Category:American football middle linebackers
Pages in category "American football middle linebackers"
The following 55 pages are in this category, out of 55 total. This list may not reflect recent changes (learn more).
The following 55 pages are in this category, out of 55 total. This list may not reflect recent changes (learn more).
1. Brian Urlacher – Brian Urlacher is a former American football linebacker who spent his entire 13-year career playing for the Chicago Bears of the National Football League. He played college football for the University of New Mexico, where he was recognized as a consensus All-American, the Bears selected Urlacher with the ninth overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. Urlacher quickly established himself as one of the NFLs most productive defensive players, after winning the NFL Rookie of the Year Award in 2000, he was elected to eight Pro Bowls, and won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 2005. His playing style, accomplishments and reputation have made him one of the teams most popular players, after retiring from professional football, he was briefly an analyst for Fox Sports 1. Urlacher was born to Bradley and Lavoyda Urlacher in Pasco, Washington, after his parents separated, Lavoyda raised Urlacher and his siblings in Lovington, New Mexico. He spent his youth immersed in sports, and developed an interest in football, basketball, track and later table tennis, while his mother worked several jobs to keep her family afloat, Urlacher spent his teenage years playing sports for Lovington High School and training in weight rooms. The training helped Urlacher gain the speed, stamina, and strength he would need to solidify his football career, as he progressed through high school, Urlacher gained experience in all three phases of football. He saw playing time as a back, wide receiver, return specialist. Urlacher led the Lovington High School Wildcats to an undefeated 14–0 season, and he finished the season with twelve touchdown receptions, six touchdown returns, and two rushing touchdowns. He additionally merited state-recognized honors in football, as well as basketball, Lovington has since recognized Urlachers accomplishments by retiring his high-school jersey number, and naming a holiday after him. Urlacher wanted to attend Texas Tech University, but the school did not offer him an athletic scholarship, Urlacher enrolled at the University of New Mexico, majored in criminology, and played for the New Mexico Lobos football team. The Lobos head coach, Dennis Franchione, converted Urlacher to linebacker, the team finished with winning records during Urlachers first two years and even made a trip to the 1997 Insight. com Bowl. The teams success prompted Franchione to leave New Mexico in favor of Texas Christian University and his departure prompted the school to hire Rocky Long, a former coach at UCLA. Urlacher not only received more playing time, but also played a versatile role on both offense and defense. Long converted Urlacher into a Lobo-Back, a cross between a linebacker and free safety, and placed him in a 3-3-5 defense scheme and he spent significant time training with the teams defensive coordinator, Bronco Mendenhall, who helped Urlacher refine his skills as a defensive back. Long also used Urlacher as a return specialist and wide throughout his final two years with the Lobos. Despite Longs extensive changes to the roster, formations, and work ethic. However, Urlacher became one of the teams most productive players during this time and he finished his career with 442 tackles, three interceptions,11 sacks, and 11 forced fumbles
2. Ray Nitschke – Raymond Ernest Nitschke was a professional American football middle linebacker who spent his entire 15-year National Football League career with the Green Bay Packers. Born in Elmwood Park, Illinois, Nitschke was the youngest of three sons to Robert and Anna Nitschke and his father was killed in a car accident in 1940, and his mother died of a blood clot when Ray was 13. Older brothers Robert Jr. and Richard decided they would raise Ray on their own, Nitschke entered Proviso High School in Maywood shortly before his mothers death. The loss of both parents enraged Nitschke, and the lack of a parental disciplinarian to quell his rage caused him to engage in fights with other kids in the neighborhood, during his freshman year at Proviso, he played fullback on one of the schools three football teams. He was a student and his grades eventually caught up with him as he was declared academically ineligible to play sports his sophomore year. He would lament this embarrassment for the rest of his life and he succeeded in raising his grades sufficiently enough in his sophomore year to allow him to play sports his junior year, when he had grown significantly. He starred on the varsity team, playing quarterback on offense. He played varsity basketball and was a pitcher and left fielder for the varsity baseball team and his baseball skills brought him an offer from the professional St. Louis Browns with a $3,000 signing bonus. Nitschke was also offered scholarships from college football programs around the country, Puplis advised him to accept a football scholarship. Due to his desire to play at a Big Ten college, with a chance to play in the Rose Bowl, while attending the University of Illinois, Nitschke smoked, drank heavily, and fought at the drop of a hat. Never a good student in school, his grades suffered at college. Similar to his contemporary, Jerry Kramer, Nitschke was ostracized by his professors because he attended the university as the result of a football scholarship, in a game against Ohio State in the 1956 season Nitschke lost his four front teeth on the opening kick-off. Nitschke never wore a mask and one of the Buckeyes players helmets hit him in the mouth knocking out two teeth initially, the other two were hanging by the roots. He played the rest of the game, at this time, college football had reverted to primarily single-platoon football, meaning those players that were on offense had to switch to defense, and vice versa, when ball possession changed. He proved to be a skilled player and tackler as a linebacker, so much so that, by his senior year. Growing up in the outskirts of Chicago, Nitschke had idolized the Bears and this draft included two other significant Packers of the 1960s, fullback Jim Taylor of LSU and right guard Jerry Kramer of Idaho. Their rookie season in 1958 was dismal as the Packers with just one win, Nitschke wore number 66 his entire career with the Packers. A month after the 1958 season ended, Vince Lombardi was hired as head coach, Nitschke became a full-time starter in 1962, the anchor of a disciplined defense that helped win five NFL titles and the first two Super Bowls in the 1960s
3. London Fletcher – London Levi Fletcher is a former American football linebacker who played in the National Football League. He played college football at John Carroll, and signed with the St. Louis Rams as a free agent in 1998. Fletcher also played for the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins, Fletcher was well known for never missing a game in his career, being one of only four players in NFL history to play in over 250 consecutive games. Fletcher also holds the record for starts at the linebacker position. He eventually finished his career with 215 consecutive games started, which ties him for 6th all time along with Alan Page, Fletcher attended Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School in Cleveland, Ohio, and won varsity letters in football and basketball. He played on two state championship basketball teams, while attending John Carroll University, Fletcher played both basketball and football for the John Carroll Blue Streaks. As a senior, he had 202 tackles and was named the Division III National Linebacker of the Year, Fletcher also attended Saint Francis University of Pennsylvania before transferring to John Carroll University. He was on the basketball team while at Saint Francis. Fletcher signed with the St. Louis Rams as a free agent on April 28,1998. He was one of the two free agents to make Rams’ opening day roster, playing in all 16 regular season games. Fletcher earned the Rams Rookie of the Year Award, in 1999, Fletcher led the Rams in tackles after winning the starting middle linebacker position during training camp. His 138 tackles for the season were the most by a Ram since Roman Phifer collected 149 in the 1995 season and he also started at linebacker for the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV, in which the Rams defeated the Titans 23-16. He also was named to the All-Madden team and as an alternate to the Pro Bowl for the first time. In 2000, he led the team with 193 tackles. Fletcher earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for the first time in his career after making 14 tackles and he established season and career highs in sacks, interceptions and quarterback pressures, along with a forced fumble and was again an alternate to the Pro Bowl. In 2001, Fletcher earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors twice and was an alternate to the pro bowl for the third straight season, in a game against the San Francisco 49ers on September 23, he led the team with a career-high 21 tackles,15 solo. The second time was after his big performance against the New England Patriots on November 18 as he led the team with 17 tackles with one pass deflection. He forced a fumble on the Rams’ three-yard line that led to a 97-yard scoring drive to end the first half and intercepted a Tom Brady pass with 5,18 left in the third quarter for an 18-yard return
4. Zach Thomas – Zachary Michael Thomas is a former American college and professional football player who was a middle linebacker in the National Football League for thirteen seasons. He played college football for Texas Tech University, and was recognized as a unanimous All-American and he was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the fifth round of the 1996 NFL Draft, and played for the Dolphins his first twelve seasons in the NFL. He was selected to the Pro Bowl seven times and recorded 1,100 tackles, Thomas was born in Pampa, Texas. He attended White Deer Schools in White Deer, Texas until he was a sophomore then transferred to Pampa High School in his junior year and he was a standout high school football player and was named a first-team all-state selection as a senior. Thomas attended Texas Tech University, where he was a starter at linebacker for the Texas Tech Red Raiders football team. As a junior in 1994, he was a first-team All-American, as a senior in 1995, he was a unanimous first-team All-American, the Southwest Conference Defensive Player of the Year, and a finalist for the Butkus Award. Thomas is one of 5 Red Raiders to be named a Unanimous All-American along with Mark Bounds, Byron Hanspard, Michael Crabtree and he recorded 390 tackles, including a career-high 131 tackles and a school-record 20 tackles against Missouri in his senior season. Thomas and his brother Bart were the pair of brothers to be named first-team All-Southwest Conference selections in the same year. Thomas was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2015, on July 3,1996, Thomas agreed to a three-year $577,000 deal with Miami. He was a Pro Bowl alternate and an All-Rookie selection in 1996, in 1997 Thomas totaled 128 tackles while playing and starting 15 games. In 1998 Thomas made All-Pro for the first time, making 133 tackles, a sack, on February 13,1999, Thomas signed a five-year, $22.5 million contract to remain with the Dolphins. Thomass $6.5 million in salary and bonus made him the Dolphins highest paid player, in 1999 Thomas had 133 tackles and was All-Pro for the second straight season. The following year he had 99 tackles due to missing 5 games, in 2001 he had 155 tackles,3 sacks,2 interceptions 2 forced fumbles and defensed four passes and was a First-team All-Pro for the third time. His numbers were similar in 2002 as he made All-Pro for the time in five seasons. Thomas signed a five-year, $33.75 million contract extension with the Miami Dolphins on March 27,2003, Thomas was entering the last year of the five-year, $22.5 million contract he signed prior to the 1999 season. Thomas responded with 153 tackles and 3 interceptions and his fifth All-Pro selection in six years and he has also been selected First- and Second-Team All-Pro seven times. Thomass tenure with the Dolphins ended on February 14,2008, on February 23,2008, after contract offers from the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots, Thomas decided to sign in principle with the Dallas Cowboys to a one-year, $3 million contract. The deal included a $1 million base salary, a $1 million signing bonus, an unrestricted free agent in the 2009 offseason, Thomas agreed to terms with the Kansas City Chiefs on April 11,2009
5. Linebacker – A linebacker is a playing position in American football and Canadian football. Linebackers are members of the team, and line up approximately three to five yards behind the line of scrimmage, behind the defensive linemen, and therefore back up the line. Linebackers generally align themselves before the ball is snapped by standing upright in a two point stance, the goal of the linebacker is to provide either extra run protection or extra pass protection based on the particular defensive play being executed. Another key play of the position is blitzing. A blitz occurs when a linebacker acts as a pass rusher running into any exposed gap. When a blitz is called by the defense, it is mainly to sack or hurry the opposing offenses quarterback. Linebackers are often regarded as the most important position in defence, due to their versatility in providing hard hits on running plays or a layer of pass protection. Similar to the safety position, linebackers are required to use their judgment on every snap. Before the advent of the two platoon system with units for offense and defense, the player who was the teams center on offense was often, though not always. Hence today one usually sees four defensive linemen to the five or more. Most sources claim coach Fielding H. Yost and center Germany Schulz of the University of Michigan invented the position, Schulz was Yosts first linebacker in 1904 when he stood up from his usual position on the line. Yost was horrified at first, but came to see the wisdom in Schulzs innovation, william Dunn of Penn St. was another Western linebacker soon after Schulz. However, there are historical claims tied to the linebacker position. For example, Percy Given of Georgetown is another center with a claim to the title first linebacker, despite Given, most sources have the first linebacker in the South as Frank Juhan of Sewanee. In the East, Ernest Cozens of Penn was one of the first of the centers, another, archaic term for the position. Walter E. Bachman of Lafayette was said to be the developer of the roving center concept, edgar Garbisch of Army was credited with developing the roving center method of playing defensive football in 1921. In professional football, Cal Hubbard is credited with pioneering the linebacker position and he starred as a tackle and end, playing off the line in a style similar to that of a modern linebacker. The middle or inside linebacker, sometimes called Mike or Mohr, is referred to as the quarterback of the defense
6. Keith Brooking – Keith Howard Brooking is a former American football linebacker in the National Football League. He was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the first round of the 1998 NFL Draft and also played for the Dallas Cowboys and he played college football at Georgia Tech. Brooking was a five-time Pro Bowl selection with the Falcons, Brooking graduated from East Coweta High School in Sharpsburg, Georgia in 1994. He played both offense and defense as #35, was a member of the Key Club and was also voted Mr. ECHS and he was recruited to play college football by the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. He started 34 straight games to end his career as he led the team in tackles during his final three seasons at Georgia Tech and became the leading tackler in Georgia Tech history. He had two of the best tackle seasons in history with 147 and 146, respectively, as a junior. Brooking had 131 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, three passes defensed, one fumble recovery and one blocked field goal to lead Tech to a Bowl game as a senior, voted a permanent team captain by his teammates and a finalist for the Dick Butkus Award. He was the top tackler in the ACC in 1995 after averaging 13.3 stops a game, finished his collegiate career with 15 tackles and one interception to help the Yellow Jackets defeat West Virginia in the Carquest Bowl. He is remembered one of the greatest players to play at Georgia Tech. After being the 12th overall selection by the Falcons in the 1998 NFL Draft and he recorded 8 tackles in the NFC Championship game vs Minnesota Vikings, when the Falcons reached the Super Bowl XXXIII, but Atlanta fell to the Broncos 34-19. After that season, in 1999, he started 13 games, finished with 95 tackles and his first career start was against the Vikings, recording 8 tackles, and his first career sack was against Baltimore, sacking Stoney Case. During the 2000 season, Brooking was placed in the Injury Reserve after suffering a foot in a game vs Philadelphia. He finished with 39 tackles,1 sack and 1 forced fumble and he led the Falcons with 167 tackles and registered 2 interceptions,2 forced fumbles,2 fumble recoveries,9 passes defended and 3.5 sacks. This season he was named to the Pro Bowl, becoming the first Falcon Pro Bowler since 1998, in 2002, Brooking became the fifth Falcons player to total 200 tackles in a season, following Tommy Nobis, Fulton Kuykendall, Buddy Curry and Jessie Tuggle. He also established a new career-high with 22 tackles vs Green Bay Packers, the 22 tackles were the most by a Falcons player since Jessie Tuggle had 22 vs. New Orleans on September 29,1991, was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts vs, New Orleans Saints when he collected 15 stops and one fumble recovery. He blocked his first career blocked field goal against the Vikings to Veteran kicker Gary Anderson and he earned second straight Pro Bowl after leading the team with a career-high 212 tackles, also added 2 interceptions,2 fumble recoveries and 1 forced fumble. In 2003, was named to his third consecutive Pro Bowl after registering a team-high 207 total tackles and career-high 130 solo stops in 16 starts and posting two fumble recoveries
7. Jerod Mayo – Jerod Mayo Sr is a former American football linebacker who spent his entire National Football League career playing for the New England Patriots. He played college football for the University of Tennessee, Mayo was drafted by the Patriots tenth overall in the 2008 NFL Draft, and was named the 2008 AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Mayo was born in Hampton, Virginia and he attended Kecoughtan High School in Hampton, where he earned three letters in football as a linebacker and a running back. As a senior, Mayo recorded 110 tackles, including 18 for loss, also playing running back for seven games, he picked up 1,245 rushing yards and scored 13 touchdowns and five two-point conversions during his final campaign. As a junior, he recorded 68 tackles including 22 for loss, four interceptions, considered a four-star recruit by Rivals. com, Mayo ranked eleventh among outside linebackers nationwide. Chose Tennessee over North Carolina State, Purdue, Virginia, jerods younger brother, Deron Mayo is a linebacker for the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. While attending the University of Tennessee, Mayo played for the Tennessee Volunteers football team from 2004 to 2007, after redshirting the 2004 season, he appeared in six games at weak-side outside linebacker in 2005, finishing with 13 tackles. Mayo made the Volunteers starting lineup as a sophomore in 2006. He finished third on the team with 83 tackles, including five sacks for minus 40 yards,12.5 stops for losses of 51 yards and he also recovered one fumble and deflected a pass. Rivals. com subsequently named him to their All-American second team, for his junior season, Mayo moved to middle linebacker and started all 14 games. Serving as the defensive squads co-captain, he went on to register 140 tackles in 2007 and he added 1.5 quarterback sacks for minus 11 yards,8.5 stops for losses and five quarterback pressures, and also returned an interception 34 yards for a touchdown. Mayo was a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection and also earned All-American second-team honors by The NFL Draft Report, Mayo was considered one of the best linebackers available in the 2008 NFL Draft and drew comparisons to Will Witherspoon. Sporting News described Mayo as a fit to play one of the inside spots” in a 3-4 defense. Mayo was drafted by the New England Patriots in the first round with the tenth pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. He was signed on July 24,2008, to a contract worth $18.9 million. Mayo was the rookie in the Patriots 2008 class to start in Week 1. Mayo was named the NFLs Defensive Rookie of the Month for October 2008 and he led the Patriots with 24 tackles for the month, including 11 against the Denver Broncos in his first Monday Night Football appearance. Mayo was injured in the Patriots 2009 season opener against the Buffalo Bills, the sprained MCL in his knee was originally expected to keep him out 6–8 weeks, but he returned in Week 5 against the Denver Broncos
8. Antonio Pierce – Antonio Durran Pierce is a retired American football linebacker who played in the National Football League for nine seasons. He played college football for the University of Arizona and he was signed by the Washington Redskins as an undrafted free agent, and also played for the New York Giants. He is currently the coach at Long Beach Polytechnic High School. Pierce played high school football at Paramount High School in Paramount and he played two years of football at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, California, before transferring to the University of Arizona. As a senior at Arizona, he had three sacks,77 tackles, two forced fumbles, one interception, and one blocked kick. Pierce was not taken in the 2001 NFL Draft after his year at Arizona because many NFL scouts considered him too undersized to play linebacker in the NFL. The Washington Redskins signed him as a rookie free agent in 2001. He played in all 16 games as a rookie, with eight starts. He recorded 52 tackles, one sack, and one interception during his rookie campaign, the interception came against Jake Plummer. Over the next two seasons, Pierce played sporadically, recording only 18 and 15 tackles respectively, during the 2002 and 2003 seasons and it was not until the 2004 season, his fourth in the league, that he played a full season replacing the injured Micheal Barrow. That season Pierce logged a career high 114 tackles,95 of them solo and he also had one forced fumble, one sack and two interceptions, including a pick off Ken Dorsey returned 76 yards for a touchdown. The New York Giants signed Pierce on March 3,2005 to start at middle linebacker and he became the captain of the defense, and in 13 games, Pierce notched 100 tackles,80 of them solo, two interceptions and one forced fumble returned for a touchdown. In 2006, Pierce recorded a career-high 138 tackles, a sack, an interception, Pierce was named as a first alternate for the Pro Bowl. He was invited to play in Hawaii after Brian Urlacher suffered a toe injury in Super Bowl XLI, in the 2007 season, Pierce was a central figure in the Giants path to their third Super Bowl title. The Giants would go on to win in overtime, Pierce was released on February 11,2010. Following his release, Pierce announced his retirement from football on July 8,2010 and he also stated that he would then begin his career as an NFL analyst for ESPN. Pierce is married to Jocelyn and the father of six. He currently resides in Palos Verdes Estates, California and his father, Cleo Burrows is from Bermuda. Inspired by his own growing up in Compton, it has become his mission to improve the quality of life for the youth in the Long Beach/Compton area
9. Mike Singletary – Michael Singletary is an American football coach and former professional football player. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998, Singletary later pursued a career as a coach, first as a linebackers coach for the Baltimore Ravens, then as the linebackers coach for the San Francisco 49ers. Singletary was born in Houston, Texas, the last of ten children and he attended high school at Evan E. Worthing High School in Houston, where he was a star football player. Mike Singletarys father, Charles, was a preacher in Dallas. The family soon settled in Houston, Mike, along with his father, Charles, mother, Rudell, and several brothers and sisters, shared a small wood frame home. Next to their home was a called the Church of God, a church that Charles Singletary built himself. During the week, Mikes father worked as a contractor, tragedy would soon strike the family. Dale Singletary, the third oldest child, died unexpectedly, Dale had been sleeping in a room with James, another brother. Charles Jr. noticed a smell coming from the room. By the time Mike and Charles Jr. were able to break a window, as his relationship with his father drifted, Mikes brother Grady stepped in. Grady filled the void, telling young Mike to stay away from things like drinking beer, Mikes interest in playing football piqued each Sunday, as he would watch the Dallas Cowboys, and idolized players like Roger Staubach, Bob Lilly, and Lee Roy Jordan. Grady, the man who Mike Singletary had looked up at as a figure, was killed in a six car accident caused by a drunk driver. The drunk driver was the one who survived the accident. In ninth grade, Mike was a guard and linebacker. Michael Thomas, Mikes brother-in-law, began to attend all of Mikes games, as Mike became a star for Worthing High School, an all-black high school, Mikes mother became a regular at the football games. Despite early concerns about poor grades affecting Mikes eligibility to play football, after a star career at Worthing, Mike found himself with a scholarship to Baylor University, and would meet the next mentor in his life, Baylor coach Grant Teaff. Singletary attended college at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, during Singletarys senior season of 1980, Baylor won 10 games, marking the first time in school history that had been accomplished. Singletary is the college junior to be selected to the All-Southwest Conference Team of the 1970s
10. Jeremiah Trotter – Jeremiah Trotter is a former American football linebacker who played in the National Football League for twelve seasons. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the round of the 1998 NFL Draft. He played college football at Stephen F. Austin State University, Trotter is one of just four linebackers in Eagles history to earn four or more Pro Bowl invitations, joining Chuck Bednarik, Maxie Baughan and Bill Bergey in that select group. Trotter has also been a member of the Washington Redskins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Trotter attended Hooks High School in Hooks, Texas and was a letterman in football. In football, he was a three-time all district honoree and was named the District MVP as a senior, Trotter was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the third round of the 1998 NFL Draft. In his first year with the Eagles as a backup, he recorded six tackles. In his second season, newly hired Head Coach Andy Reid named Trotter the starting middle linebacker, over the next three seasons, he led the team in tackles. In four seasons with the Eagles, he had accumulated 361 tackles, nine sacks, five interceptions and he also made two straight Pro Bowls in the 2000 and 2001 seasons. Trotter and the Eagles defense ranked second in the NFL in 2001, the Eagles would go to the NFC Championship that year for the first time since 1980, but lost to the St. Louis Rams. Following the loss, Trotter became a free agent and he was designated with the franchise tag by the Eagles, but after failing to agree on a contract, became a free agent. Trotter signed a seven-year, $36 million contract with the Washington Redskins on April 19,2002, on June 1,2004, after just two seasons into his contract, Trotter was released. In his two seasons with the Redskins, Trotter recorded over 200 tackles and 1.5 sacks, Trotter returned to the Eagles for the 2004 season, signing a one-year contract worth the veteran minimum. Prior to re-signing Trotter, the Eagles run defense was among the worst in the NFL, Trotter became the starter midway through the 2004 season, and immediately improved the defense. At the end of the season, Trotter re-signed with the Eagles to a contract worth $15 million. During the 2005 season opener, about 40 minutes before kickoff between the Eagles and Atlanta Falcons, Trotter and Falcons cornerback Kevin Mathis got into a fight during pregame warmups, after officials reviewed video to see who instigated the fight, both Trotter and Mathis were ejected before kickoff. Terry Bradshaw said about the incident, No ones been thrown out of a house that fast since my last divorce, the fight led to an NFL rules change where non-kickers cannot enter a neutral zone between the 45-yard-lines prior to the game. Trotter was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2005, being the only Eagle to be voted outright by the fans that season and he was once again named to the Pro Bowl in 2006. On August 21,2007, the Philadelphia Eagles released the veteran linebacker from the remainder of his second contract, the position of middle linebacker was filled by two-year veteran Omar Gaither
11. Patrick Willis – Patrick L. Willis is a former American football linebacker who played his entire eight-year career with the San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League. He was drafted by the 49ers in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft and he played college football for the University of Mississippi and received consensus All-American honors. During Williss senior season at Ole Miss, he received the Butkus Award, a year later as a member of the 49ers, Willis led the NFL in tackles, earned first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors while being named the 2007 AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Willis made the Pro Bowl in his first seven seasons in the NFL and he won the college Butkus Award in 2006 while at Ole Miss and in 2009, he won the professional Butkus Award while with the 49ers. Born in Bruceton, Tennessee, Willis grew up in poverty and had to take care of his younger siblings. By the age of 10, he worked full-time in cotton fields. At age 17, he left his home, a double-wide in a park just outside Bruceton, with his brothers, Orey and Detris, and sister, Ernicka. The siblings moved in with Williss high school basketball coach, Willis attended Hollow Rock-Bruceton Central High School, where he was a two-time All-State selection, Regional Most Valuable Player, and West Tennessee Player of the Year. He earned four letters in football and basketball, and three in baseball and he was also the first person in Tennessee state history to be nominated for both the Mr. Football Award for a Lineman and the Mr. Football Award for a Back in the same season. Regarded as a recruit by Rivals. com, Willis was listed as the No.60 linebacker prospect in the class of 2003. He chose Ole Miss over Memphis, Willis attended the University of Mississippi, and played for the Ole Miss Rebels football team from 2003 to 2006. As a freshman at Ole Miss, Willis played in all 13 games and he received the Scholar-Athlete Award from the Ole Miss chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame. As a sophomore in 2004, he appeared in 10 of 11 games and he recorded 70 tackles, and led the team with 11.0 tackles for a loss and five sacks. In Williss 2005 junior campaign, he led the SEC in total tackles at 12.80 per game and he finished season with 128 total tackles,9.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Willis was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year by CollegeFootballNews. com and he was also named as a first-team All-American by CollegeFootballNews. com and the All-American Football Foundation. Willis earned first-team All-SEC honors from the Associated Press, SEC Coaches, CollegeFootballNews. com and he was awarded SEC Defensive Player of the Year, first-team All-SEC, and consensus first-team All-American. He was the winner of the Jack Lambert Award and the prestigious Dick Butkus Award and he also won the Conerly Trophy, voted upon by the media in Mississippi and awarded to the best college football player in Mississippi. In addition, he was a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Award and he also posted a 39-inch vertical jump and recorded 22 repetitions of the 225-lb