South Carolina Football’s GOAT Series: Top-12 greatest defensive tackles of all-time

South Carolina football's JT Surratt is one of the best leaders to ever play on the defensive line in Columbia. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
South Carolina football's JT Surratt is one of the best leaders to ever play on the defensive line in Columbia. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports /
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One of the most loaded positions in South Carolina football history is the defensive tackle spot. Run stuffers, pass rushers, and play disrupters have all worn garnet and black and battled in the middle of the Gamecock defensive line. With Zacch Pickens likely to be selected in this year’s NFL Draft and a couple of big-time defensive tackle recruits joining the team this season (Xzavier McLeod and Elijah Davis), the position has been a big topic of discussion in Gamecock Nation.

*Disclaimer* For this GOAT series, Melvin Ingram will be considered an EDGE player, so he will be included on that list and not featured in this one.

Honorable Mentions

Ed Pitts: Ed Pitts (1957-1959) played both ways for Head Coach Warren Giese. A team captain, Pitts was selected as an All-ACC player twice and an All-American for his combined efforts as an offensive tackle and defensive tackle. Pitts was never part of a losing season at Carolina and had a short NFL career after graduation before a knee injury ended his career.

Marty Dye: Marty Dye (1987-1991) was an athletic freak who played all over the defensive line during his career. He played the majority of his snaps at defensive tackle but utilized his athleticism to disrupt the passing game from inside. The older brother of Gamecock offensive tackle Ernest Dye, Marty Dye logged an impressive 300 career tackles from the defensive line and was a one-time all-conference player. He had a short stint in the NFL before his untimely death at age 28.

Don Somma: Captain of the 1967 squad, Don Somma (1965-1967) did not accumulate lots of stats. Instead, Somma was a disruptor up front who opened things up for his teammates. He was recognized as an All-ACC player as a senior. Despite his small size for the position (never more than 223 pounds, Somma often played nose tackle (or middle guard as it was known then) and took on double teams. The New Jersey native was known for his toughness and leadership.

Jimmy Poston: Jimmy Poston (1967-1970) took over the starting defensive tackle spot from graduating senior Don Somma. An All-ACC selection as a junior, Poston was even better in his final year in garnet and black when he posted over 100 tackles. His 1969 performance in a win against North Carolina is one of the best in school history as he notched 15 tackles on the way to holding the Tar Heels to just 6 points.

Rickey Hagood: A menace over center, Rickey Hagood (1980-1983) was a nose tackle who is sometimes forgotten because he played next to Andrew Provence. Hagood was a stud in his own right, totaling 98 and 114 tackles in his final two seasons as a Gamecock. He was named team MVP his senior year and had a brief NFL career split between the Seattle Seahawks and San Diego Chargers.

Brendan McCormack: Brendan McCormack (1984-1987) was a mountainous defensive tackle who earned All-South Independent honors as a senior. That season, he had five quarterback sacks and a blocked kick while maintaining solid gap integrity against the run. He parlayed that success into being selected by the New York Giants in the 1988 NFL Draft.

Byron Jerideau: One of the strongest men to ever play at Carolina, Byron Jerideau (2010-2012) was a nightmare for offensive linemen to deal with during his time in Columbia. Not only was he extremely bulky and difficult to move, but Jerideau also was adept at keeping his linebackers free by refusing to allow blockers to climb to the second level. His presence in the middle also freed up EDGE rushers like Jadeveon Clowney, Devon Taylor, and Melvin Ingram from facing as many double teams. He was briefly in the NFL before becoming a strength and conditioning coach.

Keir Thomas: Keir Thomas (2016-2020) was a bit of a “tweener.” The size of a defensive end for most of his career, Thomas played most of his snaps inside due to necessity. Thomas played immediately as a Gamecock and was solid for five years in Columbia. A medical redshirt in 2019 and the extra “Covid year” of 2020 afforded him a sixth year of eligibility which he used as an All-ACC player at Florida State. He is still in the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams.

Henry Taylor: Henry Taylor (1994-1997) grew from an undersized defensive lineman to an All-SEC player during his time as a Gamecock. He did not log a bunch of sacks during his collegiate career, but Taylor was often pushing the pocket in a way that set up teammates (like John Abraham) for the sack. The Barnwell, South Carolina native went on to a four-year NFL career before becoming one of the best defensive linemen in the Arena Football League.

Ladi Ajiboye: A tremendously talented player, Ladi Ajiboye (2007-2010) was named a freshman All-American tackle alongside his teammate Travian Robertson. Ajiboye was a good player for the Gamecocks but had some small amounts of off-field trouble that held him back at times. A primary starter next to Robertson for most of his career, Ajiboye was picked as an All-SEC defender in 2010 before having a short career in the NFL.

Eric Sullivan: A versatile defensive lineman, Eric Sullivan (1992-1995) was a Freshman All-SEC performer at defensive end before moving inside as a sophomore. He gained weight and was a solid starter for two years but really emerged as a senior when he slimmed up again. Still playing inside at tackle, Sullivan racked up 8 sacks and 8 more quarterback hurries in his final year as a Gamecock and was awarded All-SEC honors.