When Roquan Smith earned the Butkus Award as college football’s best linebacker in 2017, he joined an elite group of Georgia Bulldogs recognized with national awards.
Herschel Walker and Frank Sinkwich won the Heisman. Walker and Charlie Trippi received the Maxwell Award honoring the nation’s top player. Bill Stanfill collected the Outland Trophy recognizing the country’s top lineman. David Pollack secured the Chuck Bednarik Award as Defensive Player of the Year, Champ Bailey the Bronko Nagurski Award for the same accolade, Drew Butler the Ray Guy Award for punters, and Garrison Hearst the Doak Walker Award for running backs.
So, does winning the Butkus place Smith at the top of the list among Bulldogs linebackers?
Before we present that list, two quick points deserve attention.
First, for much of college football history, substitutions were limited. Until 1941, and then again from 1953-64, a player who left the game for any reason could not return until the next quarter. These restrictions resulted in coaches using “one platoon” style football, keeping their best players on the field on offense and defense. Since 1964, open substitution rules allow for “two platoon” football, with players specializing on offense or defense. So, Georgia players before 1964 are not considered on the list since most played both ways.
The other limiting factor on the list relates to the position itself. What is a linebacker?
Defensive ends, sometimes called outside linebackers in contemporary terminology, are excluded from this list. So, no Boss Bailey, no David Pollack, no Jarvis Jones and no Justin Houston. Those guys play on the line of scrimmage and not behind the line. Traditionally, teams use either a five-man front (known widely as the Oklahoma 50 or simply the “50” defense) or a four-man front (usually called a 4-3). When teams are described as using a 3-4 defensive alignment, they are playing a 50-defense and choosing to either rush the two ends or drop them into coverage. These hybrid players are sometimes called outside linebackers, but they are not true linebackers.
Got it? Nobody before 1964 and no defensive ends posing as linebackers. Here we go.
12. Tommy Lawhorne (1964-67)
From tiny Sylvester in southwest Georgia, Lawhorne epitomized the student-athlete as well as the prototype player on Vince Dooley’s early teams. Not the most athletically gifted, Lawhorne started for three years, was the University of Georgia’s valedictorian of 1968 and attended medical school at Johns Hopkins.
11. Greg Bright (1994-97)
Bright was a four-year starter and solid performer on mostly forgettable Georgia teams that transitioned from Ray Goff to Jim Donnan. Georgia went 27-18-1 during his time in Athens, the highlight coming in 1997 when Donnan’s second squad finished 10-2 and thumped Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl. Bright finished his career second on the Bulldogs’ tackles list.
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