Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Counting down the top Pitt football players of the last 40 years- No.7 Mark May


I will be counting down my own list of the top 50 Pitt football players since 1972.  I have spent time doing a lot of research and talking to a lot of people when formulating this list, but ultimately it is MY opinion.  The great thing about lists like this is that people will disagree, and feel free to, but just remember that there is no right answer so there's no need to go crazy if you do disagree.  I will post this same intro with all 50 bios because I know the one time I don't, people will complain about not knowing what criteria I used.  I will add at least one a day, maybe two.  

My criteria for selecting the order is as follows:

1.  Productivity.
2.  Talent.
3.  Place in program history.
4.  Only the player's careers while at Pitt are considered, not their NFL careers. 
5.  No current players.



7.  Mark May (1977-80)-  Part of the great 1977 incoming class and 1980 graduating class, the native of upstate New York was one of the best offensive lineman to be ever play college football.

May was a hit right off the bat, using his great size and strength.  He lettered as a true freshman and made his first start in the Gator Bowl that season.  The next three seasons he started at right tackle and did not give up a sack in his final two seasons.  As a senior, he became a unanimous first team All-American and Pitt's first, and still only, Outland Trophy winner.  In 2005, he was elected into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Taken by the Washington Redskins with the 20th pick of the first round, May played 12 seasons, mostly with the Redskins, where he also picked up one All-Pro selection and two Super Bowl rings.

Today May is a popular college football analyst for ESPN.

Counting down the top Pitt football players of the last 40 years- No.8 Craig Heyward


I will be counting down my own list of the top 50 Pitt football players since 1972.  I have spent time doing a lot of research and talking to a lot of people when formulating this list, but ultimately it is MY opinion.  The great thing about lists like this is that people will disagree, and feel free to, but just remember that there is no right answer so there's no need to go crazy if you do disagree.  I will post this same intro with all 50 bios because I know the one time I don't, people will complain about not knowing what criteria I used.  I will add at least one a day, maybe two.  

My criteria for selecting the order is as follows:

1.  Productivity.
2.  Talent.
3.  Place in program history.
4.  Only the player's careers while at Pitt are considered, not their NFL careers. 
5.  No current players.




8.  Craig Heyward (1984-87)- Overweight, volatile, unpredictable.  All terms that have been used many times to describe this legendary Panther, but he was also once of the most uniquely talented players to ever play college football.

As a freshman he was 260 pounds, but already showed amazing quickness and speed to go with his unreal strength.  He also started to show production by running for  a team high 539 yards and a 4.4 average.  Unfortunately his problems off the field started to become numerous and he was suspended the next season.  He came back as a sophomore two years later to add another 756 yards, for a 4.4 avg., and 8 touchdowns.  He also started to show his great hands with 29 catches.  That season also featured what was probably Heyward's best game of his career.  Against No. 1 Miami, FL, Ironhead sloshed his way to 254 yards even though he was the only weapon the Panthers had in a 37-10 drubbing.

But it wasn't until his junior season that the legend was truly formed.  Approaching nearly 300 pounds, Ironhead beat the living hell out of opponents.  It started with a road game against always tough BYU.  Heyward plowed for 133 yards rushing, caught two passes for 66 yards, and threw a 17-yard touchdown pass.  On one of his receptions, Heyward hurdled a defensive back on the way to a 40-yard gain.  The play is still talked about as one of the most impressive plays that any Pitt player has ever made.

All season the Panthers leaned on their massive superstar.  Barely clinging to a 10-6 lead at undermanned Navy, Heyward practically singlehandedly won the game with 140 carries on 37 carries. Included in that performance was a game synching 4th and 1 that was one of the best one yard runs in the history of football as Heyward shook off half the Navy team in the backfield before fighting, seemingly endlessly, to get the one yard he needed. In a 17-0 run against Rutgers he ran the ball 41 times for 175 yards, and never had a run longer than 11 yards.  In a 28-5 win over Kent State he ran for  259 yards and 3 touchdowns.  Head coach of Kent State at the time, Glen Mason, said of his players trying to bring down Heyward, "It was like a semi-truck running into a Volkswagen."

Heyward ended the regular season with 1,655 yards, second best in the nation, and had a 4.6 avg., 11 rushing touchdowns, and 21 more catches.  Including the bowl game, Heyward ran for 1,791 yards and ran for over 100 yards in each game, something that was only done seven times previously.  Six of those previous seven won the Heisman that season.  But Heyward ended the season finishing 5th in the Heisman voting while also becoming a consensus first team All-American.

Unfortunately for Pitt, Heyward petitioned the NFL to leave Pitt a year early, and he got wish, forever robbing Panthers fans of seeing what could be accomplished with one more season. He was taken in the 1st round by the New Orleans Saints and played 11 seasons for five teams, while also earning one Pro Bowl visit.  Heyward was diagnosed with bone cancer in 1998 and died in 2006 at the age of 39.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Counting down the top Pitt football players of the last 40 years- No.9 Rickey Jackson


I will be counting down my own list of the top 50 Pitt football players since 1972.  I have spent time doing a lot of research and talking to a lot of people when formulating this list, but ultimately it is MY opinion.  The great thing about lists like this is that people will disagree, and feel free to, but just remember that there is no right answer so there's no need to go crazy if you do disagree.  I will post this same intro with all 50 bios because I know the one time I don't, people will complain about not knowing what criteria I used.  I will add at least one a day, maybe two.  

My criteria for selecting the order is as follows:

1.  Productivity.
2.  Talent.
3.  Place in program history.
4.  Only the player's careers while at Pitt are considered, not their NFL careers. 
5.  No current players.




9.  Rickey Jackson (1977-80)- He was always considered "that other defensive end for Pitt" as in "that other defensive end for Pitt is pretty good, too".  That's what happens when you are the end on a team with Hugh Green.  But ultimately, of course, Jackson was considered great in his own right.

It didn't start off that way, however.  Despite playing in his first two seasons, which is admittedly a remarkable accomplishment on such a loaded team, it wasn't until his junior season that the Florida resident really turned it on.  That year Jackson accumulated 111 tackles and 4 sacks.  In his senior year, he finally removed all doubt about just how good he was when he ended the season with an incredible 137 tackles (14 more than Green), 12 sacks, four pass breakups, four forced fumbles, and even an interception.  He even scored two 2-point conversions on trick plays.

Jackson was especially great at the end of the season.  In the second to last regular season game, Jackson was the national defensive player of the week after he had 12 tackles, 3 sacks, intercepted a pass, caused a fumble, and blocked a punt in a 45-7 win at Army.  In a 14-9 Pitt regular season finale win over No. 5 Penn State, Jackson had 13 solo tackles and was named the game's most outstanding player.  In his last game, against South Carolina and Heisman winner George Rogers in the Gator Bowl, Jackson led the defense with 19 tackles, 15 of them against Rogers.  The defense, fired up because of Green losing to Rogers in the Heisman voting, kept the Gamecocks running back in check on the way to a 37-9 win.

After the season Jackson was drafted in the 2nd round by the New Orleans Saints.  He eventually went to six Pro Bowls and was named All-Pro six times.  He even got a Super Bowl ring later in his career with the San Francisco 49ers.  In 2010, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, forever ending the description of him as "the other defensive end".