Oklahoma Football: 20 Best Defensive Players in School History
Given Oklahoma's high-flying, record-setting offenses over the past decade, the word "Sooner" has become synonymous with "offense." Considering the statues piling up in Heisman Park outside Memorial Stadium, the comparison is widely recognized.
It is defense, however, that has brought seven national championships to Norman—defenses led by some of the most ferocious humans to ever strap on a helmet.
Bud Wilkinson had a succession of suffocating units during his NCAA-record 47-game winning streak, Barry Switzer commanded some of the greatest defensive players in history during his tenure in Norman and Bob Stoops won his national championship in 2000 with what is considered one of the best single-game defensive performances of all time.
Let's take a look back at the top 20 defensive studs to ever wear the crimson and creme.
20: Jimbo Elrod
Jimbo was known for his reckless, all-out play. The 1975 All-American left OU with a school-record 44 tackles for loss along with countless forced fumbles, blocked kicks and big plays. He forced a fumble against Texas great Earl Campbell, setting up OU’s game-winning drive in a classic OU/Texas battle.
19: Jackie Shipp
Jackie was one of the all-time tackling machines to ever roam the middle of the field at the University of Oklahoma. He holds OU records for tackles in a game (22) and in a season, when he finished the 1981 campaign with 189 tackles. His 489 career takedowns ranks second in school history. After coaching stints in the NFL, Jackie returned to Norman in 1999 as the defensive line coach and has been there ever since.
18: Lucious Selmon
Lucious was the eldest in the most famous line of brothers ever to come through Norman. In 1973, he finished second in the Outland Trophy voting for the top lineman in the country, won Big 8 Defensive Player of the Year and earned a berth on the All-American team.
17: Gerlad McCoy
Gerald was as reliable as he was productive during his OU career. He owns the school record for most consecutive starts by a defensive lineman with 39. In 2009, Gerald saw nothing but double teams. However, he still managed to rack up 14.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, 10 QB hurries, two pass breakups and a forced fumble. The eventual third overall pick in the NFL draft was awarded All-American honors in 2008 and 2009.
16: Ricky Bryan
Ricky, a menacing figure on the defensive line, had an impressive career at OU. He was named to three all-conference squads, earned two All-American spots and won the 1982 Big 8 Defensive Player of the Year award.
Despite being the all-time leader for tackles by a defensive lineman at OU (365), his impressive career is sandwiched in between some of the greatest to ever grace the D-line at Oklahoma and tends to be overlooked.
15: George Cumby
George’s unmatched combination of size and speed made him an absolute terror for opposing offenses. The two-time All-American (1977, 1979) exploded onto the scene in Norman and never looked back. He was the NCAA Defensive Newcomer of the Year and followed up that performance with two Big 8 Defensive Player of the Year awards.
14: Teddy Lehman
Teddy was the leader on the top-ranked 2003 Sooner defense that is considered today as one of the best units in the school’s rich history.
That year he led the team with 117 tackles—19 for loss—and was awarded the Butkus Award for the nation’s top linebacker after being a finalist for the award the previous year. The high school sprinter had the speed to cover the entire field and was an All-American in both 2002 and 2003.
13: Daryl Hunt
To put it simply, Daryl is the most prolific tackler in a long, rich history of linebackers at Oklahoma. His 177 tackles during his sophomore year in 1976 are second all-time in OU history, but the hard-nosed ‘backer wasn’t done there. He finished his career with two All-American nods (1977, 1978) and a whopping 530 career tackles, ranking him No. 1 by a long shot.
12: Dewey Selmon
The middle of the heralded Selmon brothers, Dewey would have been the best player on a defense that won two consecutive national championships had it not been for his younger brother, Lee Roy, who we will get to later in the list.
He and his brother were the most feared defensive duo in the land. Dewey earned All-American honors in the championship years, 1974 and 1975, while compiling 100-plus tackles in both seasons.
11: Tommie Harris
After finishing as runner-up for the 2002 Lombardi Award for the top lineman in the country, Tommie famously vowed to return his junior year and claim the coveted award. To make a long story short, he did just as he said.
The beast was double-teamed all season, yet he still managed to produce a dominant junior year and claim the prize for himself. Tommie became well known when he was featured alone on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline “So Good It’s Scary.”
10: Granville Liggins
Granville is regarded as one of the best defensive linemen in OU history not named Selmon. He was a giant at the time, and his accompanying quickness made him impossible to block.
"He moves so fast that he looks like he's offsides," said then-Texas head coach and former OU player Darrell Royal. "Many times he'll hit the center before the center can get the ball to the quarterback."
Liggins was an All-American in 1966 and 1967 while also winning several national Lineman of the Year awards.
9: Zac Henderson
This four-year starter, three-time all-conference and two-time All-American defensive back was considered one of the top coverage men in the country his entire career. He capped off his legendary run as a Sooner by intercepting seven passes his senior year and tying the then-record. His career 15 picks ranks fourth all-time as a Sooner.
8: Derrick Strait
Derrick made an instant impact as a red-shirt freshman, earning Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year in the Sooners’ 2000 national championship season. He went on to start a Sooners-record 53 games while becoming the career leader in interception return yards (397) and passes broken up (53).
In 2003, Derrick piled up the hardware: All-American, Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Nagurski Award for best defensive player and Thorpe Award for best defensive back. He helped lead the team to a 65-13 win over Texas with 11 tackles, an interception, a 30-yard return, two fumble recoveries and three pass deflections.
7: Rocky Calmus
Rocky defined the linebacker position during his illustrious OU career. The blue-collar ‘backer played through several injuries on his way to becoming one of the most decorated defensive players in Sooner history. He was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a Butkus Award finalist in 2000 while leading his team to a national title. He won the Butkus the next while also being a finalist for the Nagurski and Bednarik Awards.
He was an All-American twice, All-Big 12 three times and led the team in tackles his final three seasons, placing him fourth on OU’s all-time tackle list at 431.
6: Rod Shoate
Rod was so good at tackling running backs because he was probably faster than most of them. His 4.5-second 40-yard dash was unheard of at the time for a linebacker and he had the strength and instinct to go with it.
Rod’s freakish talent earned him All-American honors three consecutive years from 1972-1974, only the second Sooner to accomplish that feat, while finishing seventh in the Heisman voting in 1974. His 426 career tackles ranks fifth all-time at OU.
5: Brian Bosworth
The Boz might be one of the most memorable Sooners in history. His cocky, flamboyant personality might have gotten under the skin of opposing teams, but it was the fact that he always backed it up that really stuck with them.
Brain led the team in tackles from 1984-1986 and was all-conference each of those three years. He is the only collegiate player to win the Butkus Award twice and was fourth in Heisman voting in 1986, making him one of the best linebackers to every play college football. His loud mouth also led him to be one of the most hated of his position.
4: Kurt Burris
It is impossible to argue which of the two sets of brothers—Selmon or the Burris—were better for the Sooners. It is much easier to argue, however, that Kurt Burris was one of the meanest, nastiest players in Sooners history.
His spine-realigning tackles and vicious blocking helped lead the 1954 squad to an undefeated season right in the middle of the 47-game win streak for coach Bud Wilkinson. That year, Burris was recognized as the Lineman of the Year while finishing a close second in the Heisman voting.
3: Tony Casillas
Tony’s coach, Barry Switzer, labeled him as perhaps the greatest defensive lineman in Oklahoma history. Today, most know him as No. 2. However, given OU’s incredible history on the D-line, that is saying quite a bit.
In 1984, Tony recorded 10 sacks and was named the Big 8 Defensive Player of the Year and UPI’s Lineman of the Year. He followed up his impressive junior season by leading Oklahoma to its sixth national championship while becoming the school’s second winner of the Lombardi Award for the nation’s top defensive lineman.
2: Roy Williams
Roy Williams will go down as one of the most unique players in college football history, let alone in OU lore. He quickly became known for punishing, brutal tackles and was the most feared player of his time. As only a sophomore, Roy Williams was a starter for the 2000 national championship team and set a school record for tackles for loss by a defensive back with 12.
His junior campaign saw more of the same bone-crushing display of power, earning him the Nagurski Award for top defensive player in country along with the Thorpe Award for top defensive back.
He will always be tied to the most spectacular play in Sooner history, known as the “Superman” play. There isn’t a respectable man-room in Oklahoma without a mural of this play hanging on its walls depicting Williams flying through the air toward a helpless Chrissy Simms of Texas.
1: Lee Roy Selmon
Luckily, this is the easiest pick to make on the entire list. There is no question in Sooner Nation as to who was the greatest player in Oklahoma history. The Selmon family saved the best for last, as the youngest of the trio—Lee Roy—is considered one of the greatest defensive players to ever step onto the field. He won the Lombardi and Outland trophies while being the only defensive player to earn Heisman votes in 1975.
Lee Roy was big, fast, mean, tough, disruptive, relentless—he embodied every quality you could ever want in a defensive lineman. He later became the first Sooner to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.
Lee Roy passed away in 2011, leaving behind a legacy of greatness both on and off the field.