Penn State is Linebacker U, but Ohio State has also had more than it’s share of really good Linebackers. As far as top notch Linebackers, Ohio State has had about as many good ones as anyone.
This is my thoughts on which ones were the best. If you disagree, please say so.
1. AJ Hawk: Some people may disagree with me about Hawk being the best Linebacker, but the Buckeye defense in 2005 was just incredible and gave national champion Texas a big scare before Vince Young brought the Longhorns from behind. I thought at the time that AJ Hawk might be the
best college Linebacker I had seen.The media pegged USC the best team ever in 2005, but they lost to Texas and Ohio State was right there with both of them that season. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel formed one of the better Linebacker groups in the history of the game. Hawk lost the Butkus Award to Penn State’s Paul Posluszny but he won the Lombardi, and the Jack Lambert Award while making All Big 10 all three years he started and a Consensus All American in 2004 and 2005. He was the 5th player taken in the 2006 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers where he has been a regular starter every year. Hawk ran a 4.59 for NFL scouts at the Combine.
2. Tom Cousineau: The highly recruited Cousineau out of Lakewood, Ohio decided to stay home and signed with Ohio State. He played for the Buckeyes from 1975 until 1978 and he was the very first player picked in the entire draft in 1979 by the Buffalo Bills. But, he decided to sign with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League because they paid him twice the money that the Bills offered him. He wanted to come back to the NFL after 3 seasons and the Bills still owned the rights to him. They traded him to the Cleveland Browns where he played 4 seasons and led the team in tackles for 3 seasons but was never able to please that fan base. He later played for the San Francisco 49ers for a couple of seasons.
3. Chris Spielman: Spielman was an extremely highly recruited Linebacker out of Washington High School in Massillon, Ohio. He was also the first ever high school football player to make the front of a Wheaties Box. Never mind that Bruce Jenner was also on a Wheaties Box, Spielman was an
outstanding Linebacker. He was a high school All American Linebacker and then a Consensus All American at Ohio State in 1986 and 1987. He won the Lombardi Trophy in 1987 and just lost the Butkus Award to Paul McGowan of Florida State. Spielman was a second round draft pick by the Detroit Lions and was a Pro Bowler for 4 seasons. He moved to the Buffalo Bills in 1996 and set a team record for tackles and then was injured part of 1997. In 1998, he did not play to take care of his cancer stricken wife, but returned in 1999 with Cleveland before hanging it up. He got into broadcasting after retiring from the NFL. His wife went through 5 different attacks by Breast Cancer and sadly passed away in 2009.
4. Andy Katzenmoyer: Highly recruited High School All American Katzenmoyer out of Westerville, Ohio started for the Buckeyes as a true freshman in his very first game. Katzenmoyer had 12 sacks as a true freshman and was a Consensus All American in 1997 while winning the Butkus and the Jack Lambert Trophies. The 1998 Ohio State Buckeyes were a talented team and finished at the #2 spot in the final Polls. They had 3 players taken in the first round and another in the second. Katzenmoyer was drafted in the first round by the New England Patriots and he was definitely a top player but neck injuries cut his career short.
5. James Laurenitis: Professional Wrestling fans will remember James Laurenitis as the son of former Pro Wrestler Road Warrior Animal. Not only was his dad a Pro Wrestler, so were two of his uncles. Say what you will about Professional Wrestling, any you would be correct, but many of them are spectacular athletes. Laurenitis was a 3 year Consensus All American Linebacker for the
Buckeyes and a case could be made for him to be rated better on this list and I would not oppose that at all. In 2006, he won the Bronko Nagurski Award and then in 2007 he won the Butkus and the Lambert awards. The following season, he repeated with the Jack Lambert Award and also won the Lott Trophy. He was a 2nd round draft pick by the St Louis Rams and made the NFL All Rookie Team. He has played in the NFL with the same passion that his father ran into the wrestling ring years ago.
6. Randy Gradishar: Called by former Buckeye coach, Woody Hayes, ‘the best Linebacker I ever coached’, or the ‘finest’, I have seen both. Gradishar was a high school football and basketball star and I love football players that played basketball because it demonstrates the players athletic ability among other things. Gradishar was a 3 year starter only because freshmen weren’t eligible back in those years. He was an All American in both 1972 and 1973 and was the leader of an undefeated 1973 Buckeye team that crushed USC in the Rose Bowl and could have been national champs without a tie against Michigan. The 1973 Buckeye defense was pretty incredible giving up only 64 points all year long and had 4 shut outs. Gradishar was a 1st round pick by the Denver Broncos and was a leader of their ‘Orange Crush’ defense back in the day while making the Pro Bowl 7 times. An argument could be made for Gradishar to be in the top 5 of this list.
7. Marcus Marek: A Consensus All American in 1982, Marek was not drafted by the NFL at all. Marek led the team in tackles for 3 seasons in the times after Woody Hayes was gone and Earl Bruce was the new Buckeye coach. He still holds the Buckeye career tackle list which is why he definitely
belongs on this list with 572. Marek played 3 seasons with various teams in the USFL and never inn the NFL.
8. Doug Adams: A very valuable member of the fantastic recruiting class of 1967 for the Ohio State Buckeyes. The class was led by Rex Kern, John Brockington and Jack Tatum, among many others. Adams was one of the team leaders on defense and a 3 year starter at Linebacker. He was drafted by the Denver Broncos but played a few seasons for Cincinnati. Tragically, he was killed while riding a bicycle in 1997.
9. Bobby Carpenter: One of AJ Hawk’s sidekicks on the Ohio State 2004 and 2005 teams. The son of former NFL player Rob Carpenter, Bobby was a 1st round draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys but he didn’t quite pan out in the NFL. But, my list and my blog are mostly about college football and Carpenter was a good Linebacker at Ohio State. He played Strong Side Linebacker opposite AJ Hawk and Anthony Schlegel. He clearly did not live up to billing in the NFL, but played there for 7 seasons.
10. Pepper Johnson: Rarely does Ohio State steal one away from Michigan, but Pepper Johnson hailed from Detroit, Michigan and spurned the home state for the Buckeyes. Johnson led the team in tackles in 1984 and 1985 and was an All American in 1985. He was elected a captain and a defensive MVP. The 6-3, 250 Pepper Johnson was picked in the 2nd round by the New York Giants and he
spent 13 seasons in the NFL with the Giants, Browns, Lions and Jets. After compiling over 1,200 tackles in the NFL, Pepper hung them up and got into coaching with the New England Patriots, the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets. He has been a part of Super Bowl Champions as a player and as a coach.
11. Eric Kumerow: Joey Bosa’s uncle. Kumerow was a highly recruited athlete out of the Chicago area. I wrote about Kumerow and his family here: Eric Kumerow
Some would consider Kumerow a bust in the NFL because he was the 16th pick of the first round and he was 6-7, 240.