Let’s get to the hit sticks.
To help the offseason pass a bit faster Tomahawk Nation has been putting together a position-by-position Mount Rushmore, chosen by our readers, to determine the top four Seminoles by weighing everything from stats to accomplishments to historical significance.
This week, we’re continuing the series by looking at linebackers. We know some of y’all have been looking forward to this one.
A reminder of the process — today, we’ll post a poll for the Tomahawk Nation community to choose their top four Seminoles for that week’s position group from our group of nominees. If you feel so inclined, you’ll have the opportunity to throw in any write-ins that didn’t make the initial cut.
On Tuesday, various TN contributors will make their cases in a roundtable format and then finally, we’ll share the final poll results on Wednesday to determine that position’s Mount Rushmore.
Check out a brief description under each player to read more about their accomplishments (alongside selections from our previous series revolving around the top 100 players in FSU history and the top 100 plays), then vote for your top four at the bottom and let us know the reasoning behind your choices in the comments.
Let the debate begin!
Nigel Bradham, a 5-star recruit out of Wakulla High School in Crawfordville, was the top linebacker in his class and was recruited by both Chuck Amato and Jimbo Fisher. He had the distinction of playing for both Bowden and Fisher and was instrumental in maintaining some of the stability during the transition from Bowden to Fisher.
As a true freshman in 2008, Bradham was in the linebacker rotation from opening day and played in each of the Seminoles’ 13 games during the regular season, mostly at weakside linebacker. He made his first career start in the Seminoles’ victory over the University of Miami and finished the season as fourth-leading tackler among the Seminoles’ linebackers and Florida State’s leading true freshmen tackler with 29 stops.
In his sophomore year, Bradham had 12 starts and led the Seminoles with 93 tackles (62 unassisted). He also recorded 5.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, one interception and finished second on the team with two fumble recoveries. Bradham earned honorable mention Sophomore All-American honors from College Football News.
Starting all 14 games at weakside linebacker, Bradham led the Seminoles in tackling for a second consecutive season, totalling 98 tackles (54 solos), including 5.5 tackles for loss. He also added five sacks, which ranked third on FSU’s nation-leading sack unit behind Brandon Jenkins and Markus White, as well as a single-season high five passes defended, to go along with a forced fumble. Bradham recorded a season-high of ten tackles twice, against Boston College and North Carolina, with six solo stops in each game.
As a senior, Bradham was named team captain. He registered 86 tackles, which led the Seminoles for the third consecutive season, and earned All-ACC honorable mention. FSU ranked as the No. 4 defense nationally. Bradham finished his FSU career with 40 starts, including his last 37 games, 306 total tackles with 189 of them unassisted, 21.5 tackles for loss, 9 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 3 interceptions.
The Buffalo Bills selected Bradham in the fourth round (105th overall) of the 2012 NFL Draft where he played for 4 years, followed by 4 years with the Philadelphia Eagles where he started and earned a ring in their 2018 Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots.
Derrick Brooks is greatness personified. All you need to know about his high school career is he was later named to the All-Century Team by the FHSAA.
Brooks came to Florida State as one of its most heralded recruits ever and left FSU having set a new standard for the outside linebacker position. His ability to run like a receiver and make plays like a defensive back made him one of the most exciting players in all of college football.
At Florida State he was a three-time first team All-ACC player from 1992-1994. He was a first team sophomore All-American in 1992, and an Unanimous All-American in 1993, with nine publications all naming him to the first team. He was also named the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year in ‘93 and led FSU’s defense as the program claimed its first national championship. He was a consensus All-American in 1994. He was a finalist for the Vince Lombardi Award twice, and for the Butkus Award once, and Football Writer’s Defensive Player of the Year Award twice.
Last but certainly not least, he was named an ACC All-Academic second team as a junior and an Academic All-American following his senior season. He finished his collegiate career with 274 tackles, 8.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, five interceptions, 13 pass breakups, two blocked kicks, and three touchdowns.
In 1993, Brooks had perhaps the greatest stretch by any FSU defender ever. In the opener against Kansas, he was active in one of the greatest goal line stands of all time. FSU would go on to win 42-0.
The following week against Duke he had a pick six, and FSU won 45-7. In their third game against Clemson, Brooks had a scoop n’ score and blocked a punt, and the defense had another goal line stand where Brooks destroyed Clemson running back Rodney Blunt. The ’Noles won 57-0.
In week four against No. 13 North Carolina, Brooks had yet another pick six, and FSU won 33-7. They crushed Georgia Tech in their next game 51-0. If you’re keeping score, Brooks singlehandedly outscored FSU’s first five opponents that year.
The following season Brooks capped a rematch win against the Gators in the 1995 Sugar Bowl following the Choke at Doak, intercepting Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel with less than two minutes left in the game.
A few months later Brooks would be selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the 28th overall pick in the 1995 NFL Draft. Brooks played 14 seasons in the NFL and was an 11-time Pro Bowl selection and a nine-time All-Pro. He was the named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year in 2000, the same year he was inducted into the FSU Hall of Fame.
He was also named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press following the 2002 season in which the Bucs won their first Super Bowl. That year Brooks set an NFL record for the most touchdowns by a linebacker with four — one scoop n’ score and three pick-sixes, including one in the Super Bowl. He would score a total of seven times in his career.
In 2014 Brooks was a first ballot inductee to the NFL Hall of Fame. He is widely considered one of the greatest linebackers of all time. Both his collegiate No. 10 and professional No. 55 numbers are retired.
Daryl Bush was an exemplary ’Nole, both on the field and in the classroom. Bush wore the garnet and gold during the heart of Florida State’s dynasty years, spending a five-year career with FSU from 1993-1997.
Rather fittingly, Bush made his way to Tallahassee from Altamonte Springs in Seminole County, Florida, redshirting during Florida State’s first title season of 1993 (while learning from Derrick Brooks). But he didn’t remain on the sideline for long, patrolling the middle of Mickey Andrews’ defense as a four-year starter thereafter.
In 1995, Bush was a Football News Honorable Mention All-American and a second-team All-ACC choice. He repeated as a second-team All-ACC honoree in 1996 and 1997. The AP named Bush a third-team All-American in 1997 as well. He was a three-time Butkus Award semifinalist.
With No. 44 among the linebacking corps, FSU compiled a 42-5-1 record and captured four conference crowns. The ’Noles also won the 1995 Sugar Bowl, the 1996 Orange Bowl, and the 1998 Sugar Bowl. Bush’s career stats at Florida State are highlighted by 361 total tackles. Described as “a natural born leader” by Bobby Bowden, Bush contributed 26 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, six forced fumbles, and a pair of interceptions.
Bush hit the books just as hard as he hit opponents. He’s one of just a handful of Seminoles who twice achieved first-team Academic All-American status, in ’96 and ’97. Bush was an ACC All-Academic Team choice from ’94-’97 and graduated with a 3.9 GPA in finance.
It’s not often that a Michigan native spurns offers from in-state schools to head down south, but that’s the case with former FSU football linebacker Kirk Carruthers. Hailing from East Lansing, Carruthers rejected offers from Michigan and Michigan State to enroll at Florida State. The decision to attend FSU shocked many people, especially considering his father played for Michigan State.
“Pretty much everyone thought I was going to Michigan State,” Carruthers told the Orlando Sentinel. “The people I really shocked were my family. My mom didn’t want me to go that far from home.” The decision to attend Florida State ended up working out well for Carruthers, who turned into an All-American linebacker for the Seminoles.
His breakout game came against Miami in 1989 as a sophomore, when he racked up 16 tackles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery against the Hurricanes. Carruthers totaled 145 tackles as a sophomore linebacker and was named an honorable mention All-American for his efforts.
Carruthers did not possess prototypical size for a linebacker, standing at 6 foot 2 and a hair over 200 pounds throughout his career. But his pure athleticism helped the Michigan native carve out a role in FSU’s defense.
At the end of his Florida State career, Carruthers had racked up 435 total tackles, 14 sacks, seven forced fumbles and four interceptions. Not bad for an undersized linebacker.
Carruthers was named an honorable mention All-American again as a senior before having a short career in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins.
Anytime you have the opportunity to pluck a talented player out of your rivals’ backyard, you jump at it. Having that player turn into an all-time great for your program? It doesn’t get much sweeter. That’s exactly what the Seminoles got when Aaron Carter headed to Tallahassee by way of Gainesville in 1974.
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows at first. FSU won just four games over the course of Carter’s first two seasons, but the rising star was a bright spot on the defense, playing everything from safety to defensive end.
Things changed during Carter’s junior year when first-year head coach Bobby Bowden inserted Carter as a starting linebacker. At barely 5’9” and 185 pounds, Carter was undersized for the position, but the experiment paid off and so began the turnaround of FSU’s program. After winning just four games in his first two years, the ’Noles would go 5-6 in Carter’s third year, gaining momentum for the historic 10-win 1977 season.
Carter’s senior year would go down as one of the greatest individual seasons in program history, leading a defense that forced nine teams into scoring 17 or fewer points. Carter absolutely smothered opposing offenses with a record-setting 181 tackles that season.
Carter would finish his career in garnet and gold as the program’s all-time leading tackler with 512 tackles, another record that still stands today. Elected into the FSU Hall of Fame in 2014, he has etched his legacy into Florida State history.
Reconstructive knee surgery can be a career-defining procedure for many athletes. But unlike some who are are never the same after such a surgery, ’Nole linebacker Sam Cowart came back to have the best year of his Seminole career and one of the greatest LB campaigns in program history.
After heading west to Tallahassee from Jacksonville in 1993, Cowart contributed immediately to the Seminoles’ national title run. His tackles more than doubled in 1994, and then in 1995, he led the team with 115 tackles, including a career-high three sacks at Florida. Everything seemed in place for a breakout 1996, but then Cowart blew out his knee during an Orange Bowl win over Notre Dame to wrap the ’95 season.
After surgery, Cowart missed the entirety of 1996 while navigating the long road back. He changed his number from 56 to 1, which was fitting, since he wasn’t the same player when he finally did return. He was even better.
Cowart resumed his role as the Seminoles’ leading tackler, with 116, and set a Florida State record by recovering or returning a trio of fumbles for touchdowns. He led FSU to its biggest win ever over Miami, a 47-0 beatdown, along with a 38-0 shutout of a then-ranked Georgia Tech squad.
Cowart earned consensus All-America honors, as he was named a first-teamer by the AP, The Sporting News, the Football Writers Association of America, the American Football Coaches Association, and Football News, which also named Cowart its Defensive Player of the Year. He was a first-team All-ACC selection as well. Duh.
The ACC also bestowed upon Cowart its Brian Piccolo Award for the Comeback Player of the Year, and he was a finalist for the Butkus and Bronko Nagurski Awards, too. He finished his FSU career with 338 career tackles, 15th all-time for the ’Noles.
In 2011, Cowart was inducted into the Florida State Hall of Fame.
Though the “lost decade” came with plenty of frustrations, it was still a time period in which some really good linebackers came through Florida State. The smallest of them all might’ve also made the biggest impact while on campus.
Buster Davis once said:
“You have great ones in all shapes and sizes, so it’s no matter if I was 6-5 or 5-5 — I’m still doing what I do.”
And it’s with that attitude that he became the face of FSU’s defense from 2004 to 2006. At 5’9 (probably generous) and 251 lbs out of Daytona, Florida, Davis was a one-man wrecking crew in the middle.
A four-star recruit from the class of 2002 and former Army All-American, he competed with fellow Seminoles Kamerion Wimbley and Lorenzo Booker in the all-star game.
After red-shirting and spending his first two years primarily on special teams, Davis burst onto the scene in 2004 and 2005. In 2005, a season in which FSU would win the inaugural ACC Championship game, he was second on the team with 91 tackles and first with 10.5 tackles for loss.
2006 is when the accolades started to come in. Davis was a first-team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association and a second team All-America by the Walter Camp Football Foundation. He had 109 tackles, eight tackles for loss and five sacks.
Davis was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft. He spent three years in the NFL before finding his true passion: coaching. He coached at various high schools in Georgia before being named defensive coordinator at Willamette University.
After redshirting his initial year at Florida State, Green appeared mostly on special teams in his freshman season in 1995, recording 28 tackles (including 17 unassisted) on the season. He also caused a fumble and recovered it in the Seminoles’ 72–13 win over Wake Forest.
Green saw his role on the team increase in his sophomore year, as he registered 44 tackles (26 solo) as a back-up linebacker. He also had six tackles for loss and three sacks (two of them against Maryland). In his first career start against Georgia Tech, Green stepped in front of a screen pass and ran the interception back for a 56 yard touchdown.
Taking over as starting outside linebacker in his junior year, Green ranked third on the team for tackles with 85, behind Sam Cowart (116) and Daryl Bush (97). He also had six tackles for loss. Two of those, plus a quarterback sack, came in the 14–7 win over Southern California, the first ever game between the two programs. Against North Carolina State, Green recorded his only interception of the season.
In his senior year, Green was honored as team captain and played an integral part in the team’s run for the National Championship in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl. He ranked first on the team in tackles with 73, including 48 unassisted and 10 for a loss of yardage.
Green was ranked as the No. 4 outside linebacker prospect in the 1999 NFL Draft but was not selected by any team. Eventually, he was signed by the Atlanta Falcons, playing one game for them in 1999. Green spent the 2000 season on the reserve list of the Carolina Panthers, and was briefly assigned to the Berlin Thunder of the NFL Europe. He will now have the joy of watching his son, Lamont “Boots” Green Jr, suit up in garnet and gold, wearing that familiar #45 jersey.
Reggie Herring is hands-down one of the most talented linebackers to play at Florida State University. Three is the magic number? Herring was a three-year starting linebacker in Tallahassee, where he was the leading tackler in each of those three seasons. His 452 total tackles in his career ranks him third all-time in FSU history.
The Seminoles posted a perfect 11-0 regular season record his junior year in 1979 and were 10-1 over his senior year, making consecutive trips to the Orange Bowl. His senior year campaign included 170 tackles, six sacks, and three tackles for loss. That year, he was named a second team All-American by the Associated Press. In 1989, he was inducted into the FSU Hall of Fame.
transitive verb; terrified, terrifying.
1. a - To drive or impel by menacing
b - Deter, Intimidate
2. To fill with terror
Consult Merriam-Webster and the above is what you’ll find for the word “terrify.”
Consult Florida State opponents from 1990 to 1992 and they’ll provide an alternative definition: Marvin Jones.
Marvin Maurice Jones was a quiet, pudgy kid growing up in Miami, Florida. At age 11, tragedy struck. And it struck again. And then again. Within a three month span, Jones lost his mother, his grandfather, and an older sister—all to heart related deaths.
Marvin and his brother Michael, a year older, were left to be raised by their father, Nathaniel, a Korean War vet who quit his job as a truck driver to find work that kept him home, and Fred Jones, a freshman football player at FSU. Together, Nathaniel and Fred helped Marvin channel all that pain and anger into a near perfect specimen of a linebacker. The result was breathtaking.
A USA Today high school all-American at Miami Northwestern High, Jones arrived at FSU as a 6’2, 225 pound beast who wore number 55 because in his words, “It’s the speed limit. Everything stops there.” But in one of his very first practices he had to stop himself and passed out under a large oak tree near the FSU practice fields after he went a little to hard on the first few wind sprints. This earned him the nickname “Shade Tree” from FSU linebackers coach Wally Burnham, and the moniker stuck.
Pretty soon it would be Shade Tree doing the sticking—hit sticking. In his very first collegiate game, Jones led the Seminoles in tackles with 10, despite not getting the start. Leading the team in tackles would become a common occurrence. Coming off the bench...not so much.
Just a couple games later against Virginia Tech, Jones would register a whopping 20 tackles, 15 of which were unassisted and 4 were for lost yardage, as he punished Hokie ball carriers all night long. His last tackle of the night helped seal the hard fought win over VT, as he and Kirk Curruthers combined to force a fumble that was housed by Errol McCorvey.
A week later, Jones racked up 15 more tackles in a loss against arch rival Miami. As if 15 tackles against one rival wasn’t impressive enough, he violently introduced himself to the Florida Gators 18 times to help FSU earn a 45-30 victory.
When Jones’ freshman season was complete the results were a mind boggling 133 tackles, eight of them for loss. This earned Shade Tree a third team AP All-American distinction and served notice to the rest of the college football world of what was about to happen.
The next two years were fury on a football field. Miami head coach Dennis Erickson, who called him the best linebacker he’s ever seen play in college football, summed it up well when he said, “Marvin gets to the ball in a hurry and he’s not in a good mood when he gets there.”
Here’s the short version:
- Back-to-back 1st team All-American nods, consensus in 1991 and unanimous in 1992.
- 236 tackles, 19 for loss, in just 22 games (bowls not included), leading FSU in all three years he played.
- His 369 tackles (in just 33 games) in his career rank 8th all-time in FSU history and he’s the only guy in the top 10 who played less than four seasons.
- 1992 Butkus Award winner, and when presented the award, Butkus himself told him, “thanks for being yourself and playing the game the way it should be played.”
- 1992 Lombardi Award winner, becoming FSU’s first football player to win two national awards in the same season.
- 4th place finish in the 1992 Heisman Trophy voting.
- One perfect hit:
Jones was selected with the fourth pick of the 1992 draft following his junior season by the New York Jets. At that time, it was the highest an FSU player had ever been selected in the NFL draft.
From 1966 through 1968, a 6’2”, 198 pound linebacker from Live Oak blazed his way into Seminole lore as one of the most brilliant defenders to play for Florida State. And the sad part is, many FSU fans have never heard of him.
In the 1967 and 1968 seasons alone, Dale McCullers accounted for 343 tackles (210 of which were unassisted).
In 19 games.
Thats an average of 18 tackles per game, y’all.
He led the FSU defense into three consecutive bowls: Sun, Gator, and Peach. In 1967, Dale was named the AP lineman of the week after making 17 unassisted tackles against Memphis State. He was the defensive leader in the ‘67 victory over Florida. McCullers finished that season with an incredible 180 tackles, three fumble recoveries, and an interception that he returned 74 yards.
The following year, the AP honored McCullers again after he made 20 unassisted tackles in the Texas A&M game. At the close of his senior season, Dale McCullers was chosen 1st team All-American by NEA and 3rd team All-American by AP. He was on AP’s All-Southeastern Independent squad and played in the post-season All-American bowl. He finished that year with 163 tackles and another fumble recovery.
Quick, aggressive, intelligent, and mind-bogglingly productive, Dale McCullers was truly an all-time Garnet and Gold football player. He was taken in the 12th round of the 1969 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins.
Middle linebacker Paul McGowan forged a name for himself with consistent play and ferocious tackling that eventually distinguished him as Florida State’s first Butkus Award winner.
1984 saw McGowan come to FSU from Winter Park, Florida, after the Seminoles were coming off an 8-4 season that saw them unranked in the final AP Poll. He’d leave Florida State on a much more promising trajectory than when he found it.
It didn’t take long for him to make an impact. As a true freshman, McGowan helped the ’Noles to big road victories over Miami (a 38-3 stomping), and Arizona State (a 52-44 shootout), tying his season-high for tackles in each game. FSU finished the ’84 season ranked 17th.
McGowan’s legend really began in 1985. In the season’s second game, he anchored a defense that won at Nebraska, 17-13. McGowan was an integral part of that victory, contributing 14 tackles (one for loss) and an interception to seal the victory. McGowan went on to register 136 total tackles that year (13 TFL), three interceptions and a touchdown, and two forced fumbles.
Accordingly, McGowan was recognized as a second-team sophomore All-American by Football News, as well as earning an honorable mention All-American nod from the AP. He was also a first-team All-South Independent honoree. Florida State finished 9-3 and 15th in the AP Poll.
FSU took a slight step back the following year, finishing 7-4-1 and unranked, but McGowan’s production hardly waned. He finished with 129 tackles, three forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. He again garnered AP honorable mention All-American recognition, along with another first-team All-South Independent selection.
As if McGowan hadn’t proven enough, he authored true Seminole history in his senior year of 1987. For the third straight season, he led Florida State in tackles, notching 150 that year (11 TFL) along with two more fumble recoveries and another forced fumble. He tallied double-digit tackles in every game save one, which still saw the ’Noles beat UF in Gainesville.
Predictably, McGowan captured his third consecutive first-team All-South Independent honors. He was also a first-team All-American according to the AP, The Sporting News, and Football News.
But beyond those accolades, McGowan also took home the Butkus Award, the prize bestowed annually to the nation’s top linebacker. In doing so, he became the first Seminole to win a major national individual award, beating defensive teammate Deion Sanders’ Thorpe Award win by a year. In his acceptance of the Butkus Award from Dick Butkus himself, McGowan famously referred to the honor as winning “The Heisman of the Bad Guys.”
What’s more, McGowan helped begin FSU’s dynastic run of 14 straight seasons finishing in the AP’s top 5, as the ’Noles wound up ’87 at 11-1 and ranked No. 2 after their first Fiesta Bowl triumph. His 446 career tackles and 32 tackles for loss are astounding.
It’s not often that a player’s entire career is defined by one play. One play that lives in a program’s lore so long until it becomes embedded into the very fabric that defines the essence of that program’s identity.
Boston Celtics fans know what I’m talking about. It’s when John Havlicek stole the ball.
So, too, do Toronto Blue Jays fans, thanks to Joe Carter.
Similarly, there is arguably no play in Florida State’s history that better represents the epitome of the Seminoles’ rise from plucky upstart to national powerhouse than Paul Piurowski’s strip sack of Nebraska quarterback Jeff Quinn.
Given the time left in the game, the location, and the opponent it was a truly remarkable play. In fact, you can read the opus TN penned on the play when it deservedly cracked the top 10 of all plays in the history of FSU football. (No, but seriously, if you haven’t read it, you should. Including the link to the letter Bobby Bowden wrote to the Cornhusker faithful).
While the legacy of Piurowski’s forced fumble will live on for as long as Florida State is playing football, his career was much more than just a single play.
Paul Allen Piurowski arrived at FSU in the summer of 1977 after starring at Sarasota High School as a DB and QB. He was one of the guys who took a chance on a young coach who promised them nothing more than the opportunity to turnaround the culture at FSU and set the foundation for others to build on. Guys like Ron Simmons, Reggie Herring, Monk Bonasorte, Bobby Butler, and Keith Jones, all part of the 1977 recruiting class.
In his first season, Piurowski played sparingly at strong safety, seeing action mostly on special teams. Going into his sophomore year, he switched to linebacker and the move paid immediate dividends for Piurowski and the team. Through the first six games, Piurowski racked up 84 tackles and two forced fumbles. A knee injury prematurely ended his season, but the first half of the season proved to be just a prelude of what was to come.
Over his junior and senior years, Piurowski wrecked havoc on opposing offenses. In his final 21 regular season games (bowl stats aren’t available, nor counted back then) Piurowski recorded 245 tackles (124 unassisted), eight sacks, five forced fumbles, and two interceptions— including one he housed during a 66-17 demolition of Memphis State.
During those two years, FSU would go 21-3 across 1979 and 1980, making the first and second appearances in the Orange Bowl in school history. Piurowski teamed with Reggie Herring to form a devastating second level on those defenses, with the 1980 defense going down as arguably the best defensive unit ever assembled in Tallahassee. In that 1980 season, Piurowski would be named Honorable Mention All-American by the Associated Press.
After graduating Florida State, Piurowski became an 8th round selection in the 1981 NFL draft by the Dallas Cowboys. Later, he signed with the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL and named second team All-USFL in 1983 when he led the Bandits in tackles. And of course, some years after that the Piurowski name would suit up again for the Seminoles when his son Caz Piurowski started at tight end.
So, while we never forget Piurowski’s forced fumble against Nebraska, FSU fans would do well to remember the rest of his career too.
Tommy Polley did it all. Regarded as one of the best high school athletes in the country out of Dunbar High School in Baltimore, Maryland, Polley won multiple state championships in both football and basketball. Six total, in fact. He was also Baltimore’s back-to-back defensive player of the year for football in his junior and senior seasons. He topped it all off with being the state of Maryland’s Player of the Year his senior season and a top-60 basketball prospect.
So where does a top two-sport prep star choose to play college ball? Well, when your role model is Derrick Brooks and you are uber-talented at 6’5 and 230 lbs, you choose Florida State, of course.
Polley enrolled in 1996 and redshirted, also walking on to the basketball team. Polley’s basketball career at FSU never took off as he left the program after his freshman season to focus on football, feeling it gave him the best chance to go pro. He got his first start in football against Georgia Tech halfway through the season in 1998 and never looked back.
He broke out in 1999, leading FSU to an undefeated season and its second national title in the Sugar Bowl against the Virginia Tech Hokies. He was named first-team all-ACC, finishing with a team-leading 76 tackles, ten for a loss, along with three sacks, two fumble recoveries, three pass breakups, and three blocked kicks. The last of those blocked kicks cemented Polley’s legacy at FSU. He squeezed through the Virginia Tech line and gave Beamer Ball a taste of its own medicine, blocking a punt that fellow ’Nole Jeff Chaney scooped ’n scored, giving FSU a 14-0 lead in the first quarter of a game FSU would later run away with.
Unfortunately, Polley would sustain a serious knee injury early in the second half of that title game while attempting to tackle Hokie quarterback Michael Vick, tearing his ACL and partially tearing his MCL. While the injury delayed Polley’s plans to enter the NFL, it did not stop him.
In his senior season Polley again racked up tackles and accolades. He was a finalist for the ACC’s Brian Piccolo Award for his injury comeback - Polley started every game in 2000 - and a semi-finalist for the Butkus Award, awarded to the nation’s top linebacker. He also added third-team Football News All-American and another first-team all-ACC nod to his resume. Most importantly, he was also a team captain and again led Florida State back to the national title game, this time against the Oklahoma Sooners. Florida State ultimately lost, 13-2, but Polley left it all on the field with 11 tackles.
Polley finished his FSU career from 1997 to 2000 with 289 tackles, 170 of them solo, 19 tackles for loss, seven sacks, four forced fumbles, two interceptions, 14 pass breakups, and all those blocked kicks. FSU went an unbelievable 45-5 during that span.
Polley was drafted with the 42nd overall pick in the second round of the 2001 NFL draft by the then St. Louis Rams. He finished his rookie season with 86 total tackles and a spot on the All-Rookie team. Polley played a total of six seasons in the NFL, finishing his career with the Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints. He narrowly missed out on a Super Bowl championship as well, losing 17-20 in 2002 to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI while with the Rams. He retired from the league in 2007 after suffering a shoulder injury, hanging up his cleats with 386 total career tackles, over 300 of those solo, with six sacks and five interceptions. Polley coaches high school football now, and is a Hall of Fame member of both Dunbar High School and the state of Maryland.
It can be easy for Florida State fans to overlook Kendyll Pope. Although he earned a national championship ring, he redshirted during the Seminoles’ title season of 1999, and played the rest of his career largely overshadowed by Darnett Dockett. But defenses that forgot about Pope did so at their own peril.
Pope wasted little time in putting the nation on notice after continuing the tradition of Columbia High School defenders to head to Tallahassee from Lake City, Florida— like Brian Allen and Reinard Wilson. He helped lead the ’Noles to the national title game following the 2000 season as a redshirt freshman, earning first-team Freshman All-American nods from both Football News and The Sporting News.
He kept upping his production in the two seasons that followed, registering triple-digit tackles in both 2001 and 2002. The conference took note, as he was named an All-ACC honorable mention choice in ’01 and improved to a second-teamer in ’02.
Big things were expected of Pope in his final season, but a knee injury hampered his production. But that, in addition to the fact that he typically played as a reserve in his first season, really just serves to illustrate how prolific Pope was when at full strength and starting for two seasons. He finished with 28 career tackles for loss and a whopping 352 total tackles from his weak-side LB position.
Tallahassee native Ernie Sims was an absolute beast:
Sims came to Florida State for one reason: to kick ass and win rings. The time that Sims gave to FSU may have later been labeled as part of the “Lost Decade”, but that didn’t stop him from excelling on the football field or delivering a tremendous amount of punishment to opposing skill players. As a true freshman Sims, wearing Ron Sellers’ #34, didn’t take long to break out. In just his fifth game against Duke he had eight tackles. A few weeks later he tallied 10 tackles and the ACC Rookie of the Week award on his way to 42 total tackles that season.
In 2004 Sims took a starting linebacker spot by Week 2 and terrorized ACC offenses the rest of the year on his way to 86 tackles — just two off the team lead — including 9.5 for loss and four sacks, two forced fumbles, and five passes defensed. He blocked a punt vs. Virginia and had 12 tackles against the Florida Gators. He also had double-digit tackles against North Carolina and Duke. He was named a first-team All-American by ESPN and College Football News, but somehow just second-team All-ACC.
Sims was named a pre-season All-American by multiple outlets before the 2005 season. He opened that year by collecting seven tackles and an interception against Miami in a 10-7 win — FSU’s first against the Hurricanes since 1999. Later that season, Sims helped hold Maryland star tight end Vernon Davis to just 54 yards.
Sims finished his Seminole career with 200 tackles, 95 of them solo with 21 for a loss and seven sacks, 19 quarterback hurries and 11 passes defensed. He elected to leave early for the NFL and was drafted by the Detroit Lions with the 9th overall pick in the 2006 Draft. Sims finished his rookie year with 124 tackles and collected several All-Rookie Team nods by outlets such as Pro Football Weekly and the Pro Football Writers Association. He ultimately played seven productive seasons in the NFL, dishing out over 600 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson once called Sims his least favorite player to go up against, describing him as like “the Tasmanian Devil”.
After football, Sims started the Big Hits Foundation to mentor youth, and then re-enrolled at Florida State, earning his degree last year. He now believes the real reason he went to FSU was to get a degree and uses that in his mentorship. Sims has since embarked upon a career in college administration and coaching, rising quickly and currently serving as USF’s Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers Coach.
A two-time ACC Champion, a national champion on arguably the best team of the modern era, and one of the unquestioned leaders of the Jimbo Fisher ACC dynasty. Smith spent the first few years of his career primarily as a back-up, making splash plays on special teams with his defensive back speed and providing a big spark off the bench until 2013.
Following the 2013 season, the senior linebacker was drafted in the 5th round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he would go on to outperform his draft slot by a landslide. In five NFL seasons Smith racked up nearly 600 tackles, as well as four defensive touchdowns, and nine interceptions: ridiculous numbers. He was named to the All-Pro team in 2017. Personal and legal issues have since derailed him.
Lawrence Timmons was a four-star prospect out of Florence, South Carolina. In high school, Timmons was a two-way player on the football team and also ran track. His senior season he had over 150 tackles and 800 receiving yards while finishing sixth in the state long jump finals. He ran a 4.6 40-yard dash. FSU plucked him away from many other suitors and the rest is history.
As a true freshman at Florida State in 2004, Timmons largely played a backup and special teams role in all 12 games. As a sophomore he backed up Ernie Sims, but still managed 35 tackles and was fourth on the team in sacks with three. He also blocked two kicks that year, one against Miami in the season opener in a game FSU won 10-7 breaking a six-game win streak for Miami, and one against Clemson in November which resulted in a touchdown. In the ACC Championship Game against Virginia Tech, Timmons had his breakout game. He recorded eight tackles, including six solo and two for a loss, with two sacks, two more QB hurries, and a forced fumble. FSU would go on to win 27-22 and face Penn State in the Orange Bowl.
After Ernie Sims left early for the NFL Timmons got his chance. He racked up 79 tackles, including a whopping 18 tackles for loss, with a pick six and six pass breakups. Timmons scored three times during the 2006 season: a scoop n’ score against Duke and ran a Dekoda Watson-blocked punt back for six against UCLA in the Seminoles’ bowl game. That third quarter touchdown sparked a 21-point 4th quarter comeback over the Bruins that clinched former head coach Bobby Bowden’s streak of 30-straight winning seasons. He was named by College & Pro Football Weekly an honorable All-American and made the honorable mention All-ACC team named by the Associated Press.
Timmons also chose to forego his senior season and enter the NFL Draft early, where he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 15th overall pick of the 2007 draft.
A Super Bowl champion and Pro Bowler, he had a stellar ten year run with the Steelers and finished his career in 2017 with the Miami Dolphins. Before joining the Dolphins Timmons had played in 101 straight games. Over the course of his career Timmons recorded 1,065 tackles, 735 solo, with 35.5 sacks, 46 passes defensed, 14 forced fumbles, 12 interceptions, and one touchdown. Perhaps most importantly, Timmons had created a reputation as a respected and well-liked teammate, a model of leadership and consistency.
Dekoda Watson lined up at outside linebacker for the ‘Noles from 2006-2009. Going into his last season at FSU, he was one of the few defensive veterans left over from the 2008 campaign and was the emotional and physical leader of the Seminole defense that year.
Watson recorded 96 tackles during his sophomore and junior seasons for Florida State and he played his best football at the end of 2008 with 28 tackles over the final four games of the year.
An athletic linebacker who reminded some of Michael Boulware, Watson nearly matched his career high in tackles (50) during his junior season (47) despite missing six starts due to the suspension and to various injuries. Watson missed all of his junior spring sessions after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his left elbow, but contributed as a coach by teaching and helping to develop the younger linebackers.
Watson had the athleticism, the big-play ability, anticipated the snap count very well, and exploded on movement. Watson was amazingly strong for his size with 48” shoulders and a 26” waist. While recovering from his surgery, since he could only do ab exercises, he was quoted as saying “I’ve got abs to my throat almost.”
Watson topped out his collegiate career as an All-ACC selection, being named to the All-ACC second team in 2009. Watson also has a lingering footprint on the FSU record books as his 32.5 career tackles for loss is tied for 11th-most in school history.
Watson was drafted into the NFL after his Florida State career ended, going in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL Draft to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Who are the top four linebackers in FSU history?
Quarterbacks: Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke, Jameis Winston, Jordan Travis
Running Backs: Warrick Dunn, Dalvin Cook, Greg Allen, Amp Lee
Wide Receivers: Peter Warrick, Fred Biletnikoff, Rashad Greene, Ron Sellers
Tight Ends: Nick O’Leary, Pat Carter, Lonnie Johnson, Melvin Pearsall
Offensive Tackles: Walter Jones, Alex Barron, Pat Tomberlin, Cam Erving
Interior Offensive Linemen: Rodney Hudson, Jamie Dukes, Bryan Stork, Clay Shiver
Defensive Ends: Peter Boulware, Andre Wadsworth, Reinard Wilson, Derrick Alexander
Defensive Tackles: Ron Simmons, Darnell Dockett, Corey Simon, Timmy Jernigan