West Virginia football has had its fair share of tough defenders, especially in the trenches — but which of these Mountaineers would have a quarterback shaking the hardest in his cleats?
For the first time this summer, we’re examining the defensive side of the ball. Cast your vote below for your favorite West Virginia defensive linemen in history — and note, the top three vote-getters will land themselves a spot on the All-Mountaineer Team.
Take a look below for a quick review of these memorable Mountaineer careers.
Sam Huff (1952-1955): It’s the violent world of Sam Huff, and we’re all just living in it. One of just two Mountaineers to have his jersey number retired, Huff is regarded as one of the best football players to play on the defensive side of the ball. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to actually quantify Huff’s individual impact on his college team (defensive stats weren’t yet recorded at this point), but the Mountaineers went a combined 31-7 during his tenure. He won the NFL Championship with the New York Giants as a linebacker in 1956, was named to five Pro Bowls and is just one of two Mountaineers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, along with…
Joe Stydahar (1933-1935): Stydahar was a two-sport athlete for the Mountaineers, standing out on both the football field and the basketball court. Although WVU’s football team struggled during his tenure, his individual play earned him the title of the first player ever drafted by the Chicago Bears, where he would eventually earn himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He still owns the record for most blocked punts in a season, when he blocked 7 in 1934.
Renaldo Turnbull (1986-1989): Turnbull was one of West Virginia’s toughest defensive lineman during his upperclassmen years. He finished his career with 18.5 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss, the former of which is fifth all-time in program history. He helped anchor the Mountaineers’ 1988 defense as a junior, helping his team get to the national championship Fiesta Bowl that year. He was drafted by the New Orleans Saints with the 14th overall pick in 1990.
Canute Curtis (1993-1996): West Virginia’s all-time sacks leader with 34.5, Curtis anchored the Mountaineer defense during some of their early years in the Big East. Fans may look back on Curtis and remember his steady improvement every season — after appearing in just two games as a freshman, his sacks, tackles and tackles for loss tallies all consistently increased from year to year. He finished his career with arguably the best senior season of any defensive lineman at West Virginia bagging 16.5 sacks (still the record today) and 11 tackles for loss as he earned consensus All-American status as part of the nationally top-ranked defense.
John Thornton (1995-1998): Before his son Jalen joined the Mountaineers last season, John made sure Mountaineer fans knew the Thornton name with his 15 career sacks, 93 solo tackles, 19 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and an interception. As a sophomore, he helped Canute Curtis front the top-ranked defense in the country, when he added 51 tackles for a loss and 5 sacks. As a junior in 1997, Thornton earned a first-team All-American honor from The Sports Network.
Gary Stills (1996-1998): Yet another legacy Mountaineer and member of the 1996 squad, Stills preceded his sons Darius and Dante on the offensive line as a three-year contributor for West Virginia. he finished his career with 26 sacks, 159 total tackles and 18 tackles for loss as the Mountaineers finished with winning records in all three seasons.
Bruce Irvin (2010-2011): West Virginia only had Irvin for two seasons, but that was enough to put Bruce Irvin close to the top of some program records. He made a splash in his debut season by racking up 14 sacks, the second-highest season total in program history. He led the Mountaineer defense again in 2011, helping to boost the team to that season’s Orange Bowl — an historic 70-33 victory over Clemson. He was drafted in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft by Seattle, where he would go on to win Super Bowl XLVIII.
Will Clarke (2010-2013): After spending his first two seasons playing both behind and alongside Irvin, Will Clarke took over his post as the top dog on the West Virginia defensive line in 2012. The Pittsburgh native helped the Mountaineers transition into the Big 12 across his junior and senior seasons by recording 7 sacks, 23.5 tackles for loss and 76 total tackles in that span. He earned second team All-Big 12 honors as a senior in 2013 before being selected by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2014.
The three Mountaineers with the highest vote totals will get a spot on the All-Mountaineer defensive line, so make sure to cast your vote before July 3. On that date, we will take the best of the rest between the line and linebackers to fill a final defensive flex position — so if your favorite guy doesn’t make it, be sure to check back.
If you missed yesterday’s poll, it’s still live. Here’s a full list of our daily polls, including the ones yet to come:
- Running back (click to vote)
- Wide receiver (click to vote)
- June 26: Linebacker (top 3 vote-getters)
- June 27: Tight end/Fullback
- June 28: Offensive Line
- June 29: Quarterback
- June 30: Defensive back (top 2 vote-getters)
- July 1: Safety (top 2 vote-getters)
- July 2: Offensive Flex (based on high vote-getters)
- July 3: Defensive Flex (based on high vote-getters)
- July 4: Kicker/punter
- July 5: Head Coach
- July 6: Full reveal of the All-Mountaineer Team