The 2013 football season is almost upon us and it’s time to celebrate the greatest show on grass.
College football is a cherished tradition with roots that extend through generations of families sharing the joy of sport. This extends to years of traveling to games, setting up tailgates and cheering for the home team, win or lose. As we grew up, these young SEC players were our heroes, modern day gladiators, and larger than life.
Of course every hero must have his villain, and there are plenty of both that have played in the SEC. Continue for my All-Time SEC Heroes and Villains.
TOP 10 HEROES
10. Deuce McAllister—Ole Miss
Dulymus Jenod Mcallister better known as “Deuce” was a world class talent in extreme small town Mississippi. Tall tales emerge of Deuce as a high school athlete because of the disparity in talent between this future two-time NFL All-Pro and typical high school players.
Deuce Mcallister quickly became all everything at Ole Miss and eventually held all major records and became the only player ever at Ole Miss to have three seasons with over 1,000 all-purpose yards. He finished with Ole Miss records in carries (616), total yards (3,060), rushing TDs (36), total touchdowns (41), points (246) and 100 yard games (13).
Drafted in the first round of the 2001 NFL draft, he seemed to get even better and became the first Saint running back to rush for over 1,000 yards in three straight seasons. He rewrote the New Orleans record books with most rushing yards (6,096), 55 touchdowns and 22 100-yard games, including 9 straight in 2003.
Deuce’s charitable donations have been widespread between Louisiana and his home state of Mississippi. His name is attached to several large real estate projects in an effort to re-develop downtown Jackson, Mississippi. He has given over $1 million back to Ole Miss and his Catch 22 Foundation focuses on under-privileged youth in the Gulf South Region.
Top 10 Heroes
9. Jay Barker—Alabama
Leading 'Bama to a 35-2-1 record as Head Coach Gene Stallings' quarterback, Barker was known as the ultimate game manager, a consistent player that did not make mistakes. He led Alabama to a National championship in 1992 over the Miami Hurricanes in the 1993 Sugar Bowl.
After a short NFL career, Jay Barker is now a radio personality of WJOX in Birmingham.
Married to country music star Sara Evans, they support multiple charities, including the Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
Top 10 Heroes
8. Pat Sullivan—Auburn
Pat Sullivan was an All-American quarterback for the Tigers, winning the Heisman trophy in 1971. Playing for the legendary Shug Jordan, he would set SEC and NCAA records in passing. He set the NCAA record in total offense with 2,856 yards, tied an NCAA record for touchdowns with 71 and was also named an Academic All-American with a bachelor's degree in business administration.
Sullivan went on to play 6 seasons in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons and the Washington Redskins.
He returned to Auburn as a radio color commentator and soon joined the Auburn staff in 1986 as a quarterback coach under Head Coach Pat Dye.
He became a head coach himself in 1992 at TCU and had coached continuously, from TCU to UAB and is the current head coach at Samford University.
Pat Sullivan has mentored and coached thousands of young men through his career and is not ready to stop anytime soon.
Top 10 Heroes
7. Herschel Walker—Georgia
As a running back at Georgia, Herschel Walker was a three time All-American and 1982 Heisman Trophy winner. He also finished in the top three in Heisman voting in each of his three collegiate seasons.
Finishing with over 5,000 yards rushing in three seasons, three SEC championships, and a National Championship in 1980.
Following his move to the USFL and to the NFL he became the only player to gain 4,000 yards in rushing, receiving and kickoff returns. He played six different positions with the Dallas Cowboys: halfback, fullback, tight end, h-back, wide receiver and slot receiver.
Some of his other prestigious athletic accomplishments included a world record in the 60 yard dash, participation in the 1992 Olympics in the 2-man USA Bobsled team and membership in the USA Olympic track relay team. Walker is also a fifth-degree black belt and a performer with the Fort Worth Ballet.
After his professional career it was revealed Walker suffers from split personality disorder and has participated in many events and charities to assist others with mental disorders.
A lifelong martial artist, Walker has donated much of his prize winning in Tae Kwon Do, kickboxing and MMA to various charities.
An avid motorcycle rider, Walker participates in Kyle Petty’s Charity Ride across America every year building his own motorcycle each year for the event which raises money for multiple children’s charities. His private business donates 15% to various charities as well.
Top 10 Heroes
6. Emmitt Smith—Florida
Emmitt Smith has been a hero and role model for a long time in the State of Florida and Texas. His first start at Florida in the fall of 1987 resulted in a new single game rushing record, as he piled up 224 yards against Alabama. He went on to finish with over 1,300 yards his freshman year. Even after forgoing his senior season, he finished just shy of 4,000 total yards in three years at Florida.
The NFL couldn’t slow Emmitt down either as he became the first player to rush for over 1,000 yards in 11 NFL seasons. He leads the NFL in rushing attempts (4,409), rushing yards (18,355) and career rushing touchdowns (164).
Smith continues working in Sports with ESPN, the NFL network and other media outlets. Emmitt’s annual golf tournament has raised millions of dollars for North Texas children.
Emmitt also went back to the University of Florida and completed his Bachelor’s degree in Public Recreation in 1996.
Top 10 Heroes
5. Bo Jackson—Auburn
Bo Jackson’s short professional career does not diminish his unbelievable talent. Winning the Heisman trophy in 1985, he went on to become the only professional athlete to be named an All-Star in two sports (Football with the Oakland Raiders and Baseball with the Kansas City Royals).
Bo still holds the record for the fastest NFL combine 40-yard dash (hand timed at 4.12 seconds). After only three years in the NFL he was diagnosed with a degenerative bone disorder eventually requiring a hip replacement. The surgery ended his football career but allowed him to continue in major league baseball where he retired 4 years later.
Jackson went back to Auburn and finished his degree in Family and Child Development to fulfill a promise made to his mother. His “Give Me a Chance” charity provides educational and athletic programs for disadvantaged children.
After a devastating tornado ravaged his home town of Bessemmer, Alabama, Bo dedicated a new charity, “Bo Bikes Bama,” to raise money to help restore areas affected by the storm, as well as raising awareness on how to protect yourself and other from deadly storms. Jackson leads and annual bike ride across the entire State of Alabama to raise money for those affected and to install storm shelters.
Top 10 Heroes
4. Danny Wuerfful—Florida
The Old Ball Coach's first standout QB led the Gators to the 1996 National Championship and a Heisman trophy. Danny Wuerfful finished his college career with over 10,000 yards passing while also winning the Draddy Trophy which is given to the nation’s top football scholar-athlete.
Born as the son of a Lutheran Minister in Pensacola, Florida, Wuerffel was a standout high school athlete in football and basketball, leading his football team to an undefeated season as a senior and winning the state 4A championship.
Wuerfful fit perfectly into the Spurrier’s offensive system as his accuracy and intelligence gave Spurrier the opportunity to put up a lot of yards and points in the SEC. Known as the “Fun and Gun,” SEC defenses built to stop the hard running oriented offenses were ill-prepared for Wuerfful and his fleet of speedy wide receivers.
Blessed with the Heisman curse, Wuerfful had a short NFL career with the Saints but it allowed him to set up the charity, Desire Street, that provides mission work and assistance in Louisiana as well as Alabama, Florida, and Georgia.
Top 10 Heroes
3. Peyton Manning—Tennessee
Perhaps the greatest NFL quarterback to ever play the game did not finish as a National Champion in Knoxville, but he did build Tennessee into a championship caliber program.
Peyton Manning's focus and drive to be the best as well as his ability makes him a role model among role models.
He is the Tennessee all-time leading passer with over 11,000 yards and 89 touchdowns.
Manning was the first pick in the 1998 NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts. By the time he left the team for Denver, he totaled 54,828 passing yards with 399 touchdown passes. He was named the MVP of Super Bowl 41, has been to 12 Pro Bowls and has had 12 4,000-yard seasons.
His charitable organization, the Peyback Foundation, helps disadvantaged kids and raises over a million a year given to 28 children charities in Louisiana, Tennessee and Indiana. St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis renamed its children’s hospital to the “Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent.” Manning is also a member of the Red Cross Celebrity Cabinet.
Top 10 Heroes
2. Archie Manning—Ole Miss
The elder Manning established not only his legacy as a prolific offensive star in the SEC but also became the father of Peyton, Cooper and Eli Manning establishing an SEC "royal family."
Archie Manning was the record book at Ole Miss, becoming a sensation when his Ole Miss team faced Alabama in the first televised prime time game in 1969. Manning and his Rebels fell just short of Bear Bryant's Alabama 33 to 32 but accounted for 540 total yards. That record held until Johnny Manziel came along.
Manning moved on to the New Orleans Saints and played 10 seasons in the NFL. Always a marquee player on bad teams, Archie was a beloved player for his commitment to the City of New Orleans and for his toughness as he took a lot of abuse on some bad Saints teams.
After his professional career Archie continues to live in the Garden district of New Orleans and began to give back his considerable wealth to the community.
In 2013, St Jude research hospital in New Orleans honored Manning as a legend of charity in recognition of his life-long contributions and charitable giving. Manning also was a key figure in relief groups following Hurricane Katrina. Manning also heads up the annual Archie Manning Cystic Fibrosis Golf Tournament, he was a former Head Coach of the Louisiana Special Olympics and serves on the board of the United Way Speakers Bureau.
Top 10 Heroes
1. Tim Tebow—Florida
Tim Tebow is a highly spiritual man and openly discussed and shared his belief in God at a time when most college players are not the least bit concerned with church.
Helping the Gators as a run-option quarterback as a freshman on the 2006 National Championship team, he became the starting QB in 2007 and was the first college sophomore to win the Heisman. In 2008, the Gators only lost one game to Ole Miss and again won a National Title. Before he left Florida, he held the SEC all-time records in passing efficiency and total rushing touchdowns.
While having limited success in the NFL, the Tim Tebow Foundation raised over $4 million in its first year to benefit orphans and kids battling life threatening diseases. He also works with the group “Dreams Come True” that connects children with celebrities.
Top 10 Villains
10. Johnny Manziel—Texas A&M
The latest and perhaps greatest playboy on the college football scene is Johnny Manziel, otherwise known as “Johnny Football.” Manziel is a rare college player that seems to transcend beyond college, to being a world-wide celebrity. His ability to outrun and out-maneuver bigger, faster players in the SEC is not unlike a cartoon come to life.
His meteoric rise from freshman squad team quarterback in the spring of 2012 to possibly the best quarterback to ever play the game just a few months later is breath taking and it is difficult to imagine how he can play at such a high level, so quickly.
Alabama coach Nick Saban, after taking his only loss to Manziel, was quoted as saying, “A fantastic player is a fantastic player and we really tried to prepare for him. But he has such an instinctive feel for scrambling and making plays and ad-libbing and making something happen when there’s nothing there. That’s kind of player is hard to prepare for…. I’m not sure you stop a guy like that…”
Manziel broke the SEC single game record for yards twice in 2012, gaining over 500 yards against Arkansas and Louisiana Tech, winning the Heisman Trophy, SEC freshman of the year award, the Davey Obrien Award and the College Football Performance National freshman of the year award.
For all his fun on the field, Johnny has just as much fun off the field.
His bar fight in the summer of 2012 seemed to have been a turning point for him, where he was charged with disorderly conduct and possession of a fake ID. Now Johnny Manziel can’t go anywhere without people recognizing his face.
The summer of 2013 has proven to be quite a victory lap for the young QB, from seemingly endless parties and beach trips to casino pictures and complaints of being in a small town in College Station, TX.
Manziel’s latest gaffe was oversleeping at the prestigious Manning Passing academy where he was a counselor and a proving ground for many NFL draft picks. Officially leaving camp due to illness, it has been alleged he had too much fun the night before.
Party on, Johnny, party on.
Top 10 Villains
9. Fred Smoot—Mississippi State
The self-proclaimed “steal of the NFL draft” in 2001 is the king of smack talk. Fred Smoot was a lock down corner for MSU defensive coordinator’s Joe Lee Dunn’s unorthodox defense. He was first team All-SEC in both his junior and senior seasons.
Dunn’s defense depended on the presence of a cornerback that could cover a large portion of the field while the front seven created havoc along the defensive line, often blitzing from a multitude of different alignments. Smoot thrived on the pressure and the opportunity for rushed passes sent his way.
Smoot’s college success lead to his selection in the second round of the 2001 draft but may have been passed over by some teams because of perceived “off the field” issues.
Minnesota head coach Brad Childress and Smoot began to butt heads early in the 2006 season and Smoot was benched due to discipline issues, while a large “boat load” of trouble was brewing.
In 2005, Smoot was in the center of a Lake Minnetonka Cruise Scandal involving Smoot and several other Vikings teammates. The players apparently rented the boat and prostitutes for what amounted to sex parties on board.
Smoot plead guilty to disorderly conduct and being a public nuisance on a water craft. Smoot played nine years in the NFL after being released in 2010, and is now in private business.
Top 10 Villains
8. Isaiah Crowell—Georgia
As a freshman staring running back for the Georgia bulldogs, Isaiah showed signs of exceptional ability. In only his second start, he had 158 total yards against Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks.
Leading the 2011 team to a SEC east division championship and a 10-3 record was not enough to keep Crowell out of coach Richt’s dog house. Richt benched the young back twice during the 2011 season for breaking undisclosed rules, and suspended him for a failed drug test.
Isaiah was finally dismissed from the team in July 2012 after his arrest with weapons in a school zone, as he was stopped at a road block near the University campus at 2:20 am.
From the nation’s number one running back recruit to jail time did not take long for the troubled athlete. He is currently the starting running back for the Alabama State Hornets.
Top 10 Villains
7. Joe Namath—Alabama
The original anti-establishment QB, born in Pennsylvania and playing his college ball in the deep south college power house of Alabama was a far cry from the Northeast and his more progressive roots.
Joe Namath's talent outshined any cultural problems he had adjusting to the South as Coach Bear Bryant called Namath, “The greatest athlete I ever coached.” Namath led Alabama to a 29-4 record in 3 years and the 1964 National Championship.
Being drafted as a junior to the bright lights of the New York Jets and securing the highest contract in history at the time, brought a lot of attention to “Broadway Joe,” and he relished in the spotlight. Never one to back down or change who he was, he quickly became a media darling and party hound.
His financial holdings in a shady Manhattan night club almost became his undoing. The bar known as “Bachelors III” had ties to big time gamblers and unsavory individuals. To protect the leagues’ reputation, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle ordered Namath to sell his shares or face suspension. The always defiant Namath quickly retired from the league.
After further discussions and negotiations, Namath sold his shares and rejoined the Jets that year missing most of training camp.
Namath, now 70, continues to live up to his “Broadway Joe” persona, still larger than life, and a cherished “villain” in sports history.
Top 10 Villains
6. Matt Jones—Arkansas
The tall, lanky QB at Arkansas was known for his unorthodox running style, looking a lot slower than he actually was. Many a defensive back misjudged the angle on this Fort Smith, Arkansas native, in the open field.
The highlights of Matt Jones's college career centered on a pair of overtime games, against Ole Miss and Tennessee, that both lasted a league record 7 overtimes.
Nicknamed “The Freak” at the 2005 NFL draft because of his unusual combination of height and speed; Jones was timed with a 4.37 40-yard dash time and was selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first round as a wide receiver, even though he had never played the position at any time in his life.
He quickly experienced some success, finishing his first year with 432 yards and 5 touchdowns, but soon began to succumb to illegal activity. During a traffic stop and vehicle search in July 2008, police found six grams of a substance testing positive for cocaine and found marijuana paraphernalia.
After completing a three game NFL suspension and completing a rehabilitation program, Jones was arrested again in March 2009 after failing a drug test, violating his probation and sending him back to jail.
Jones is now happily married and is a radio personality in Central Arkansas.
Top 10 Villains
5. Billy Cannon—LSU
The 1959 Heisman Trophy winner helped led LSU to their first AP national championship and was also a rare athlete. At the time, there were few running backs that stood 6 foot 1 inch and weighed over 200 pounds.
Billy Cannon's abilities allowed him to play multiple positions at LSU, as he was able to beat you from the line of scrimmage, as a kick returner or even as a passer. His highly celebrated kick return against Ole Miss in 1959, seemingly running through every OM defender (sometimes twice) is hard to believe for LSU fans and hard to watch for the fans in Oxford.
Cannon was originally elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983, but the honor was soon rescinded after he confessed to his part in a counterfeiting scheme to finance his gambling debts and bad real estate deals.
After serving out a federal prison sentence, Cannon was hired as a dentist at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, where inmates still call him “Legend.”
Top 10 Villains
4. Tyrann Mathieu—LSU
How can a cute kid known as the “Honey Badger” be a villain, you may ask? Have you ever seen a Honey Badger in action? One word describes the Honey Badger: nasty. “He just takes what he wants,” according to the famous tongue-in-cheek YouTube video on the subject.
Tyrann Mathieu’s breakout season in 2011 garnered him All-American status and the Bednarik award winner as the nation’s best defensive player. As a safety for the Tigers, he became the face of the always scrappy and opportunistic LSU defense.
His aggressive moves on the field continued after the whistle however as Mathieu began to fail random internal drug tests, culminating with his dismissal from the team in August of 2012. After entering drug rehab that summer, he was arrested in October of the same year along with three other LSU players on possession of marijuana.
Mathieu sat out the 2012 football season and was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the third round. While he is committed to cleaning up his act and distancing himself from the moniker “Honey Badger,” he will continue to be a fearsome presence roaming the secondary in the NFL. Offensive coordinators will have a hard time scheming away from Tyrann.
Top 10 Villains
3. Donte Walker—Mississippi State
Once a big time recruit for Head Coach Jackie Sherrill at MSU, Donte Walker combined for the SEC’s best rushing attack in 2000 with upperclassman Dicenzo Miller.
As his weight increased and production dropped on the field, he began to dabble in illegal activities off the field (which came first?). After being booed by his own fans due to his lack of effort and poor conditioning, he walked off the field in the middle of his senior year and into a life that eventually resulted in his arrest in 2005 for cocaine and marijuana possession with intent to distribute.
Sentenced to 25 years, Walker was released from prison in 2009 with 4 years served and began to overcome his mistakes. He finished his degree in social services from Belhaven University in Jackson, MS this year and is pursuing a Master’s in sports administration.
Top 10 Villains
2. Cecil "The Diesel" Collins—LSU
“The Diesel” had the “skills to pay the bills” and LSU was willing to work out his many academic issues to get the benefits of his 3,000 plus yards he amassed as a high school senior.
Cecil Collins was the very first “Mr. Louisiana” given to the State’s best prep player but was not able to get a qualifying ACT score. He was forced to sit out his freshman year in Baton Rouge, but came out and gained almost 600 yards in his first four games as a sophomore before breaking his leg.
During the down time, Collins was arrested twice before his junior year for illegally entering girl’s dorm rooms. After transferring to McNeese State, he failed a drug test and was summarily kicked off the Lake Charles, Louisiana campus.
The Miami Dolphins took a chance on Collins by drafting him in the 5th round in the 1999 draft, where he appeared in eight games and gained 414 yards but in December of that year, Collins was arrested again for breaking and entering into the apartment of a woman he knew from the gym.
After conviction on the charge, he was sentenced to 15 years in jail and is scheduled for release in 2014.
Top 10 Villains
1. Aaron Hernandez - Florida
The Hernandez story is still developing (he has not been proven to be guilty of anything) but as villains go in the SEC, Aaron Hernandez is a dark figure.
A little undersized but very capable tight end, Aaron Hernandez made the most of his opportunity to follow injured starter Cornelius Ingram in 2008 and helped lead Florida in the BCS championship game with 57 receiving yards. In 2009, Hernandez won the John Mackey award given annually to the nation’s best tight end. He was first team All-SEC and All-America before forgoing his senior year to qualify for the NFL draft in 2010.
For all his success, troubles followed. In 2007, as a freshman, Hernandez got into a bar fight over non-payment of his bill. He was also investigated that year as a possible accomplice to a shooting of two men in Gainesville, Florida.
In Boston, Hernandez was investigated for his connections to the 2012 double murder of Daniel Abreu and Safiro Furtado, killed by gunshots fired into their vehicle.
Alexander Bradley, filed a lawsuit in June 2013 against Hernandez in Florida federal court alleging Hernandez shot him while the two were riding in a car together.
The June 2013 murder investigation of Hernandez’ friend Odin Lloyd has the potential to forever detain the once-famed Gator and New England Patriot. While he has plead not guilty to the charges, investigations are on-going in the case.