1. Herschel Walker – Georgia RB: The definition of difference maker in college football just might be Herschel Walker. The extremely heavily recruited high school Running Back from Wrightsville, Georgia signed with the home state team and they improved from a 6-5 team in 1979 to national champion in 1980. Walker was a consensus All American in 1980, 1981 and 1982. As a true freshman, Walker ran for 1,616 yards and probably his most famous carry came in game one against Tennessee when Walker ran over Volunteer Defensive Back Bill Bates who went on to star for the Dallas Cowboys. Georgia finished the 1980 season at 12-0 and beat Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl to win the national title. Walker finished 3rd in the Heisman voting that season.
In 1981, Walker ran for 1,891 yards and 18 Touchdowns while leading the Dogs to a 10-2 record.
Walker finished 2nd in the Heisman voting.
As a junior, in 1982 Herschel Walker picked up the Heisman Trophy and the Bulldogs finished 11-1. Walker ran for 1,752 yards and 16 Touchdowns. In 3 seasons, Walker ran for 5,259 yards and 49 Touchdowns.
No matter what you’ve heard or read, college players were not leaving during their junior seasons for the NFL back in those years. Walker knew that, obviously, and the fledgling United States Football League took him in their own Draft and Walker played for the New Jersey Generals. The Dallas Cowboys had drafted Walker with a 5th round pick in the 1985 draft knowing that another league was sure to fold and it did, with the Cowboys now owning the right to Herschel Walker.
Walker was in incredible athlete and he still is. He ran the 100 meters in 10.23 at Georgia and in high school he won the shot put, the 100 yard dash, the 220 yard dash and the mile relay.
He wound up running for 8,225 yards in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings. That was after rushing for over 5,500 yards in 3 seasons in the USFL.
To this day, Walker still fights in MMA well into his 50s.
2. John Elway – Stanford QB: John Elway’s father, Jack, was a football coach so the family moved around a lot. But, he played high school football at Grenada Hills. Elway was a high school All American and he threw for just under 6,000 yards in high school. Signing with Stanford out of high school, Elway backed up Turk Schonert as a freshman, but he still got on the field enough to throw for 544 yards and 6 Touchdowns.
As a sophomore, Elway took over the starting role and he threw for 2,889 yards and 27 Touchdowns on a 6-5 team. The Cardinal was pretty bad in 1981 finishing up at 4-7, but Elway still had a decent
season throwing for 2,674 yards and 20 Touchdowns.
1982 was Elway’s senior season at Stanford and things weren’t that much better. The team finished with a 5-6 record which included a controversial loss to rival Cal. Elway threw for 3,242 yards and 24 Touchdowns which were really huge numbers for those days.
He was drafted with the very first pick of the Draft by the Baltimore Colts, but he didn’t want to go there and threatened to play baseball for the New York Yankees. As if, but the Colts did trade Elway to the Denver Broncos where he played for 16 seasons and won 2 Super Bowls with 51,000 passing yards. Elway is now General Manager of the Broncos.
3. Eric Dickerson – SMU RB: The top ranked recruit in the country in 1979. Dickerson grew up in Sealy, Texas and he led them to a state championship. Some school booster bought him a 1979 Trans Am which was maroon to match the school’s colors and he supposedly drove that car right through their city on his way to SMU in Dallas. Dickerson came in the same recruiting class as Craig James and they shared time all through their college days, forming the Pony Express. Dickerson only ran for 477 yards as a true freshman. As a sophomore, Dickerson ran for 928 yards. Dickerson really exploded as a junior in 1981 and ran for 1,428 yards and 19 Touchdowns.
The 6-3, 220 Dickerson was the 2nd pick in the Draft by the Los Angeles Rams and then his career
really took off in the system they used. He ran for over 1,800 yards as a rookie and then over 2,000 yards in his second season. In 11 NFL seasons with the Rams, Colts, Raiders and Falcons he ran for 13,259 yards.
4. Anthony Carter – Michigan WR: The undersized Carter finished 10th in the Heisman voting in 1980 and then 7th in 1981. Michigan ran the ball predominately in those years under Bo Schembechler, but Carter was still a great one for them at Wide Receiver. Carter’s best season at Michigan was actually when he was a sophomore in 1980. In 1982, he hauled in 43 receptions for 844 yards and 8 Touchdowns. Over his 4 year career at Michigan he caught 161 passes for 3,076 yards and 37 Touchdowns. Carter, of course, was also an excellent return man and took a couple of punts back for Touchdowns.
Carter grew up in Riviera Beach, Florida and he was the object of some heavy recruiting attention when he chose Michigan as his college choice. Picking a run heavy team was not a mistake for Carter as he was a 3 time All American.
His lack of size did not cost him as a college player, but it did on Draft day when he was picked in the 12th round by the Miami Dolphins. He was picked one spot above the Mr Irrelevant spot that is placed on the last guy picked in the NFL Draft. Carter went to the USFL instead and played their for 3 seasons before heading to the NFL. The Dolphins had the rights for Carter, but they traded him to the Minnesota Vikings. With the Vikings, Carter played for 9 seasons and then 2 more with the Detroit Lions. Carter caught 486 passes for 7,733 yards and 55 Touchdowns.
Carter was one of the game’s greats.
5. David Rimington – Nebraska C: Dave Rimington was so good that they named the best Center in the country as the Rimington Award winner every season. Also, when was the last a Center finished up in 5th place in the Heisman Trophy voting? Rimington was a consensus All American in 1981 and 1982. He also won the Outland Award as the nation’s best lineman in both 1981 and 1982. He also
won the Lombardi Award in 1982, one of only a few linemen that have won both. Sports Illustrated named Rimington to it’s All Century team as it’s starting Center, naturally, with the award for best Center in the country being named after him. Rimington was a 1st round selection by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1983 NFL Draft and he played there for 5 seasons. He played 2 more seasons in Philadelphia with the Eagles before retiring from pro football.
Rimington is great friends with Boomer Esiason whose son has Cystic Fibrosis and they started thee Boomer Esiason Foundation which helps fight CF. Rimington is head of that foundation.
6. Todd Blackledge – Penn State QB: Blackledge helped lead the Nittany Lions to their first national championship in 1982 when they beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Blackledge at Quarterback, Curt Warner at Running Back and Kenny Jackson at Wide Receiver formed one of the most potent offenses in Penn State history. Blackledge was a senior in 1982 and he threw for 2,218 yards and 22 Touchdowns. Blackledge graduated from North Canton Hoover High School in Ohio and decided to sign with Joe Paterno and Penn State. He was a 3 year starter at Quarterback and even ahead of future NFL Quarterback Jeff Hostetler. In the championship 1982 season, Blackledge won the Davey O’Brien Award for the nation’s best Quarterback.
The NFL Draft class of 1983 is known as the Quarterback class with John Elway going with the first pick and 5 other Quarterbacks going in the first round. Blackledge was picked with the 7th selection of the 1st round by the Kansas City Chiefs. He did not have a great career in the NFL during his 7 seasons throwing for over 5,000 yards. After his NFL career was over, he became a color commentator for college football and he does a good job with that. In 2014, he was named the head basketball coach at his old high school.
7. Tom Ramsey – UCLA QB: Ramsey played high school football at Grenada Hills Kennedy High School. Their chief rival was Grenada Hills High School which had John Elway at Quarterback. That would have been a game to see. Ramsey backed up Rick Bashore as a true freshman at UCLA on a
5-6 team. But, he was the starter in 1980 and the Bruins improved to 9-2.
The following season was a let down with UCLA finishing 7-4-1. The Bruins and Ramsey improved greatly in 1982 finishing up 10-1-1 with a win over Michigan in the Rose Bowl. Ramsey threw for 2,986 yards and 21 Touchdowns. Ramsey was picked in the 10th round by the New England Patriots. He played in the United States Football League with the Los Angeles Express and the Oakland Invaders before returning to the NFL with the Patriots. He played 5 seasons with the Patriots and then another year with the Indianapolis Colts. After football, Ramsey got into broadcasting.
8. Tony Eason – Illinois QB: Eason played high school football at Walnut Grove, California Eason was a top Quarterback with bad grades. Also, he played at a really small school, He decided on American River Junior College. Illinois signed him out of the JUCO ranks and he was an instant impact player for them. In 1981, Eason threw for 3,360 yards and 20 Touchdowns in leading his team to a 7-4 record. His last season at Illinois was really something of a disappointment as the Illini didn’t improve on the previous season and posted a 7-5 record. Eason threw for 3,248 yards and 17 Touchdowns. But, he also threw 15 Interceptions.
In keeping with the Quarterback Class of 1983, Eason was the 15th selection of the 1st round by the New England Patriots. He was the 4th Quarterback taken and one pick behind Hall of Fame member Jim Kelly. Eason played a little as a rookie and he became the starter in his second season. He held that job for 3 seasons and he was the Quarterback for the Patriots in the Super Bowl against the ’85 Bears. Eason was awful in that game, but the Bears defense was one of the best ever. After that, it was downhill for Eason and the Patriots finally replaced him with Steve Grogan and Tom Ramsey. Yes, that Tom Ramsey that finished one place higher than Eason in the Heisman voting.
Eason was traded to the New York Jets in 1989, but only started briefly for them and he was out of football after the 1990 season.
9. Dan Marino – Pittsburgh QB: Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh has produced a few good players over the years, but Dan Marino was hands down the best. He stayed home to play his
college football. The Pittsburgh Panthers were among the nation’s elite teams back in these years and Marino with his quick release won the starting job as a true freshman. He helped the Panthers to a nice 11-1 record and a 7th ranking in the final Polls. Marino threw for 1,680 yards and 10 Touchdowns in 1979. Marino and Rick Trocano split time at Quarterback in 1980 as the Panthers again posted an 11-1 record and finished 2nd in the final Polls.
Again in 1981, the Panthers won 11 games against a single loss. Marino didn’t have Trocano looking over his shoulder any longer and he threw for 2,876 yards and 37 Touchdowns.
Pittsburgh head coach Jackie Sherrill left after the 1981 season and the Panthers dropped to 9-3 under new coach Foge Fagio. Marino’s game suffered somewhat as well with 23 Interceptions against only 17 Touchdowns.
Marino was the last of 6 Quarterbacks picked in the 1st round and he said he was better than some of them. A lot of teams could have picked Dan Marino, but he fell all the way to the 27th pick of the first round right ahead of Darrell Green of Texas A%I and both Marino and Green are in the Hall of Fame.
Marino, with that quick release again, was the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1983. He made the Pro Bowl 9 times and he played 17 seasons all with the Miami Dolphins and he threw for 61,361 yards and 420 Touchdowns.
Marino was busy after football with broadcasting and NASCAR ownership among other things. He was one of the game’s all time greats.
10. Curt Warner – Penn State RB: Not to be confused with Quarterback Kurt Warner, this Warner grew up in West Virginia in a tiny town and he played high school football at Pineville. Signing with Joe Paterno and Penn State, Warner was brought along slowly and he was the team’s third leading rusher as a true freshman running for only 391 yards. The team’s leading rusher was Fullback Matt Suhey who would go on to become Walter Payton’s blocking Fullback with the Chicago Bears.
The Penn State Nittany Lions finished with a sub standard season for them with an 8-4 record. Warner’s sophomore season was much better at the Nittany Lions improved to 10-2 and Warner ran for 922 yards while splitting time with Booker Moore.
The following season, Warner broke 1,000 yards by 44 and the Lions repeated with a 10-2 record. As a senior in 1982, Warner teamed with Quarterback Todd Blackledge, Wide Receiver Kenny Jackson and the usual Penn State defense led the Nittany Lions to their first ever national championship.
Warner was drafted 3rd in the 1983 NFL Draft only behind Elway and Dickerson. Warner ran for 1,449 yards as a rookie with Seattle, which was the first of 4 1,000 yard seasons in the NFL. He made the Pro Bowl 3 times and ran for just under 7,000 yards during his career.
After football, Warner got into the car business for a long time and then into coaching. He also founded the Curt Warner Autism Foundation.
10. Mike Rozier – Nebraska RB: Tying with Warner for 10th was Mike Rozier from Nebraska. Rozier was a tough kid from tough Camden, New Jersey who was highly recruited but didn’t have the grades. He went to Coffeyville Junior College in Kansas for a single year and got his grades up to enter Nebraska. In 1981, Rozier was a sophomore for the Cornhuskers and he ran for 943 yards while splitting carries with Roger Craig on a 9-3 team.
In 1982, Rozier had a break out season when he ran for 1,689 yards with Roger Craig getting less playing time. The Huskers finished 12-1 with Rozier earning consensus All American honors and finishing 10th in the Heisman.
1983 would be the year of Rozier while he won the Heisman and smashed the 2,000 yard barrier and more about him on the next Heisman post.