South Carolina Football’s GOAT Series: Top-15 greatest linebackers of all-time

TJ Brunson held down the middle of the defense for several years for South Carolina football. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
TJ Brunson held down the middle of the defense for several years for South Carolina football. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports /
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Linebackers are often considered the captains of the defense, and South Carolina football has had some good ones throughout the program’s history. Some Gamecock defensive leaders were big thumpers who stopped the run, while others were rangier players who made their tackles from sideline to sideline. For the sake of this list, outside linebackers who operate as EDGE players and hybrid safety/linebackers (such as the Spur position) will not be included.

Honorable Mentions

Bob Cole: A two-way player who played both fullback and linebacker, Bob Cole (1963-1967) was a Columbia native who gave his all on every snap for his hometown team. Because he played so long ago, many of Cole’s defensive stats are not well-documented, but it is known that he logged over 100 tackles as a junior in 1966. He had arguably the best game of his career in a game against the rival Clemson Tigers. In that contest, Cole dropped 12 Tigers, including a tackle for loss that took off the helmet of the Clemson running back.

Darren Hambrick: Darren Hambrick (1995-1997) was the older brother of running back Troy Hambrick. The elder Hambrick started his career at Florida before future South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier dismissed him from the team after a fight with a teammate. Hambrick came to South Carolina and became an All-SEC linebacker in 1996. He broke his leg early in 1997 and missed most of the season before coming back to play at the end of the year. He was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys and had a five-year NFL career.

Tim Bice: A teammate of another elite linebacker Bob Cole, Tim Bice (1966-1968) played the unique combination of cornerback, linebacker, and nose tackle while in Columbia. His best days, though, were next to Cole at linebacker where he was selected as an All-SEC player in 1967. He was questionably named an All-American nose tackle the following year despite playing more snaps as a linebacker.

TJ Holloman: TJ Holloman (2012-2016) was not an athletic stud at linebacker. In fact, there were times in his career when fans wondered if he would be very good at all. Holloman, though, proved to be a diligent worker and preparer who started games during each of his four years as a Gamecock. He wasn’t very big, and he wasn’t very fast, but Holloman was always where he was supposed to be, leading him to be one of the best zone coverage linebackers in school history.

Bill Wohrman: A similar player to Bob Cole, Bill Wohrman (1952-1955) differed from Cole in that he was better on the offensive side of things as a fullback. However, despite being better as a lead blocker in the run game, Wohrman was still a talented linebacker who was a team captain. Wohrman added to his versatility by also playing baseball during his collegiate career.

Kenny Harney: Kenny Harney (1998-2001) was a warrior for Head Coach Lou Holtz’s teams in the late ’90s and early 2000s. The Allendale-Fairax graduate was a 4-year starter for the Gamecocks (when healthy) but battled injuries much of his career. #44 was as tough as they come, and he proved it when he played part of the 2000 season on a broken leg. No one has ever recovered more fumbles for Carolina than Kenny Harney, and his 4th down stuff of Ohio State’s Johnathan Wells thwarted a short-lived comeback attempt from the Buckeyes in the Outback Bowl.

Bryson Allen-Williams: One of the most gifted linebackers to play at South Carolina, Bryson Allen-Williams (2014-2018) was held back from reaching his full potential by several strange coaching decisions that saw him move from linebacker to defensive end, back to linebacker, back to defensive end (Will Muschamp’s BUCK position), and back to linebacker. #4 loved his school and his team more than just about any Gamecock who has ever donned the Block C on their helmets, and his 27.5 tackles for loss tie him for tenth all-time at Carolina.

Ricardo Hurley: Ricardo Hurley (2002-2005) is regarded as a bust by many who follow South Carolina recruiting, but that isn’t fair to the Greenwood High School alum. Hurley was a five-star recruit and the top linebacker prospect to ever sign with the Gamecocks, so expectations were through the roof when he arrived in Columbia. Hurley, instead of dominating, had a good career that was hampered by injuries and difficulty overcoming mental hurdles.

Corey Atkins: A versatile player, Corey Atkins (1995-1999) was always a linebacker but was moved around a lot before the snap. Atkins was big enough to battle with offensive linemen, athletic enough to rush the passer, and smart enough to play well in coverage. When he became a captain as a senior in 1999, he led the team in tackles with 102 despite playing with studs Kenny Harney, Andre Offing, Shannon Wadley, and Kalimba Edwards.

Andre Offing: An underrated Gamecock, Andre Offing (1996-2000) tallied almost 200 career tackles despite only playing for two years. Injuries and a loaded linebacker room kept Offing from seeing the field much in 1996, 1997, and 1999, but the senior captain was excellent in 2000 when he racked up 99 tackles, including 12 in the victory over Mississippi State. His strong play kept the Gamecocks in the game before Erik Kimrey threw “The Fade” in relief of Phil Petty.

Matt McKernan: Matt McKernan (1984-1988) was often overshadowed during his career because he played alongside both Kenneth Robinson and Patrick Hinton at different points, but McKernan was a solid three-year starter at linebacker. His best season came as part of the “Black Death” defense of 1987. McKernan, though good at his job, was not as famous as many of his defensive teammates as the 1987 and 1988 defenses had 8 different players make an All-Conference team.