After some time off for various reasons let’s go back to the finish off the “Greatest Pro Football Players in Mississippi History.” We have seen offensively that Mississippi has had some of the best players to ever play on that side of the ball.
Defensively, we have seen great defensive linemen and linebackers. The last part of the defense we will examine is the secondary.
The Magnolia State has produced hall of fame players at each position on the football field and the secondary is no different.
Here is some are of the best pro football defensive backs to come from Mississippi universities.
Billy Stacy: Chicago/St. Louis Cardinals via Mississippi State Bulldogs
Billy Stacy was a three time letterman in both football and track at Mississippi State. Stacy made a name for himself as a first team All-SEC quarterback in 1956 for the Bulldogs.
The 1956 season also saw Stacy finish eighth in the nation in total offense with 1,077 yards and led the nation in punt returns with 24 returns for 270 yards.
Stacy was a three time selection for All-SEC and was named an All-American in 1957. In the 1959 draft, the Chicago/St. Louis Cardinals selected Stacy in the first round with the third overall pick.
He would go on to play in the NFL for five years and would be named to one Pro Bowl in 1961. Stacy would return to Mississippi State after his playing career was over.
Stacy has been inducted in to the Mississippi State University hall of fame in 1970. In 1979, Stacy was selected to the Mississippi Sports hall of fame.
Ashley Ambrose: Cincinnati Bengals via Indianapolis Colts via Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils
Ashley Ambrose was a standout player for Mississippi Valley State from 1989 to 1992. Ambrose was a four year letter winner at cornerback with the Delta Devils.
In the 1992 draft Ambrose was selected by the Colts in the second round with the 29th overall pick. Ambrose played in the NFL for 13 seasons.
The best season for Ambrose came after he left the Colts and signed with the Bengals in 1996. Ambrose was named to the only Pro Bowl in his career and was named AFC Defensive Back of the Year.
After his career, Ambrose joined the Colorado Buffaloes as an interim coach in 2008. In 2010, he will take over as wide receiver coach.
Roynell Young: Philadelphia Eagles via Alcorn State Braves
Roynell Young had a standout career while playing for Alcorn State. Young was the first Braves player ever taken in the first round of the NFL draft.
The Philadelphia Eagles selected Young in 1980 in the first round with the 23rd overall pick. Young was the only rookie to start for the Eagles in their run to Super Bowl XV.
Young would go on to play for the Eagles for nine seasons. The 1981 season was Young’s only Pro Bowl season.
He would also be the team’s defensive MVP in the 1981 season as well.
Walt Harris: San Francisco 49ers via Mississippi State Bulldogs
Walt Harris had a record setting career at Mississippi State as a four year letter winner. Harris owns the career record with 16 interceptions for the Bulldogs.
Harris was named All-SEC in both 1994 and 1995 and earned playing time as a true freshman. The Chicago Bears drafted Harris in the first round in 1996 with the 13th pick overall.
While with the Bears Harris was named to the All-Rookie team in 1996, it has been his time in San Francisco that Harris has shined.
After spending time in Chicago, Indianapolis, and Washington, Harris signed with the 49ers in 2006. His first year with the 49ers Harris had a career high six interceptions and earned his only Pro Bowl trip.
Harris is still active in the NFL and is still playing with San Francisco.
Patrick Surtain: Miami Dolphins via Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
Patrick Surtain had a stellar career during his time at Southern Mississippi. Surtain is still third all time on the Golden Eagles interception list with 16 in his career.
Twice named all C-USA first team in 1996-97 and Surtain was named C-USA Defensive Player of the Year in 1997 as well. The Miami Dolphins selected Surtain in 1998 in the second round with the 44th overall pick.
Surtain played in the NFL for 11 seasons and finished his career with the Kansas City Chiefs. He is best known for his time spent with the Dolphins.
With the Dolphins, Surtain was named to three Pro Bowls from 2002-04 and twice All-Pro in 2002-03. The Chiefs released Surtain on February 24, 2009, and he is out of football with no teams signing him this season.
Surtain was named to the All-Century team for Southern Mississippi as well.
Hanford Dixon: Cleveland Browns via Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
Hanford Dixon was a great player for Southern Mississippi from 1977-80. Hanford was named first team All-American in 1980, his final year with the Eagles, and the same year named first team All-South Independent.
The Cleveland Browns selected Hanford in the first round with the 22nd overall pick of the draft. Hanford played in the NFL for nine seasons, all with the Browns.
The cornerback was named to three Pro Bowls while with the Brown from 1986-88. Hanford is better known for naming one of the best sections in pro football.
Hanford has been give credit for naming the “Dawg Pound” in the old Municipal Stadium. The antics in the “Dawg Pound” started because of Hanford’s barking at teammates, notably fellow corner Frank Minnifield.
Hanford was named to the Southern Mississippi All-Century Team. He was also inducted in to the Golden Eagle Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.
Speedy Duncan: San Diego Chargers via Jackson State Tigers
Speedy Duncan played his college career for the Jackson State Tigers. He went on to play for the Chargers and Washington Redskins in the AFL and NFL respectively.
Duncan set an AFL record for the longest interception for a touchdown. The interception was 100 yards against Kansas City.
Another AFL record set by Duncan was for a 95 yard punt return for a touchdown against the New York Jets. While with the Chargers, Duncan was an AFL All-Star three times from 1965-67.
Duncan would be selected to AFL-NFL Pro Bowl in 1971 after the merger of the NFL and AFL. Duncan was traded to the Washington Redskins in 1973.
Jimmy Patton: New York Giants via Ole Miss Rebels
Jimmy Patton was a great player for Ole Miss as running back and a defensive back. Patton played for the Rebels from 1952-54. He was a co-Captain for the 1954 for team as well.
The New York Giants drafted Patton in the eighth round with the 92nd pick overall in 1955. Patton would play with Giants greats like Frank Gifford, Roosevelt Brown, and Sam Huff.
In the NFL, Patton would play safety and would be selected to five Pro Bowls from 1958-62. Patton would also be selected first team All-Pro during the same time period.
Patton was selected to the Mississippi Hall of Fame in 1973. In a tragic turn of events, Patton was killed in a car accident while traveling to see his sister who was dying of cancer. Patton was the only person in the car and no other cars were involved in the accident.
After his death, Patton was named to the Ole Miss Team of the Century. He was elected to the Ole Miss Sports Hall of Fame in 1988.
Lem Barney: Detroit Lions via Jackson State Tigers
Lem Barney was one of the greatest players not only in Jackson State History but Mississippi history as well. To this day, Barney is the Tigers all time career leader with 26 interceptions.
Barney was selected three times All-SWAC while at Jackson State. He also had a 42.5 yard average per punt as well.
The Detroit Lions selected Barney in 1967 in the second round with the 34th pick overall. In his first game with the Lions, Barney intercepted the first pass thrown his way by Bart Starr of the Green Bay Packers.
Barney had 56 career interceptions and was also a very good punt/kick returner. In 1967, he was named NFL Defensive Rookie Player of the Year.
He was also named to seven Pro Bowls (1967, 1968, 1969, 1972, 1973, 1975, and 1976) and seven first team All-Pro (1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1975).
Barney would see his No. 20 be worn by Lions greats Billy Simms and Barry Sanders before it was retired. He would meet Marvin Gaye (when Gaye tried to make the Lions unsuccessfully) and would sing backup on Gaye’s hit “What’s Going On.”
In film, Barney would earn roles in The Black Six and Paper Lions. Barney would be named to the NFL All-Decade 1960s team.
In 1986, Barney was named to the Mississippi Sports Hall of fame. Barney received two honors in 1993, the fist was name to the SWAC Hall of Fame and the second was being named to the NFL Hall of Fame.
Barney would receive another honor in 1995 being named to the All Time Black College Football Team.
This is the second to the last part of this series. As we have seen before all of Mississippi Division I schools and Historically Black Universities have had great players at every position.
In the last part of this series we will look at some of the best special team’s players in Mississippi history. The final part will feature a player who should be in the Hall of Fame as well.
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