So here was the idea. In 2006, we ranked the top 100 Florida football players on the 100th anniversary of Florida football. A lot of players have been stars since then, so let’s re-rank them. But that would mean kicking some of those players to the curb. So instead, we give you this as you try to take your minds off things — the Top 10 Gators at each position over the last 114 years of football. This is the ninth of a 13-part series.
Today — Linebackers.
Up next — Cornerbacks.
- Wilber Marshall (1980-83) — He’s the best defensive player in Florida history. His one-man destruction of Southern Cal’s offense in 1982 on national television was just the start for this dominant defender. Marshall went on to become a two-time consensus All-American and ended his career as UF’s all-time sack leader at the time with 23. He’s in UF’s Ring of Honor and the College Football Hall of Fame.
- Jevon Kearse (1996-98) — The first UF football player to be labeled “The Freak.” It was an appropriate nickname because he had freakish size, speed and athletic ability. He used that combination to put together a dominant season his senior year in which he earned first-team All-American honors and was named the SEC defensive player of the year.
- Brandon Spikes (2006-09) — His combination of size, speed and power was special, but his biggest asset may have been his instincts. He had a great nose for the football. And when he found it, he blew up plays all over the field. A two-time first-team All-American in 2008-09, Spikes finished his career with 307 tackles, 31.5 tackles for losses, 14 pass breakups and 6.5 sacks. He’s the only player in school history to return four interceptions for touchdowns.
- Scot Brantley (1976-79) — Coming out of Ocala, Brantley was one of the highest-rated defensive players signed by the Gators. He lived up to the hype, starting as a true freshman in 1976, but never playing like one. He was a tough, hard-nosed, old-school linebacker who punished the man with the ball. He was a two-time All-SEC performer who had his career cut short by a serious head injury in the second game of his senior season.
- Ralph Ortega (1972-74) — He was one of UF’s most dominant defensive players in the 1970s, earning All-SEC honors his junior and senior seasons and first-team All-American honors his senior year. For his career, he piled up 357 tackles, forced 12 fumbles and recovered eight and intercepted five passes.
- David Little (1977-80) — The younger brother of Miami Dolphins’ All-Pro offensive guard Larry Little, David made his name on the other side of the ball, where he was a proverbial tackling machine. A three-year starter, Little was a first-team All-American his senior season. For his career, he intercepted nine passes and recorded 375 tackles.
- Sammy Green (1972-75) — He was a little bit of an athletic freak like Kearse. He was big enough and strong enough to line up at nose tackle, where he did in certain situations, and fast enough and athletic enough to make plays from sideline to sideline from his middle linebacker spot. He was named an All-American after a senior season in which he piled up an incredible 202 tackles. He averaged eight tackles a game during his career.
- Alonzo Johnson (1981-85) — His playing style was similar to Marshall’s — and his results were about the same. A dominant player coming off the edge, he was a two-time All-American who finished his career with the school record for sacks with 27. His 12 sacks and 19 tackles for losses in 1985 were single-season UF records.
- Clifford Charlton (1984-87) — Here’s another top defensive player who followed the Marshall plan at UF coming off the edge. He was a two-time All-SEC performer who was named an All-American in his senior season. He finished his career with 25 sacks and 49 tackles for losses, the third most in school history.
- Mike Peterson (1995-98) — A local kid (Alachua) who went on to do big things for the Gators. Always a model of consistency throughout his career, Peterson turned things up his senior year and had a sensational season that saw him pile up 127 tackles, second most in the SEC, and earn All-American and All-SEC honors. He went on to play 14 seasons in the NFL (Falcons, Jaguars and Colts).