Breaking down the linebackers was a very difficult process. Some incredible players have been left off this list. As I have done in some of the other All Time Best Michigan players by position I have included 11 players in the 10 best linebackers. This again is in honor of the Big Ten having 11 teams. There have been a lot questions as to why David Harris is not on this list. Harris of course had a fabulous senior season, he was a Butkus Award semi-finalist and first team All-Big Ten. However, as a freshman and sophomore he only appeared in five games. Harris started to emerge in his junior season, when he tallied 88 tackles. I’d love to add him to the list, I’m just not sure who I could bump off the list to add him.
#11 – Mike Mallory: A two-time All-Big Ten selection, Mallory started 34 games during his Michigan career (1982-85). Mallory tallied 396 tackles in his career which is good for 5th place on the All Time list. He also recorded 14 double-digit tackle games in his career and intercepted six passes.
Mallory was the team MVP in 1984 and finalist for the 1985 Butkus Award.
Mike is one of three Mallory brothers to play at Michigan. His brothers Curt and Doug also played football for the maize and blue.
#10 – Mike Boren: A knee injury cut his fabulous career short in his senior season. In the first 4 games of that season Boren had already tallied 43 tackles including a 14 tackle game at Washington and a 15 tackle game at Wisconsin. Prior to his senior year Boren was a fierce tackler registering back to back seasons of over 140 tackles.
In 1982 Boren recorded 171 tackles which is the second highest single season total in school history. For his career he totaled 369 tackles which is 9th on the All Time list. Boren had 17 double-digit tackle games in his career which is 4th on the All Time list
#9 – Sam Sword: Sword made an immediate impact in his freshmen year registering 44 tackles. He went on to have an illustrious 4 year career at Michigan (1995-98). In all Sword totaled 377 tackles which places him 8th on the All Time list. Sword tallied 16 career double-digit tackle games (tied for fifth best All Time).
Sword was a vital cog in Michigan’s dominant National Championship defense. Sword had one of his finest games that season against Minnesota when he recorded 10 tackles and 5 TFLs. Sword was an All Big Ten selection in 1997 and a semifinalist for the Butkus Award. For his career Sword notched 39 TFLs which ties him for 9th place on the All Time list.
#8 – Paul Girgash: A 1982 team captain and All Big Ten selection, Girgash was a prolific tackler in his Michigan career (1979-82). He is one of only 4 Wolverines to top the 400 mark in career tackles with 414. That is the fourth best tackling career in school history. His best season was that 1982 season when he registered 157 tackles, the fifth best single season total. Girgash had 14 double-digit tackle games in his career.
#7 – Andy Cannavino: A fiercely competitive linebacker, Cannavino racked up 385 tackles in his Michigan career (1977-80). In his senior season Cannavino tallied 168 tackles which is tied for the third best single season total in school history. As a junior he had 151 tackles which is tied for the 8th best season. He is considered one of the finest team captains in Michigan lore.
In Tales from Michigan Stadium, Volume II Cannavino shares a great story about the 1980 Ohio State game. “In my senior year we were playing Ohio State in Columbus for the Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl. I was so pumped up; it was unbelievable. I didn’t even know where I was half the time. I was out of control. During the game at some point there was a pass near the sidelines. I tipped the ball and it rolled out-of-bounds on the Ohio State sidelines near Earle Bruce. When I got up, Bruce was about 5 feet away. I don’t know what came over me but I got up real quick, flipped him the bird, stared at him and said something stupid. Believe me I’m not proud of it. I was out of my mind in that game.”
#6 – Jarrett Irons: A two-time team captain and All-Big Ten selection, Irons was also a 1996 All American. He was a model of consistency during his 4 year Michigan career (1993-96). As a freshmen he recorded 95 tackles. He followed that up with three straight seasons of 100 or more tackles (115, 109, 100).
Irons career total of 440 tackles is second in school history. He also ranks tied for second with 19 career double-digit tackle games. In his career Irons also forced four fumbles and recovered four fumbles.
#5 – Calvin O’Neal: A two-time All-Big Ten selection and a 1976 consensus All American O’Neal is one of the finest linebackers to ever play for Michigan. In a 1976 game at Purdue O’Neal set a Michigan record that still stands, with 24 tackles. He topped 150 tackles in a season twice with 153 in 1976 and 151 in 1975. Those two seasons rank as the 6th and 8th best in school history.
O’Neal ranks 7th All Time with 378 career tackles. He also had 16 games in his career in which he notched double-digit tackles.
In addition to being an All American in 1976 O’Neal was also a co captain for Coach Bo Schembechler.
#4 – Larry Foote: Foote was a two-time All-Big Ten performer and in 2001 was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and an All American. In his senior year Foote tied the school record with 26 TFLs (that record was later broken by Shawn Crable).
On October 27, 2001 in a game at Iowa, Foote had one of the finest defensive games in Michigan history. He tallied 15 tackles in the game including a school record seven TFLs to go along with three sacks and a pass break up. Earlier that same season in a game at Washington Foote recorded 12 tackles and six TFLs.
In his career Foote totaled 212 tackles. He also ranks sixth All Time with 44 career TFLs.
Foote was selected in the fourth round of the 2002 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers and won two Super Bowls.
#3 – Erick Anderson: Anderson is the first Michigan player to lead the team in tackles for four years (1988-91). He was an excellent tackler who racked up tackles in astounding numbers. Anderson notched 19 games in his career with double-digit tackles which is good for a second place tie on the all-time list. He recorded 428 tackles in his Michigan career which places him third in school history.
Anderson earned All American honors in 1991 and was the Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Year. Anderson is the only Michigan player to ever receive the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker.
#2 – Germany Schulz: Although his position is listed as a center it is important to remember that he played at a time (1904-05 and 1907-08) when players played both sides of the ball and usually played all 60 minutes of a game. Schulz was the first lineman to play in back of the line on defense; he is credited as football’s first linebacker.
In his Michigan career he played in all 51 games and played in every minute of 50 of those games. In his final game, against Penn in 1908, Schulz injured his hip, was kneed in the abdomen, and hurt his hand. Yet he kept playing until the referee called time out and ordered him to leave the game with ten minutes left.
After that game Fielding Yost said, “He (Schulz) gave the greatest one man exhibition of courage I ever saw on a football field.”
Schulz was a 1907 All American and named to the AP All Time All American team in 1951.
Grantland Rice wrote: “Schulz stands as the fastest giant who ever played football, a human bulwark fast enough to tackle at either end, as he brought down his man after the manner of a hawk snaring a quail.”
#1 – Ron Simpkins: Simpkins was a tackling machine during his playing days at Michigan (1976-79). He still holds the records for most tackles in a season (174) and most career tackles (516). In addition to the most tackles in a single season Simpkins also has the third and tenth best tackling seasons in Michigan history with 168 and 150 tackles respectively. In Michigan’s 14-6 victory over Ohio State in 1977 Simpkins tallied 20 tackles in the game. His 25 games with double-digit tackles is the best in school history.
Simpkins was a three-time All-Big Ten selection and he was a consensus All American in 1979. Additionally he was voted the team MVP in that 1979 season.
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