All of these Mount Rushmore articles have presented challenges for me. Getting down to just four guys over the history of Clemson football is a tough thing to do, but I’ve enjoyed the process of thinking about the great ones and reading the thoughts of the STS readers on who they felt I omitted. I’m down to the last four position groups: linebacker, wide receiver, tight end, and defensive end. I had to split the DL into two groups just to make this somewhat feasible for me, but even that still leaves an incredible challenge.
Linebacker is one of the most decorated and revered position groups in Clemson history. The initial “glory days” of the 1980s saw defenses that unleashed a bevy of top shelf LBs to wreak havoc on opposing offenses. Brent Venables came to town in 2012 and promptly returned this position to the lofty status it seemed to lose from about 2004 and 2011. All four on this list are no doubt legends of Clemson football, but the honorable mentions are star studded as well.
- Jeff Davis (1978-1981). No LB list is getting made without “The Judge” on it. Davis was the absolute rock of the first National Title team and was rightfully an inaugural member of the Ring of Honor. Most Clemson fans (and should be all if you count yourself as one) know this man’s legacy which has continued with his tireless work for the University, including founding the “Call Me Mister” program.
- Anthony Simmons (1994-1997). Simmons, in my eyes, is the greatest LB in Clemson history. It took him about two practices to cement himself as the best player on the team as a true freshman, and even though those teams he led were just average to decent, they still had some heavy hitters on the defensive side in particular and he was the best of the group. Had Simmons returned for his senior season and stayed healthy, he would have put up numbers that no player would dream of being able to touch. 486 tackles in just three seasons and three AP All-American selections. You’d be hard pressed to find a guy more dominant right away and who actually got better each year with zero drop off. My favorite Simmons story was from an early practice his freshman year when he ran down reputed speedster Rashidi Brown. Tommy West or Reggie Herring (can’t recall which) said, “Well, if Rashidi runs a 4.3 then Anthony must run a 4.2.”
- Keith Adams Sr. (1998-2000). “The Termite” makes the mountain despite having just two seasons of real production...but that production was incredible. His 1999 season was about as ridiculous statistically as you will ever see from a defensive player. 186 tackles, 35 TFL, and 16 sacks...let that sink in. Adams had another great year in 2000 (though not as prolific, though some of that was due to a lot of lopsided wins in 2000 compared to 1999) before heading to the NFL. You can argue his absence in 2001 was one of the biggest reasons for that defense being as bad as it was.
- Levon Kirkland (1987-1991). “Captain Kirk” has got to be on the mountain in my view. The man is a Ring of Honor member and was a dominant force on some elite defenses, including the 1990 defense that was #1 in the nation. Kirkland emerged down the stretch in 1988 and then was an absolute monster in ‘89, ‘90, and ‘91 before putting together one of the greatest NFL careers of any Clemson alumni. It is a shame he doesn’t have a National Title to his name because his teams, particularly the 89-90 teams, had the goods to do it.
Ok so now I get to the looooong list of honorable mentions. All of these guys were great, great Tigers and tough to leave off the list.
Bubba Brown, Johnny Rembert, Henry Walls, Doug Brewster, Ed McDaniel, John Johnson, Anthony Sheppard, Wayne Simmons, Wardell Rouse, Rahim Abdullah, Leroy Hill, Kavell Conner, Tig Willard, Spencer Shuey, Stephone Anthony, Tre Lamar, Dorian O’Daniel, B.J. Goodson, Ben Boulware, and Kendall Joseph. Obviously some of these guys were a little higher in consideration than others, but all were highly productive for multiple seasons and many went on to good NFL careers. I didn’t include Isaiah Simmons because I put him on Mount Rushmore at safety, but it should be noted he is the only Butkis Award winner in Clemson history so far. I put Shuey in the honorable mentions for what he did against GT and especially Braxton Miller and Ohio State.
So there you have it. I think it is hard to argue against the four who made it but fire away!