News & Observer sports columnist Caulton Tudor looks at the top all-time ACC football players by position. Today: defensive linemen.
Julius Peppers gets my vote as the best athlete in ACC history.
The former North Carolina standout is tracking toward the NFL Hall of Fame and probably could have made a lot of money playing in the NBA.
But on today's list of the 25 top defensive linemen in ACC football history, Peppers rates a half-step behind Maryland's Randy White, the 1974 league player of the year, co-most valuable player of Super Bowl XII (1977 season) and a member of the NFL Hall since 1994.
As a game-changing defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys, the 6-foot-4, 260-pound White was nicknamed the "Manster' - part man, part monster.
John Madden, the former Oakland Raiders championship coach and a longtime television analyst, once referred to White as "a blocking man's nightmare."
That much was evident from White's first games at Maryland.
When Jerry Claiborne got the Terps' job in 1972 and almost immediately turned the program into one of the nation's best, the established star of the Maryland defense was hulking lineman Paul Vellano, who made a few All-America lists and was a candidate for today's ACC's top 25.
"But people will need to keep an eye on Randy White as much as Paul," Claiborne said two weeks before the opening game in 1973. "He might turn out to be one of the best ever."
By the end of that season, White was the best defender in the ACC. By the end of '74, White had redefined almost all of the recruiting parameters for defensive linemen.
More than 20 years later, the 6-6, 270-pound Peppers left Southern Nash for UNC with the reputation for being too big, fast and strong for high school players to counter.
The same challenge has confronted opponents at the ACC and in the NFL.
Carl Torbush, Peppers' first primary coach at Carolina, theorized early on that "Pep could be a standout in basketball, track and probably a bunch of sports he's never even played."
Peppers played 56 basketball games for UNC, averaging roughly six points and four rebounds on teams coached by Matt Doherty. His role primarily was as a reserve, but then-Maryland coach Gary Williams said prior to the start of the 2000-01 season that Peppers would be "All-American material" if he chose basketball as his first sport.
Overall, defensive linemen probably have provided the ACC with its biggest NFL splash, a trend that dates all the way back to the origin of the league in 1953.
The first all-conference team that season included two players - Duke's Ed Meadows and Maryland's Stan Jones - who would become exceptional NFL players as the league was moving toward two-platoon players.
But among the earliest ACC defenders who went on to pro success, Virginia's Henry Jordan has to rate at the top of the list.
After playing the 1957 and '58 seasons with the original Cleveland Browns, Jordan went to Green Bay and developed into one of the best players of the entire era.
Jordan, only 42, died in 1977 after suffering a heart attack. With the Packers' glory era teams, he made All-Pro seven times and was the MVP of the 1961 Pro Bowl.
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