UGASports.com’s Top Four Bulldog ILBs
A year ago, we delivered our “Counting the Days” series—an example. This summer, we explore a topic that has been debated on The Dawgvent for years and years. Twice a week leading into fall camp, we will post the UGA’s Mount Rushmore of… series, whereby we each present our opinion of the top four Bulldogs representing each positional unit. Whether statistics, big plays, championships won, and/or something else, we have our reasons why these quartets of Bulldogs have been chosen.
Do you agree with our Mount Rushmore of UGA Inside Linebackers? Who would you put on your list?
Note: The following players are those considered having played a “traditional” linebacking role, some of whom may not have been positioned inside at all times.
Dave McMahon—Twitter @dave_mc_stats
Ben Zambiasi (1974-77): Ben Zambiasi led Georgia in tackles in three of his four seasons during the 1970s. Despite playing under, at, or just over the 200-pound mark, he had 467 career tackles, which remain a Georgia record. Zambiasi’s 246 solo tackles rank second behind Greg Bright. He was a driving force in the Junkyard Dogs defense that led the conference in allowing fewer than 11 points per game en route to an SEC title in 1976. Zambiasi became the first Georgia player to lead the team in tackles in three different seasons, and was named All-SEC each of the three years. Although drafted by the Chicago Bears out of college, he played his pro ball north of the border becoming one of the CFL’s all-time greats. Head Coach Vince Dooley once said, “In all my years of coaching, I never coached a more intense and tenacious football player than Ben Zambiasi.”
Randall Godfrey (1992-95): It’s been mentioned that if Eric Zeier, Garrison Hearst, and the rest of the Georgia teams of the early-90s had an adequate defense, they would have been dangerous. One dangerous defender who was part of those teams was Randall Godfrey. He had over 100 tackles for the Bulldogs in each of his first three seasons, and was the SEC Defensive Freshman of the Year as well as a Freshman All-American in 1992. Also that season, Godfrey had six consecutive games with 10+ tackles. During his sophomore season, he had an interception return for a touchdown against Southern Miss, and tallied 19 tackles against Tennessee as a junior in 1994. Godfrey is currently third all time at Georgia in primary tackles with 233, and eighth in total tackles with 365. He played 12 seasons in the NFL with the Cowboys, Titans, Seahawks, Chargers and Redskins.
Odell Thurman (2003-04): On Georgia’s dominant defensive teams in the early Mark Richt/Brian VanGorder days, there were three main defenders most Bulldog enthusiasts noticed: David Pollack on the line, Thomas Davis in the backfield and, in the middle, it was Odell Thurman. Thurman had a rough start for the Dawgs as he was redshirted and then sent to Georgia Military College. He came back in 2003 and took charge, totaling 121 tackles including 18½ for loss and six-and-a-half sacks. Thurman also picked off two passes, including one that fans of the Red and Black will always remember. Against Auburn in 2003, he alertly intercepted a deflected pass thrown by Jason Campbell and raced 99 yards for a touchdown—the second-longest pick-six in Georgia history (Charley Britt had a 100-yard interception return vs. Florida in 1959). Thurman had double-digit tackles in six of his last seven games in 2003. His next season, he appeared in just nine games, but had 65 tackles including 11 for loss and 16 quarterback pressures. He was named All-SEC both seasons.
Rennie Curran (2007-09): Rennie Curran was like Ben Zambiasi as both were not that tall. But, Curran was stout, and had tremendous strength, using every bit of it. He led Georgia in tackles in both 2008 and 2009, and totaled 298 tackles, including 24 for loss, in his three-season career. Curran’s 173 primary tackles rank in Georgia’s top 12 for all time. He had double-digit tackles 12 times in his career, including 16 against LSU his junior season, and 15 two more times that same season in big wins over South Carolina and Georgia Tech. Curran tallied six-and-a-half career sacks, and was tied for the team lead in 2008. The 5-foot-11 (generous) superstar was named All-SEC twice, and was on the lists for the Butkus, Lott, Nagurski, Lombardi and Bednarik awards during his career. After a short stint in the NFL, Curran went back to UGA and got his college degree. He does a lot of motivational public speaking, and wrote/released the book Free Agent a few years ago.
Patrick Garbin—Twitter @PatrickGarbin
Ben Zambiasi (1974-1977): On the day of home games during Ben Zambiasi’s playing days, the team boarded buses for Sanford Stadium from the Georgia Coliseum, which housed the main locker room and meeting rooms. And, just like a fierce linebacker ready to undergo battle, it was said every time he exited the arena to board a bus, Zambiasi noticeably had the most intense, tunnel-vision look on his face—totally focused on what he had to do. The epitome of Georgia’s “Junkyard Dogs” defenders of 1975, followed by the “Ronnie and the Runts” defensive unit of 1976—small and underappreciated, yet aggressive, feisty, and all heart—Zambiasi remains the Bulldogs’ all-time leading tackler despite totaling just 10 tackles as a freshman in 1974. Beginning in 1975, he led Georgia in tackles each of the next three seasons, and followed each campaign with All-SEC honors including unanimous first-team recognition in 1976 and 1977. Also as a junior and senior, Zambiasi was named AP All-American honorable mention. A highlight video I put together of Zambiasi from his time as a “Junkyard Dog” and “Runt”:
Tommy Thurson (1980-1983): Overshadowed by the presence of fellow Class of ’80 defenders Terry Hoage and Freddie Gilbert, Tommy Thurson was the only player from that class besides Herschel Walker to earn All-SEC recognition for three seasons. Also, he is not only just the third Georgia linebacker to be all-conference for three years, but the last one to do so, trailing Chip Wisdom (1969-1971) and Zambiasi (1975-1977). A blue-collar player if the Bulldogs ever had one, Thurson totaled for his career 448 tackles—third-most in Georgia history—15 passes broken up, four interceptions, five forced fumbles, and three caused interceptions.
John Brantley (1984-1987): Speaking of blue collar… If your nickname was “Rambo,” you must have been tough (and probably a linebacker)—right? Despite recording only a single tackle as a freshman, John Brantley is one of only four Bulldogs to record 400+ tackles for a career. Currently, his 25 true tackles for loss (tackles for loss minus sacks) are a career school record. Three times Brantley tallied 20+ tackles in a single game (’86 Clemson, ’86 Auburn, and ’87 Auburn) and, in 1988, he became the first Georgia linebacker in nine years (Ricky McBride, 1979) to be selected in the NFL Draft. What’s more, he is likely Georgia’s greatest single-game “I Haven’t Got Time for the Pain” player. Leading up to Brantley’s final game as a Bulldog—the 1987 Liberty Bowl against Arkansas—the standout linebacker had gotten food poison, forcing him out of practice and team functions in Memphis, and into a bed with IVs while taking medications. During the game, and while playing, he was vomiting and had diarrhea, plus he dislocated a shoulder. Nevertheless, at halftime, Brantley received IVs again and his shoulder was popped back into place, and all he did was go out and earn the game’s Defensive MVP award for Georgia's 20-17 comeback victory over the Razorbacks.
Odell Thurman (2003-2004): As Dave alluded to, Odell Thurman had more than his fair share of issues while at Georgia, but there’s no denying the inside terror at linebacker was a man—a beast. In just two seasons, both of which he was selected First Team All-SEC—Thurman totaled 186 tackles, including 29½ for loss and 9½ sacks, 24 quarterback pressures, three fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles, and two interceptions. Speaking of a two-season terror of an inside linebacker, it’d perhaps be remiss if I didn’t mention Sylvester Boler (1973-1974) here—maybe as some sort of honorable mention. Playing exactly three decades beforehand, Boler, like Thurman, had his share of issues as well. But, get this, after appearing in just the final four-and-a-half games of his true freshman season, Boler was already recognized by some as the greatest Georgia linebacker in history—after only 4½ games! He followed that up with a 134-tackle, All-SEC campaign in 1974 while playing nearly the entire year with an ankle injury and missing the majority of three games.
Early next week, we will reveal our next in the UGA’s Mount Rushmore of… series. Until then, again, do you agree with UGASports.com’s list? Who would you put on your Mount Rushmore of UGA Inside Linebackers?