Notre Dame's Top 7 Defensive Players of All Time
Notre Dame has had some great football players in its 125 years. With 11 national championships, seven Heisman winners and 96 consensus All-Americans, the Fighting Irish are an all-time elite college football program.
You don't build a record like that without serious defensive talent, and narrowing the field to the seven best players was no easy task.
But here they are.
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When compiling a list of defensive greats at Notre Dame, one is awash in a sea of talent. Here are some great players who didn't make the top seven.
Jim Martin, Defensive End/Offensive Tackle, 1946-49.
Alan Page, Defensive End 1964-66.
Luthor Bradley, Cornerback 1973-77.
Bob Golic, Linebacker 1975-78.
7. Chris Zorich
Nose Tackle, 1988-90
Zorich began as a linebacker but was moved to nose-tackle early in the 1987 season and did not play.
He went on to distinguish himself the following season, earning All-American honors. In his first game of the 1988 season, he had one-and-a-half sacks and 10 tackles against the University of Michigan. Notre Dame finished that season undefeated, winning the national championship.
During his junior year in 1989, he again received consensus All-American honors, was a finalist for the Lombardi Award as the nation's top defensive lineman and was voted the UPI Lineman of the Year.
As a senior, Zorich won the 1990 Lombardi Award and was recognized as a unanimous All-American. In the final game of his college career, he was the Defensive Most Valuable Player of the 1991 Orange Bowl.
6. Johnny Lujack
Quarterback/ Defensive Back, 1942-43, 1946-47
Like George Connor, Lujack's college football career was interrupted by World War II, in which he served in the Navy. Upon his return to Notre Dame in 1946, his image was put on the cover of Life magazine.
Playing on both sides of the ball, Lujack distinguished himself in both roles.
According to Sports Illustrated, which named Lujack the second-best Notre Dame player of all time, his defining moment as a defensive player came when he stopped Heisman Trophy winner Felix "Doc" Blanchard during the famous 0-0 clash with Army in 1946. Lujack went on to win the Heisman the following year.
Lujack was a two-time All-American who led Notre Dame to national championships in 1943, '46 and '47.
5. Bob Crable
Crable began his career at Notre Dame under Dan Devine, quickly asserting himself as a force to be reckoned with. By his juinor year, he was selected as a team captain. He was a consensus All-American in 1980 and 1981.
Crable set the following Notre Dame records:
- 521 career tackles—still a Notre Dame record.
- Most tackles in a season (187 in 1979).
- 26 tackles in the 1979 game against Clemson—also tied an NCAA record.
His highlights include a recovered fumble against Houston in the 1979 Cotton Bowl which led to an Irish touchdown and comeback victory, and a blocked field goal in 1979 against Michigan that subsequently cost the Wolverines the game.
After graduating from Notre Dame, Crable was selected in the first round, the 23rd pick, of the 1982 NFL Draft by the New York Jets and played linebacker with them for seven years until a knee injury ended his career.
4. Leon Hart
Defensive End, 1946-49
Leon Hart never experienced a loss during his time at Notre Dame. Described (via SI.com) as a "physical terror on offense and defense," he holds the distinction of being the only lineman to win three championships in both college and the pros. He made it to No. 7 on Sports Illustrated's list of the top-10 Notre Dame players of all time.
Hart was the last lineman to win the Heisman Trophy, one of only two linemen ever to take home the prize. Also, he was the first player to win a national championship, the Heisman Trophy and be the first overall pick in the NFL draft in the same year, a feat unrivaled until 2011 when Cam Newton did the same.
3. Ross Browner
Browner's 1977 highlights
Defensive End, 1973, 75-77
Ross Browner was one of the most decorated defensive players in the history of college football. In the 46 games he played with the Fighting Irish, only seven were lost.
A unanimous All-American his junior and senior seasons, he won the Outland Trophy in 1976 as the nation's best interior lineman. Also in 1976, United Press International named him Lineman of the Year.
In 1977, Browner won the Lombardi Trophy as the nation's best lineman, the Maxwell Award as the nation's best player (the only lineman to win that award that entire decade) and again won the UPI Lineman of the Year Award, the only player ever to win it twice. That same year he also placed fifth in the Heisman vote.
During his senior year, he was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the subheading of "Notre Dame's Peerless Ross Browner." He was also named No. 8 on their list of the top-10 Notre Dame players of all time.
Browner amassed a stunning 340 career tackles during his time with the Irish, among the most for a Notre Dame player. He was truly one of the best to ever play the game.
2. George Connor
Considered one of the greatest collegiate defensive players of all time, George Connor played tackle for the Fighting Irish from 1946-47.
Connor transferred to Notre Dame after WWII interrupted his football career at Holy Cross. In the two years he played with the Fighting Irish, they won two national championships, never trailed and gave up only 76 points in 18 games.
A player who combined exceptional strength and speed, Connor was selected for Sports Illustrated's "All-Century" (1869-1969) college football team. The two-time consensus All-American was also the first recipient of the Outland Trophy, which is awarded to the best college football interior lineman by the Football Writers Association of America.
''He was indestructible,'' Notre Dame coach Frank Leahy told the New York Times.
A lifelong native of Chicago, Connor went on to play for the Bears after being the fifth player selected in the first round of the draft. He played with them for eight seasons until his career was cut short by a knee injury, after which he he served as an assistant coach and later a broadcaster.
He a a member of the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
1. Manti Te'o
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Manti Te'o is now the all-time greatest defensive player in Notre Dame history.
Capping off the Fighting Irish's 12-0 season, the 6'2" 255-pound senior linebacker out of Laie, Hawaii, is now the most decorated defensive player in school history, surpassing Michigan’s Charles Woodson for the most awards in one season.
This week he won:
The Butkus Award—Presented to the top linebacker, Te'o is the first Notre Dame player to win it since the award's inception in 1985.
The Nagurski Trophy—Presented to the best defensive player by the Charlotte Touchdown Club and the Football Writers Association of America, he is also the first Fighting Irish player to receive this award.
The Walter Camp Award—Presented annually to the Player of the Year, as decided by a group of NCAA n Division I-A head coaches and sports information directors, Te'o becomes only the third defensive player to win the award and the first since Woodson in ’97. Te’o is the fourth Notre Dame player to take home the honor.
The Bednarik Award—Presented annually to the best defensive college football player as judged by the Maxwell Football Club, Te'o is also the first Fighting Irish player to receive this award since its inception in 1995.
The Maxwell Award—Presented to the best college football player in the United States, as judged by a panel of sportscasters, sportswriters, and NCAA head coaches and the membership of the Maxwell Football Club, Te'o was the only defensive player among the finalists and becomes one of a handful of Irish players to take home the award since it was introduced in 1937.
Although Te'o did not win the Heisman, he has soldiered through immense personal tragedy this season to assert himself as the greatest defensive player in the history of the Fighting Irish.