was an incredibly efficient player.  An injury during his junior year set him back.  However, he had the instincts and raw hitting ability to go along with his massive size and strength. 

    In two full seasons and a handful of games during an injured junior campaign, Brinkley amassed 193 tackles, 7.5 sacks, three interceptions and two forced fumbles.  His 2006 season could go down as one of South Carolina's best individual defensive seasons. 

15. Kalimba Edwards (1998-2001), Defensive End/Linebacker

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    Kalimba Edwards was a fan favorite.  He always had the tendency to make big plays when they were needed.  Edwards finished No. 6 on the all-time sack list with 15. 

    He was a very rangy player and was one of South Carolina's first true hybrid defenders.  He set the mold for players like Eric Norwood and Melvin Ingram (even though those two players were far superior). 

14. Bobby Bryant (1964-1967), Defensive Back

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    Bobby Bryant was an incredible player who went on to have one of the finest pro careers for a Gamecock.  He was a very smooth defensive back capable of keeping up with receivers with his speed. 

    He was an excellent tackler as well.  His 11 career interceptions were good for second all-time. 

13. Tom Addison (1956-1958), Linebacker

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    Tom Addison could do it all in an era when stats didn't matter quite as much.  Addison was a traditional hard-nosed ballplayer.  He could rush the quarterback, attack the line of scrimmage, stop the run and play the pass. 

    He went on to have a fine pro career with the Boston Patriots.  Statistics from the '50s are difficult to come by and rather incomplete.  However, he is a member of the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame. 

12. Cliff Matthews (2007-2010), Defensive End

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    Cliff Matthews was a fantastic traditional style defensive end.  He finished as the Gamecocks' fourth-best sack master with 15.5.  He finished ninth in tackles for loss.  He was one of South Carolina's greatest leaders on the field. 

    He stayed with the school for all four years.  He could have been a solid draft pick after his junior year, but he chose to stay committed to the school.  He is currently playing for the Atlanta Falcons. 

11. Sheldon Brown (1998-2001), Defensive Back

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    Sheldon Brown has not only enjoyed a successful NFL career but also one of the best Gamecock careers as a corner.  He is No. 2 all-time in pass breakups with 36.  He was an aggressive and physical corner with a mean streak. 

    He played a huge role in turning around the Gamecocks after their winless season.  He was also an excellent tackler.  You rarely found Brown out of position. 

10. Mike Durrah (1980-1982), Linebacker

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    Mike Durrah finished his career as the No. 3 all-time leading tackler.  He used his speed and agility to catch ball carriers and his technical tackling to bring them down.  He played like an angry headhunting safety from the linebacker position. 

9. Chris Major (1983-1986), Defensive Back

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    Chris Major was one of those corners that didn't beat himself.  He didn't try for the tricky interceptions or ridiculous highlight tackles; he played the position in a pure and selfless way. 

    He finished his career as the all-time leader in passes broken up with 43.  This is not an actual picture of Chris Major...just for clarification's sake. 

8. Arturo Freeman (1995-1997, 1999), Defensive Back

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    Arturo Freeman was a rangy player who made tackles all over the field.  He enjoyed a very good NFL career after his South Carolina days, where he amassed 20 pass breakups and 307 total tackles, both good for 10th all-time. 

7. Melvin Ingram (2007, 2009-2011), Defensive End/Defensive Tackle

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    Melvin Ingram put together one of the finest careers in the history of Gamecock football.  His senior season may be the finest single defensive season in all of Gamecock history. 

    He finished fourth all-time with 21.5 sacks and fifth all-time in tackles for loss with 30.5.  He scored three touchdowns.  He pretty much did everything he could for the Gamecocks, and should be a first-round draft pick in this year's draft. 

6. John Abraham (1996-1999), Defensive End

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    Possibly the most famous name on this list due to his NFL experience, John Abraham had an incredible career as a Gamecock.  He was third all-time with 23.5 sacks.  He was a first-team All-SEC player for two years. 

    He wreaked havoc with quarterbacks.  His quick release off the line and excellent work with his arms wowed scouts for the NFL, and he has had the greatest NFL career of any Gamecock. 

5. Bo Davies (1969-1971), Defensive Back

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    Bo Davies' name may ring a bell for younger fans who attend many of South Carolina's home games.  That's because he is a prominent name on South Carolina's wall of honor.  He is the schools all-time leader in interceptions with 14 in three years.

4. J.D. Fuller (1979, 1981-1983), Linebacker

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    J.D. Fuller was an excellent player who finished as the No. 1 all-time leading tackler with 405 total tackles.  He was extremely quick and capable of reading plays almost instantaneously.  His consistency led to the total tackles number.  He was never flashy. 

    He hit with precision and excellent technique. 

3. Rashad Faison (1999-2002), Defensive Back

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    Rashad Faison spent four years of his life torturing SEC offenses.  He finished fourth in pass breakups and sixth in total tackles. 

    However, his most impressive stats were his 27.5 tackles for loss and his 247 unassisted tackles.  He ranks first in unassisted tackles all-time, and his tackles for loss put him at seventh. 

    He is a safety who found ways to make plays all over the field.  His tackling was possibly the best in Gamecocks history. 

2. Andrew Province (1980-1982), Defensive End

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    Other than our No. 1 guy, no one was better than Andrew Province, a dominating defensive end in the early '80s.  He is No. 2 in sacks with 26, No. 2 in tackles for loss with 35, No. 7 in unassisted tackles and most impressively, No. 2 in total tackles with 401. 

    As a defensive end, that's monstrous.  He did all of that in just three years.

1. Eric Norwood (2006-2009), Linebacker/Defensive End

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    Nobody in South Carolina history on the defensive side of the ball represents the Gamecocks better than Eric Norwood.  His story, statistics and leadership are second to nobody who has worn the garnet and black. 

    Norwood worked extremely hard just to qualify for the university.  He took summer school to improve his grades and even took the SAT multiple times.  Most people would point to that and say he couldn't make it or would just go to school to play football and get by in some easy major.

    Instead, he went the opposite route.  He got his degree in criminal justice and did so with above a 3.0 GPA.  He's the all-time leading sack artist with 29 career sacks.  He's also first in tackles for loss with 54.5 and 17th in total tackles. 

    He will always be remembered as an all-time Gamecock great.