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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / 10 College Legends Who Never Played in the NFL

10 College Legends Who Never Played in the NFL

10 legends who didn't get to the league
Publish Date: 05/10/2021
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis

10) Jim Stillwagon, Ohio State

He was one of the most decorated interior linemen in college history. He was a three-year starter for the Buckeyes and was a consensus All-American as a junior and senior. He also won the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award as a senior in 1970. At 6-0 and 239 pounds, he was considered too small for the NFL and was a fifth-round pick in the 1971 draft by the Green Bay Packers. He decided to play in the CFL instead and was a three-time CFL All-Star during his five-year career north of the border.

9) RB Jay Berwanger, Chicago

A Notre Dame legend Berwanger was the first Heisman winner in 1935, but bypassed the NFL. He was the first overall pick in the 1936 draft by Philadelphia. The Eagles didn’t think they could pay him what he wanted, so they traded his draft rights to Chicago. But Berwanger and the Bears couldn’t agree on a salary, and he went into private business. As you can tell the NFL wasn’t always what it is now.

8) RB Nile Kinnick, Iowa

You know you are a legend when your college team names the stadium after you. Kinnick, was a three-sport athlete at Iowa, won the Heisman as a senior in 1939, when he had a hand in 107 of the 130 points Iowa scored that season. He still owns six school records. His Heisman speech is one of the most famous in history. Near the end of that speech, he said, “I thank God I was warring on the gridirons of the Midwest and not on the battlefields of Europe. I can speak confidently and positively that the players of this country would much more, much rather, struggle and fight to win the Heisman award than the Croix de Guerre.” He was a second-round pick in the 1940 draft, by the Brooklyn Dodgers, but chose to attend law school at Iowa. After one year of law school, he joined the Naval Air Reserve — he reported for induction three days before Pearl Harbor was attacked — and died on a training flight in 1943. Iowa named its football stadium after Kinnick in 1972.

7) RB Dick Kazmaier, Princeton

He starred for the Tigers for three seasons (1949-51) and won the Heisman as a senior, when he accounted for 22 TDs in nine games; he is the last Heisman winner from the Ivy League. He also played quarterback at Princeton, and led the nation in total offense (1,827 yards) as a senior. He was a 15th-round pick by the Chicago Bears in the 1953 draft, but decided to earn an MBA at Harvard instead. He also served three years in the Navy.

6) QB Joe Roth, California

Roth, at 6-foot-4, a prototypical pocket passer with a strong arm, played junior college ball before signing with Cal. He began the ’75 season as a backup but became the starter and helped the Golden Bearsย to a share of the Pac-8 title and an upset win over USC. Roth was touted as a potential All-American in 1976 and finished ninth in the Heisman voting. After the season, it was revealed he had played part of the season with cancer. He died in February 1977; he was 21.

5) RB Johnny Bright, Drake

Heย signed with Michigan State out of high school but transferred to Drake, where he started for three seasons. He led the nation in total offense in 1949 as a sophomore and as a junior in 1950, when he set an NCAA single-season record with 2,400 yards. He suffered a broken jaw in what was seen as a racial incident (Bright was black) in a 1951 game at Oklahoma State and that limited his effectiveness in the second half of the season. Still, he finished his college career with 284 points and 5,983 yards of total offense in 25 career games. He was fifth in the Heisman balloting in 1951 and was a first-round pick (No. 5 overall) by Philadelphia in the 1952 draft. He played in the CFL instead and retired as the CFL’s leading career rusher.

4) QB Tommie Frazier, Nebraska

He never won the Heisman, but he was the best option/wishbone quarterback in college history. Given that there’s not much call for option quarterbacks in the NFL, it’s understandable that he never played in the league. But don’t let that diminish what he did with the Huskers. In addition to running the option with unparalleled skill (the only one close was Oklahoma’s Jack Mildren in the 1970s), he was a winner: He led Nebraska to consecutive national titles (1994 and ’95) and also started when the Huskers played for the national title in 1993 against Ward and FSU. His background as an option quarterback as well as health issues led to him going undrafted in 1996; he did play in one game in the CFL that fall.

3) RB Felix “Doc” Blanchard, Army

He was the first junior to win the Heisman, in 1945. Teammate Glenn Davis won it in 1946. The duo was known as “Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside” for their running abilities, with Blanchard’s forays between the tackles earning him the “Mr. Inside” moniker. Despite being known as an inside runner, Blanchard ran 100 yards in 10.0 seconds. He had a big game in a 1944 rout of Notre Dame, leading Irish coach Edward McKeever to say, “I’ve just seen Superman in the flesh. He wears number 35 and goes by the name of Blanchard.” Blanchard ran for 1,908 yards and 38 TDs in three seasons at Army. He chose a career in the armed services, rising to the rank of Colonel in the Air Force, over a possible NFL career.

2) QB Charlie Ward

One of the most decorated players in the history of college football, Charlie Ward won literally every award he was eligible for as a senior quarterback on Florida State’s 1993 National Championship team. In addition, Ward was the sparkplug on three Seminole NCAA Tournament basketball teams.

He’s the only Heisman winner ever to play in the NBA.

A native of nearby Thomasville, Ga., Ward won the Heisman in 1993 after completing 69.5 percent of his passes for 3,032 yards with 27 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Ward margin of victory was a massive 1,622 points, second at the time only toย O.J. Simpson’s 1,750 point win in 1968.ย He also won the Davey O’Brien and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Awards and was named Walter Camp Player of the Year and Toyota Leader of the Year. He is only the second college football player ever to win the Sullivan Award given annually to the nation’s top amateur athlete.

After winning the Heisman, Ward guided the Seminoles to an 18-16 victory over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, giving FSU and head coach Bobby Bowden its first-ever national title.

On the basketball court, Ward pushed the Seminoles to the brink of the 1993 Final Four, falling one game shy. He also started on FSU’s Sweet 16 team in 1992 and hit the game-winning shot in its Metro Conference Tournament Championship game win over Louisville in 1991. Ward long held Seminole basketball records for steals in a game (9) and career (236) and ranks sixth all-time in assists (396).

Ward passed over an NFL career and was drafted in 1994 by the New York Knickerbockers of the NBA, who selected him as the 26th overall pick. His 12-year NBA career also included stops with the Spurs and Rockets.

1) RB Ernie Davis, Syracuse

He won the Heisman in 1961, the first black player to do so. He set all sorts of school records at Syracuse, breaking Jim Brown’s school career records in rushing (2,386 yards), total offense (3,414), scoring (220 points) and touchdowns (35). He was the No. 1 pick in the 1962 draft by the Washington Redskins, and his rights quickly were traded to the Cleveland Browns, who signed him to a three-year, $200,000 deal. But Davis was diagnosed with leukemia in the summer of 1962 and never played an NFL game; he died in May 1963 at the age of 23. He is one of 14 Heisman winners who never played in the NFL.ย 

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