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All-time Top 10: Linebackers

Hookem.com asked various Longhorn experts to rank their top 10 Longhorns at every position since 1960. Bobby Burton, Kirk Bohls, Ted Koy, Ken Dabbs and Keith Moreland were a few of the voters.

No. 10 Scott Henderson

Today we take a look at the results for the defensive position that tends to attract some of the most versatile football players in the game: Linebackers.

10. SCOTT HENDERSON (1968-70)
Why he’s in this spot?
First of all, anybody who played linebacker for the Longhorns in the 1960s was one heck of a football player and a guy who wasn’t afraid to deliver big hits. As a member of Texas’ 1969 and 1970 championship teams, Henderson fits this description. He started all three years and was a co-captain in 1970. He finished with 181 tackles while putting forth the ultimate effort on every play for his entire career.

How he ended up at Texas
Despite growing up in Dallas he actually had a Notre Dame connection. He was a big Notre Dame fan. When it came time to recruit Henderson, he didn’t end up liking what he heard from the Golden Domers. Notre Dame said he was “too fat”. That was a good thing for the Longhorns. The Longhorns ended up playing Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl while Henderson was still on campus, and according to one of his teammates, “You almost had to put him in chains before that game he was so amped up.” Nobody on either side said anything about him being an ineffective football player after that game.

What they’re saying
Ted Koy: "He was a tough, tough player who was very, very smart. We’re talking about a 4.0 (GPA) guy. He was soft spoken. If you sat down and talked to him you never would have guessed he was a football player. He was one of those guys who when he put the pads on you were glad he was on your team. He rarely made a mistake or took a lazy step."

9. CORBY ROBERTSON (1966-68)
Why he’s in this spot?
He was a great athlete, but he also was one of the great leaders from that era. He was one of those linebackers who was just as comfortable covering the pass as he was coming up and stuffing the run, which was a rare asset during that era. It also was one of the reasons that when you looked back at the film, Robertson was always there on the big play. That helped him earn All-American accolades in 1967. He finished his career with 205 tackles, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

How he ended up at Texas
The Robertson’s were big University of Houston people. Robertson ran around with Jack Perry and Chris Gilbert. Despite all of the connections to Houston, Robertson was another one of those guys who was just determined to come to Texas.

What they’re saying
Ted Koy: “Kind of like Scott, he was tough physically but his biggest attribute was he knew where to be at the right time. He came from a wealthy family but didn’t fit that stereotype because he worked his butt off. He was always in on the key play when you looked back at the film. It was amazing how he was always around the ball during the biggest point in the game.”

8. JEFF LEIDING (1980-83)
Why he’s in this spot
An All-American in 1983, Leiding really could have earned the honor two years earlier when he had 107 tackles, including 9.5 behind the line of scrimmage and 8.5 sacks. He also recorded two interceptions and two fumble recoveries in 1981. Needless to say, he was all over the place, which was impressive for a guy who succeeded more because of his heart than his natural ability. He was a guy who was asked to control the middle of the field, and that’s exactly what he did.

Scott Henderson started on two national championship teams while registering 181 tackles as a Longhorn.

How he ended up at Texas
He just wanted to come to Texas. While he was looking at Oklahoma and showed a little interest, he really wanted to play for the Longhorns. According to former Longhorn assistant coach Ken Dabbs, Leiding’s parents wanted him to come to Texas, too. The family had moved from Missouri at some point during his childhood. Texas had a few coaches who went out and spent a lot of time with him, and that really sold him on the Longhorns. What isn’t talked about enough is what a great class Leiding was a part of. Dabbs said that “17 or 18” of the 22 recruits in the 1980 class were drafted by teams in the NFL. The rest went to the NFL as free agents.

What they’re saying
Ken Dabbs: “He was probably the meanest, toughest linebacker that we had. He didn’t have the greatest lateral speed. He could just control the middle. That’s how you set your defense. He would make plays outside, but he was the best when he was in the middle.

7. BRIAN JONES (1989-90)
Why he’s in this spot?
One of the few transfers on this list, Jones came back to Texas from UCLA and made an immediate impact. He posted back-to-back 100-tackle seasons. He was one of those guys who was never out of the play because of his ability to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. He had 12 sacks and two fumble recoveries during his career, which ended with him being selected an all-Southwest Conference player in 1990.

How he ended up at Texas
Out of Lubbock, Jones went to UCLA despite being recruited by the Longhorns. When David McWilliams returned to Texas, Jones called the Longhorns coach saying he was a little homesick and would like to return to Texas. McWilliams was all for it. Jones returned in 1987 and had to skip the 1998 season. That didn’t stop him from dominating in 1989 and 1990.

What they’re saying
David McWilliams: “He was big and strong and could run. He had a great game against Houston in 1990. He was just a real consistent player. He could run better then a lot of them as he covered a lot of ground. He’s one of the guys that I’m still close to.”

6. ROBIN SENDLEIN (1977-80)
Why he’s in this spot?
He was a weakside linebacker who could cover the entire field, and that’s exactly what he did for four consecutive years. Once he became a starter as a sophomore, he didn’t relinquish his position, making 293 tackles. He was one of those linebackers who just knew how to get in the backfield, making 39.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He also knew how to force the football loose. Sendlein is second on Texas’ career list with 12 forced fumbles.

How he ended up at Texas
Leon Fuller recruited him out of Las Vegas. It was one of those things where Sendlein just got interested in Texas. There was no apparent reason that he should have ended up wearing burnt orange. All of a sudden he was just coming to Texas. Not only that, but his two sons ended up coming to Texas, too.

What they’re saying
David McWilliams: “He was one of those linebackers who just knew how to run. He wasn’t a big, strong guy who took on blockers. His job was just to go sideline to sideline. He was kind of tall and slender and could run like hell and knock the hell out of you. He just was one of those linebackers who could run and jump and was a good athlete.”

No. 8 Jeff Leiding

5. BRITT HAGER (1984-85, 87-88)
Why he’s in this spot?
Britt Hager was the epitome of a guy who was all over the field and all over the opponent. You have to be if you’re going to lead a program like Texas in career tackles. But that’s exactly what Hager did, posting 499 in his career. He posted an amazing 195 tackles (120 solo) in 1988 to set single-season school records and earn All-American honors.

How he ended up at Texas
David McWilliams went out and watched him at Odessa Permian in practice and they didn’t put him on the field a lot of the time because he was so disruptive to what the offense was trying to do. He was another one of those guys who just wanted to come to Texas. His mother and father were just huge, huge Texas fans. As McWilliams said, “I’m not sure if there was anybody else who really competed with us.”

What they’re saying
Bobby Burton: “You want to know what the mold of an inside linebacker is supposed to look like? That was Britt Hager. But what was really different about him from other big-time players was his tenacity. He had a focus and an intensity that I don't think anybody could match.”

4. GLEN HALSELL (1967-69)
Why he’s in this spot?
He could hit. He was extremely short at 5-foot-11. In fact, he’d have a very hard time getting a scholarship to Texas in today’s recruiting world. But that would be a mistake. He finished with 263 tackles after starting for three straight years. Teams learned quickly to stay away from Halsell, which is why his numbers dropped his senior season in 1969. That was also the season he was selected a unanimous all-American. He finished his career with 263 tackles, three interceptions and five fumble recoveries.

How he ended up at Texas
He was on the same recruiting trip as Bob McKay, which brought in a lot of West Texas recruits one weekend. The group was flown in on Bobby French’s plane and a bunch of players committed right away. Halsell was one of those guys who was headed to Texas as soon as he got his scholarship offer.

What they’re saying
Ted Koy: “He was one of the tri-captains with James Street and myself on the ’69 team. Pat Patterson, our defensive line coached called him a rolling ball of butcher knives. He was probably about 5-11, just a short, stocky kid. But he had an ability to explode with his legs. You really would have thought he was twice that size when he hit you. He wasn’t that fast, but the kid just played with abandon. At the end of the game he would be spent, he was limp as a rag.”

3. JOHNNY TREADWELL (1960-62)
Why he’s in this spot?
"All right, we've got them right where we want them. They have run out of room. They can't throw a long pass. They've got to come right at us." That was Johnny Treadwell’s famous quote before the Longhorns’ key goal-line stand against No. 7 Arkansas in 1962. Two plays later it was Treadwell and Pat Culpepper who knocked the ball out of the hands of Razorback fullback Danny Brabham’s hands. Treadwell never put up great numbers as his season-high for tackles was 38 in 1961, but he was considered a fierce linebacker and a headhunter.

How he ended up at Texas
He was not a highly touted kid out of high school. He basically had to beg to get on the team. In fact, he wasn’t sure Texas was ever going to offer him because he had broken his arm his senior year of high school. The Longhorns went back and looked at the film from his junior year and they told him, “OK, you’ve got a scholarship.” The rest was history.

Leiding earned All-American honors in 1983 while patrolling the middle of the field for Texas.

What they’re saying
Ted Koy: “He was not very fast and came in as a tight end, but he wasn’t fast enough. They put him at offensive guard and defensive linebacker. He wouldn’t bite down. He played with that intensity. If you break him down individually, you’re really not that impressed with his height, weight, speed, but you look on the field and he was the guy winning the game for you.”

2. DERRICK JOHNSON (2001-04)
Why he’s in this spot?
You’re going to get a spot on the list when you win the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s top defensive player and the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker. There’s plenty to say about Derrick Johnson: He probably was the best linebacker Texas has had when it comes to defending the pass. But he was just as good going forward, too, as he holds the school record for career tackles for loss with 65. He finished his career with 458 tackles (No. 3 in UT history). Offenses did all they could to stay away from him in 2004 as he was known for his ability to take the ball away. He finished with nine forced fumbles, a single-season Longhorn record. He was a two-time All-American and set the gold standard for modern linebackers at Texas.

How he ended up at Texas
A lot of people thought he was headed to Oklahoma. He went to the Texas camp and ran back-to-back 4.4 40s. He committed to Texas within the week. He was considered one of the top-5 players in the state that year. After Corey Redding (who eventually moved to defensive end), he was the first real big-time linebacker that Texas had in recent years.

What they’re saying
Bobby Burton: “First, he ran like a deer. He literally could run laterally and close on the ball as well as any linebacker that has ever played at Texas. He got a little dinged up late in his career, and the shoulder gave him some problems, but he still played through it. One small play I'll never forget was his freshman year in the Holiday Bowl against Washington. Texas is down but coming back and the Huskies had beaten Texas with the tight end over the middle all game long. Johnson made a diving tip of a pass late in the fourth, it was such a high effort play, that it was amazing to me and still the play I remember when thinking about him. It wasn't a highlight play per se, but it was a play where you saw he had that special desire to go with his athleticism and that play definitely affected the outcome of the game.”

1. TOMMY NOBIS (1963-65)
Why he’s in this spot?
A two-time All-American who played both linebacker on defense and guard on offense. He was Texas’ first No. 1 overall draft pick after being selected the team MVP in both 1964 and 1965. Nobis was the only sophomore (along with Phil Harris) who played on the 1963 national championship team. He emerged during a game against No. 1 Oklahoma as a sophomore, recording 18 tackles as the Longhorns won 28-7 to take over
the No. 1 ranking in the country. Nobis just had the ability to uncoil like a rattlesnake and hit you with every ounce of his body. He finished his career with 136 tackles and eight interceptions, but the legend he left is probably bigger than any single statistic anybody will ever be able to put up.

How he ended up at Texas
His senior year was one of the last years you saw guys playing both ways, but he still played lineman and linebacker. Everybody we spoke with told us that one of the things Nobis was interested in was continuing to play both ways. Still, most people don’t remember anything other than Texas when it comes to Nobis’ recruitment. Anthony King was a member of the Longhorns, and, like Nobis, he went to Jefferson High School in San Antonio. King had a lot to do with Nobis coming to school in Austin.

What they’re saying
Ted Koy: “He was just awesome. In my opinion he’s the greatest football player I’ve seen. In my opinion he’s also underrated. He was an all-American as an offensive guard and he was an all-American as a linebacker. He had the strength. He was in the pre-weight training era otherwise they would have had to license him. He had that explosion that seemed to be unleashed right at impact. In practice he was told he had to let the guys know before he was going to hit them because they didn’t want players getting injured. It was the strangest thing to watch him tell them he was coming.”

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