Wide Right: The Ten Toughest Hokie Football Players
by Jeff Cockey, 5/14/04

A while back USA Today published their Ten Toughest Athletes list. This list was comprised of athletes from every possible sport, from horse racing to golf to ice hockey. While I don�t disagree with their choice for number one, Mr. Brett Fah-va-ra, I do have to take umbrage with putting Allen Iverson at number two. Really, Iverson? First of all, the guy plays basketball, which out of the four major sports, is only the third roughest behind ice hockey and football. I would claim that Scott Stevens, who had a limb severed in the first period and came back to finish the game after reattaching his own leg Rambo-style in the locker room, should definitely unseat Iverson. Heck, Ray Lewis, Steve McNair, and even Lance Armstrong (all of which finished behind Iverson in USA Today�s list) should have been bumped ahead of the 76er. But that�s just my opinion. And you know what they say about opinions . . .

So I thought to myself, what a great idea it would be to have a Ten Toughest Tech Football Players list for all of us to debate. Now, by no means am I purposely disregarding other Tech sports, it is just that my familiarity lies mostly with our football program. Now, when I first thought of this idea for a column I had already chosen my number one player, and after pondering the question more thoroughly, I have decided that I was right from the beginning, and thus my number one has remained unchanged.

First, an honorable mention goes to all walk-on football players at Tech. I had an opportunity to know one, linebacker Steve Tate. Tate was a walk-on at Tech who later earned a scholarship and starting position due to exceptional play. Tate wasn�t the biggest backer we had, nor was he the fastest, but he possessed a scary disposition on the field and the guy could hit . . . hard. He was unafraid to meet anyone coming through the hole and usually ended up pushing them backwards. Granted, he wasn�t the most physical backer Tech has ever seen but he had superior mental toughness. To think that these guys possess the courage to walk on to a division one football team (one of Tech�s caliber at that), and play every practice and every game next to guys who had their tuition paid for by Frank and the boys is pretty cool. It is also impressive that some walk-ons earn scholarships by playing against college football players, not high school kids. And that right there is pretty tough.

So with that said, let�s take a look at our top ten:

  1. Michael Vick � I can�t not put this kid on the list. I know that extraordinary athletic ability does not necessarily translate into toughness per se, but let�s take a closer look shall we. Vick flipped into the end zone against JMU, landed the wrong way on his ankle and continued to play the rest of his college career with some sort of lower limb injury. He took hits from guys twice his size and still jumped right up and went back to the huddle. Aside from his physical toughness, take at look at this kid�s mental toughness. He led a team to the national championship in his redshirt freshman year, and almost won. He led the Hokies back in the final seconds of a close WVU game so that we could win with a field goal. That takes leadership ability and mental focus. The guy is a leader and people follow him because he leads by example. While arguably the most talented player ever to set foot in Lane stadium, he was not the toughest. Close, but not quite ...
  1. Lee Suggs � simply a power running back. The kid looked like Mighty Mouse running over linemen and backers twice his size. And when he broke through to the secondary, he morphed into Speedy Gonzalez. I have never seen anyone run so hard. He looked like he was running twice as fast as he actually was and was truly running faster than almost anyone trying to catch him. The guy was just a tough, tough kid. He sustained a major injury but didn�t let that get in his way. He rehabbed his butt off and came back stronger and better than he was before the injury � The Six Million Dollar Man. A record for most touchdowns in a single season and a desire to perform for his team, not himself, puts Suggs at number 9 on my toughest Tech list.
  1. John Engelberger � maybe the greatest story at Tech football. The guy walks-on into a position opposite Corey Moore, and dominates. Moore was great in his own right but you�re kidding yourself if you think Moore wasn�t aided by Engelberger�s tenacity coming around the other end. A walk-on-turned-dominating-starter-turned- professional-football-player for the San Francisco 49ers. You can�t not be tough to do what Engelberger has done. Oh and he always seemed, to me at least, to just be doing his job. None of this showboating crap that you see nowadays.
  1. Ben Taylor � a bone crushing hitter at linebacker. Good enough to make it to the professional level, and while that is not a criteria to get on this list, you have to know how to hit to stay there. I struggled a bit with this one. What was it that made Taylor so tough? Was it the look in his eyes when he went to make a hit? Was it the way he always seemed to know where the play was going? Or was it that he knocked the breath out of me with most of his tackles? I�m not sure, but man that guy can play.
  1. Cornell Brown � I think it can be said that Tech has had some of the most tenacious ends in college football and that continued with this guy. I remember when he left Tech. I thought that we were doomed at that position. We had just lost our pass rush and one of the most aggressive guys I had ever seen at that position. Brown was a monster on the field. I really don�t know how else to say it, the guy flew to the ball, crushed his opponent and used their splintered bones to pick the turf out of his teeth after the play. Was there ever anyone better at defensive end in Hokie history? Well . . .
  1. Bruce Smith � this guy might have had something to do with our great pass rush history. The ultimate Hokie, Bruce Smith. What can you say about this guy that hasn�t already been said? Unbelievable professional career. All-time sack leader in the NFL. And he didn�t just sprout his abilities with the Bills, he cultivated them with the Hokies. He was a pass rush monster. Watch the tapes, he had a "Fine, you can run to the other side but you are just prolonging the pain you�ll feel as soon as I catch up with you" look on every play. Just a tough, tough son of a gun. Like Jekyll and Hyde. He was Scarface on the field and Richie Cunningham off. I know what you�re thinking � if The Bruce is number five, we must have had some real bruisers at 1 through 4.
  1. Jake Grove � Nasty! A country boy that could, and would, take your head off without blinking an eye if you got in his way. Nasty attitude, nasty playing style, nasty hitting ability, nasty blocking ability, nasty mental toughness. Glad he was on our side. I am going to miss him next year and I wish him luck at the next level. The d-linemen in that division will have their hands full.
  1. George DelRicco � This guy always reminded me of Rocky. Maybe it was the Italian name. Maybe it was because he never gave up on a play no matter how far away the guy was. Maybe it was because whenever the other team had a 3rd and 1, I was never concerned about them earning it up the middle. George DelRicco was a machine at backer. A scary dude. It would have been fun to see DelRicco meet Grove at the line of scrimmage � who would you have put your money on?
  1. Corey Moore � Here he is. The most dominant defensive end Tech has ever seen. Wow, that is a huge compliment, considering we have one that will be hall of fame bound soon. Corey Moore was the guy that enabled our defense to do what they did. He would line up way outside of their tight end � so far that I thought he was insane if he thought he was going to reach the QB. Turns out I was right. The guy was insane. And you saw it in his eyes, a la Mike Singletary. Moore was the definition of tough. His physical and mental toughness allowed Tech to run defensive schemes that would have been unheard of had anyone else been in that position. Don�t believe me? Look at the past few years. I am pretty sure that if we had had the same type of pass rush as we had with Moore, we would have won a bit more often. The guy was just an animal, like Pesci in Goodfellas and Casino. He was undersized, but out of his mind and you were crazy to mess with him. I can hear him talking smack to the O-line � "You talking to me? Do I amuse you?" Just plain scary.

And the guy who, in my humble opinion, has earned the right, thus far, to be crowned the toughest guy to put on the Hokie uniform . . .

  1. Jim Druckenmiller � The absolute toughest Tech football player I can remember. I watched this quarterback run over linebackers. Not only run them over, but put them on their backs, step on their chests, and treat them like they had just kicked his dog. The guy was huge. He broke several weight-lifting records, not just for QBs but for everyone. He had an arm that could throw the ball further than any QB we have ever had, save maybe, Michael Vick. Druck could stiff-arm a Mack truck without flinching. The guy was the definition of tough.

As you may have noticed, with the exception of Bruce Smith, these players played mostly in the 90s and thereafter. (This is when I attended Tech and first started following the football program.) As I disagreed with some of the choices by USA Today, I am sure some of you have names that you believe should be on this list. Let me know who they are and why.

All right, movie trivia steps it up just a bit this column. Good luck.

"I trust everyone. It�s the devil inside them I don�t trust."

As always, your questions, comments, and insults are encouraged. And thanks for everyone who takes the time to write. I try to answer all of the emails I receive. Thanks.

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