To be feared is one of the greatest compliments that can be paid to a football player. The players that follow can be classified as the most tenacious hitters to ever play the game at the high school level in our area. These are the players that went out of their way to punish opposing players.
They were unyielding, fearless, and punishing—and they played high school ball right here in our backyard.
6-2 – 210 lbs. – Linebacker
High School: Rossville (1949)
College: Georgia Tech
Professional: NFL – San Francisco 49ers
Pete Brown hit hard from all sides of the field at Rossville, playing tackle on both sides of the ball as well as linebacker. At Rossville, he earned All-State honors in 1948. Brown went on to play at Georgia Tech as a fullback and linebacker, but was moved to center in 1951 where he used his fullback speed to become one of the best downfield blockers in college football. At Georgia Tech, Brown was selected as a First Team All-American and earned All-Southern Conference honors in 1952. With Brown at center for two seasons, Georgia Tech went 23-0-1 and won a national championship in 1952. He was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 1953 where he played professionally for two seasons.
Ray Moss, Jr.
6-2 – 192 lbs. – Defensive Line
High School: Central (1955)
Ray Moss, Jr. was known as one of the meanest players on the ’52, ’53, and ‘54 Purple Pounder state championship teams. He played on both sides of the ball and had a reputation of hard-hitting as a run blocker and a pass rusher. In his senior season, he earned First Team All-State honors at center. He would go on to play center at the University of Tennessee, where he lettered in 1956, 1957, and 1958, and played his way into the Blue-Gray All Star Game in 1959.
6-1 – 200 lbs. – Linebacker
High School: Rossville (1956)
Because he ultimately played for Auburn as a fullback, Ronnie Robbs was renowned for his running and blocking ability. Sometimes unfairly forgotten are his pad-popping hits on the other side of the ball. At Central, Robbs was a member of two state championship teams (1953 and 1954) and was dubbed First Team All-State in his junior year. It’s rumored that Robbs was so gifted that when he sat out with an injury in his senior season at Central, his backup earned All-State while playing in his place. At Auburn, Robbs quickly garnered attention as a fullback on the 1957 AP-voted national championship team, noted as a “linebuster.” Unfortunately, in his junior year he suffered a torn leg ligament, which substantially set back his playing career.
6-0 – 210 lbs. – Defensive Line
High School: Central (1963)
Dickie Phillips was a defensive stud for Red Etter’s Purple Pounders. He was instrumental in Central’s 1962 perfect season and AP/UPI-voted state championship. In his senior season at Central, Phillips earned All-American, All-State, and All-City honors. Known for both his sound technique and hitting prowess on the field, Phillips was recruited to play at Georgia under Vince Dooley. In 1966, Phillips played a key role as a senior defensive tackle in bringing an SEC Championship to the Bulldogs.
6-2 – 210 lbs. – Defensive Line
High School: Rossville (1963)
College: Tennessee Tech
Professional: NFL – Minnesota Vikings; CFL – BC Lions
Billy Hull was prolific at Rossville, playing on both sides of the ball for legendary head coach Frank Fabris. A gritty defensive tackle, he notoriously pounded opposing ball carriers. In 1962, Hull helped secure an undefeated season and a state championship for the Bulldogs as an All-State and All-City defensive tackle. He would go on to play defensive tackle at Tennessee Tech, where he was an OVC (Ohio Valley Conference) All-Conference selection in 1966. Hull continued his career professionally in the Canadian Football League (CFL) and was later drafted by the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL in 1968.
6-2 – 210 lbs. – Defensive Line
High School: Rossville (1963)
College: Tennessee Tech
Known for his acumen for the fundamentals of the game, Sherold Walker’s big-hitting ability is often snubbed. Alongside Billy Hull, he was a stalwart on the defensive line at Rossville, leading the Bulldogs to an undefeated season and state championship under head coach Frank Fabris in 1962. That same year, he was First Team All-State and was named the Georgia Class AA Lineman of the Year. Walker earned a scholarship to play tackle at Tennessee Tech. In his senior season, he earned the Robert Hill Johnson Award, which is presented annually to the Tech football player who makes the largest contribution to the team during the season.
6-0 – 200 lbs. – Defensive Line
High School: Kirkman (1967)
Ernie Rose was an unblockable force in the middle of the defensive line at Kirkman. He was the type of disruptive player that opposing offenses, especially ball carriers, hated to see. Playing both sides of the ball, Rose made First Team All-State in both his junior and senior seasons at Kirkman.
6-1 – 220 lbs. – Linebacker
High School: Dalton (1969)
Professional: NFL – New England Patriots; World Football League (WFL) –Jacksonville Sharks
Ricky Lake was a dominant running back at Dalton, earning Honorable Mention All-State in 1966, First Team All-State in 1967 and 1968, and Georgia Class AAA Back of the Year in 1968. His knowledge of the game, size, and speed made him a jarring force to be reckoned with at linebacker, too. At Georgia, Lake was the starting tailback for the Bulldogs for two years before playing his last season as a starting linebacker. He would go on to play professionally in the NFL and WFL before suffering a knee injury that ended his playing career.
6-1 – 206 lbs. – Defensive Line
High School: Brainerd (1970)
Head coach Pete Potter’s 1969 undefeated Brainerd Rebels were led by a defense that prided itself on delivering big hits and stopping the run. That unit was largely led by Ken Stansell, who played both sides of the ball, but excelled at defensive tackle. Stansell wasn’t shy about making contact and then simply running through ball carriers. He was named First Team All-State in 1969 for his efforts. He went on to play collegiately at the University of Tennessee where he lettered in 1972.
6-1 – 232 lbs. – Linebacker
High School: Lakeview (1972)
Professional: NFL – New York Jets
Steve Poole was tenacious in his pursuit of the football and never shied away from bone-jarring collision. As a senior at Lakeview he was Honorable Mention All-State at defensive end. Poole would go on to see playing time in all four years at Tennessee, becoming a star-level talent by his junior season when he led the team in tackles with 182, which still ranks third all-time for a single season at UT. Not only was he one of the biggest hitters to ever come out of Lakeview, but he was also one of the surest tacklers. Poole ranks 11th all-time in career total tackles at Tennessee with 349. In 1976, he was drafted by the New York Jets of the NFL where he started as a rookie.
6-3 – 220 lbs. – Linebacker
High School: East Ridge (1970)
Professional: CFL – Winnipeg Blue Bombers
At East Ridge, Chuck Strickland used his frame to bring physicality to both the linebacker and running back positions. In his senior year, he was named All-County and led the team in tackles and in rushing. Strickland received a scholarship to play under Bear Bryant at Alabama where he thrived as a smash-mouth middle linebacker. He was a three-year starter with the Tide. As a starter, he won three SEC Championships, and led the team in tackles and earned All-SEC honors in his junior and senior seasons. He was the captain of the 1973 SEC and National Championship team. Strickland continued his career professionally in the CFL for two seasons. It’s rumored that East Ridge officials were so proud of his accomplishments that there was once a parade in his honor.
6-2 – 220 lbs. – Linebacker
High School: Notre Dame (1974)
Professional: NFL – New Orleans Saints; USFL
At 6-2, 220 pounds, Reggie Mathis was a load to handle at linebacker playing for Notre Dame High School. His unique combination of size and speed enabled him to dish out punishing blows at both defensive end and linebacker. Before taking his talents to Norman, Oklahoma to play for the legendary Barry Switzer, Mathis earned First Team All-State honors at Notre Dame. At Oklahoma, he was a part of four Big Eight Conference championship squads, including one that earned a national title. In his senior season as a Sooner, Mathis was recognized as a Big Eight All-Conference player. In 1979, the New Orleans Saints selected Mathis in the second round of the NFL Draft.
6-3 – 230 lbs. – Linebacker
High School: McCallie (1975)
Professional: NFL – Baltimore Colts; USFL – Arizona Wranglers, Arizona Outlaws, Chicago Blitz, Oakland Invaders
From McCallie School through a professional career in the NFL and USFL, Ed Smith was absolutely fearless and had a knack for lowering the boom. He transitioned from defensive end to linebacker following his freshman year at Vanderbilt. In 1977, Smith earned a spot on the First Team All-SEC squad, and by 1978 was an All-American candidate. Dubbed “The Sheriff – Vanderbilt’s Law and Order Man,” he carried a reputation of smash-mouth defensive enforcement. In 1979, Smith was an NFL Draft selection, and played in the NFL for two seasons before moving on to the USFL where he was selected to the 1984 All-USFL team.
5-8– 185 lbs. – Defensive Back
High School: Tyner (1980)
Gary Woodburn was a short, quick, compact ball of muscle in his days at Tyner. At just 5 feet 8 inches tall, he could flat-out fly. That combined with his ability to take the most direct line to the point of demolition led to helmet-rattling hits. When he got to the ball, he played bigger than he was, and his victims were forced to take notice. He was truly a nightmare on the field for opposing receivers. In his senior year at UTC, he earned Honorable Mention All-Southern Conference and the 1983 Scrappy Moore Award (presented annually to UTC’s MVP).
6-1 – 185 lbs. – Defensive Back
High School: LaFayette (1980)
At LaFayette, Jeff Suttle had the speed to torch just about any secondary. In fact, colleges like the University of Georgia recruited him as a wide receiver. But the two-time All-State defensive back went to Clemson, where he was recruited to exclusively play safety – because he liked to hit more than score. By his sophomore year at Clemson, Suttle was a starting safety for the Tigers and played an integral role on Clemson’s 1981 ACC and National Championship team. Clemson went on to win another ACC title in 1982 with Suttle in the secondary. He later declined free agency offers from the Denver Broncos and the Atlanta Falcons, deciding to finish his education at Clemson instead.
6-2 – 220 lbs. – Linebacker
High School: City (1981)
Professional: NFL – St. Louis Rams
In his senior year at City, Tommy “Freight Train” Taylor was a fullback and linebacker who was 6 feet 2 inches tall, 220 pounds, and could run a 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds. That’s no joke. With that nasty combination of size and speed, Taylor could de-cleat opposing players at will. The high school All-American was rated by several recruiters as the top football player in the state of Tennessee during his senior year at City. In 1981, he chose to play linebacker at UCLA over the University of Tennessee. At UCLA, Taylor went on to be one of the top linebackers in the university’s history. He was All-Conference in 1984, team captain in 1985, and currently ranks 12th in career tackles at UCLA. Taylor was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the fourth round of the 1987 NFL Draft.
6-1 – 220 lbs. – Linebacker
High School: Dalton (1982)
Under renowned head coach Bill Chappell, Bill Mitchell took advantage of his opportunity as a skilled athlete to become one of the most feared hitters in North Georgia’s history. As a senior, he was named a First Team All-State linebacker and the 1981 Georgia Class AAA Lineman of the Year. Shortly after, Vince Dooley recruited him to play at the University of Georgia. Mitchell’s 145 tackles in his senior season at UGA rank ninth all-time for tackles in a single season in Bulldog history.
6-0 – 217 lbs. – Linebacker
High School: Red Bank (1985)
A hard-nosed, 217-pound linebacker, this Red Bank native was known for devastating hits in the middle of the field. In 1984, his tenacious pursuit of the football paid off when he was named First Team All-State. Kelley earned a scholarship to play linebacker at Tennessee, where he lettered from 1986 to 1988 and recorded 99 career tackles.
6-1 – 210 lbs. – Defensive Back
High School: Cleveland (1992)
Quincy Prigmore was a First Team All-State and All-American defensive back in 1990 as a player on one of head coach Benny Monroe’s prolific Cleveland Blue Raider squads. A 6-foot-1-inch, 210-pound defensive back? Yep. Somehow, Prigmore’s speed outdid his size, so he got where he wanted to be on the field quickly and was known to arrive in a foul mood. Prigmore brought his talents to Knoxville as a Tennessee Volunteer in 1992, where he was a four-year letterman and played as a running back, defensive back, and linebacker.
6-4 – 285 lbs. – Defensive End
High School: LaFayette (1993)
Shannon Suttle made his presence known on nearly every tackle he made at LaFayette. In his senior season, he was Honorable Mention All-State, Honorable Mention All-America, and was recruited as a top 25 prospect out of the state of Georgia, and for good reason – he was dominant. At Auburn, he was a member of the 1993 National Championship team as a freshman. Suttle went on to start on the Tigers’ defensive line in 38 games across a four-year collegiate career.
6-2 – 225 lbs. – Linebacker
High School: McMinn Co. (1988)
Professional: NFL – Green Bay Packers
For Shazzon Bradley, professional boxing followed professional football – he was 21-0 before suffering a career ending injury. So yes, he could lay the lumber. An Athens local, Bradley was a hard-hitting standout for the McMinn County Cherokees. While in high school, he landed First Team All-State honors in both his junior and senior seasons as a linebacker. Bradley continued his career on the defensive line as a Tennessee Vol under head coach Johnny Majors. In his freshman season, he earned Freshman All-SEC honors and went on to lead the Vols in sacks in his junior season. He played professionally for a brief stint after being drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the ninth round of the 1992 NFL Draft.
6-1 – 180 lbs. – Defensive Back
High School: Cleveland (1995)
“When he hit, it wasn’t uncommon to hear the impact echo throughout the stadium.” This is not a rare phrase to hear when speaking to players and coaches who encountered Hickey during his Cleveland Blue Raider days. Hickey could truly dole out the punishment. He was named First Team All-State in both his junior and senior years at Cleveland. Hickey played a key role in securing the Raiders’ ’93 and ’94 state championships and in maintaining one of the greatest high school win streaks ever seen.
6-0 – 230 lbs. – Linebacker
High School: Marion County (1996)
Professional: NFL –Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns
As a Marion County Warrior, Eric Westmoreland’s smarts for the game put him a step ahead of his opponents, allowing him to tee off at will. He was a critical component in Ken Colquette’s 1992, 1994, and 1995 state championship teams, earning First Team All-State honors in 1994, and both First Team All-State honors and the Tennessee 3A Mr. Football Back of the Year Award in 1995. At Tennessee, he led the team in total tackles, was First Team All-SEC, and was a semi-finalist for the Butkus Award (presented annually to the nation’s top collegiate linebacker) in 2000. Westmoreland was drafted in the third round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
6-1 – 235 lbs. – Defensive Back
High School: South Pittsburg (1999)
Professional: NFL – Miami Dolphins
Running into Eddie Moore was often described as running into a brick wall. His 6-foot-1-inch, 235-pound frame at safety was no joking matter. Moore had the speed and size to inflict punishment on opposing wideouts and running backs. He was a true destroyer lurking in the middle of the Pirates’ secondary. As a Pirate, Moore was First Team All-State in 1998 as a senior. At Tennessee, he became an All-SEC linebacker and lettered from 1999 to 2002. The Miami Dolphins selected Moore in the third round of the 2003 NFL Draft.
6-1 – 228 lbs. – Linebacker
High School: McCallie (2002)
College: Gardner-Webb (NC)
A strong-based linebacker that could accelerate to top speed quickly for his size, Keppy Baucom was known for his bruising tackles with little regard for his own well-being. In his senior year at McCallie, he was the staple of the Blue Tornado’s defense, earning First Team All-State Honors and the 2001 3A-II Mr. Football Lineman of the Year title. At Gardner-Webb, Baucom had an immediate impact. He was selected as the 2002 Big South Freshman of the Year. Baucom earned Big South All-Conference honors three times in three years at Gardner Webb – Second Team in 2002 and 2003 and First Team in 2004.
6-5 – 294 lbs. – Defensive Line
High School: Tyner (2004)
Professional: CFL – Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Calgary Stampeders
With a rare blend of size and explosiveness, Demonté Bolden spent the majority of his time on the playing field at Tyner crumpling ball carriers and quarterbacks from the defensive tackle position. In his junior year alone, he recorded 140 tackles, 29 tackles for loss, and 13 sacks. Before moving on to Tennessee, he earned First Team All-State honors in 2002 and 2003, and was named Tennessee I-2A Mr. Football Lineman of the Year. Bolden was considered the top overall high school prospect his senior year. After his career at Tennessee, he moved on to the CFL, where he continues to play today.
Gerald Riggs, Jr.
6-0 – 217 lbs. – Linebacker
High School: Red Bank (2002)
Gerald Riggs, Jr.’s rushing career is well documented. He was one of the most decorated high school recruits to ever come out of the state of Tennessee. Because he was so prolific on offense, his linebacking career at Red Bank is often overlooked. In his senior season at Red Bank, he earned All-State honors for the second time – but this time for his outstanding play at linebacker. The combination of Riggs’ speed and 220-pound frame led to shocking transfers of force on the football field at Red Bank. Riggs collected 225 career tackles in his time at Red Bank, earning both All-State honors and the Mr. Football Back of the Year Award in 2000 and 2001.
6-3 – 300 lbs. – Defensive Line
High School: Tyner (2004)
College: Auburn, Northeast Mississippi Community College, Cumberland
Greg “Green Mile” Smith was a beastly defensive lineman for Tyner. He had a knack for disrupting blocking assignments, lea-ving him free to dole out punishment in the offensive backfield. In his senior year at Tyner, Smith recorded 164 tackles, 37 of them for a loss, and forced 11 fumbles. His effort was enough to earn him All-State honors for the second season in a row and the Tennessee I-2A Mr. Football Lineman of the Year Award. After initially signing with Auburn as one of the state’s top prospects, Smith transferred to junior college, where he quickly became the nation’s top junior college defensive line prospect and re-signed with Auburn. Ultimately, Smith finished his collegiate career at Cumberland University.
6-1 – 235 lbs. – Linebacker
High School: East Ridge (2009)
Gunner Miller wasn’t the most highly touted high school prospect coming
out of East Ridge, but there was no question he created helmet-shaking collisions on both sides of the ball. Following his high school career, he was recruited to play collegiately for his hometown at UTC. After redshirting in 2009, Miller earned Southern Conference All-Freshman honors in 2010. From there, he was a three-year starter and racked up 166 career tackles under head coach Russ Huesman. After graduating, he took his big hitting to the professional wrestling scene.
6-3 – 295 lbs. – Defensive Line
High School: Baylor (2006)
Professional: NFL – Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins
Before creating successful collegiate and professional careers that were exclusive to the offensive line, Jacques McClendon did everything but throw and kick the ball in high school at Baylor. Not only would he wreak havoc on the offensive and defensive lines, but he was also known to run the ball and for his pass-catching skills at tight end. At nearly 300 pounds, McClendon did more running through than running around – and that didn’t sit well with opposing high school linebackers and secondaries. Upon graduating from Baylor, he had earned All-State honors twice, earned All-American honors, won the II-3A Mr. Football Lineman of the Year Award, and had been dubbed Tennessee’s Gatorade Player of the Year.
6-4 – 240 lbs. – Linebacker
High School: Baylor (2011)
Professional: NFL – New York Jets
David Helton has the instincts to know exactly where to be, the speed to get there in a hurry, and the size to make it hurt when he gets there. At Baylor, he wreaked havoc on ball carriers and potential receivers that were bold enough to come across the middle. Helton caused ten fumbles across his junior and senior seasons at Baylor and found himself on the First Team All-State teams in both of those seasons. At Duke, he was First Team All-ACC and led the ACC in both tackles and tackles per game in 2014. This year, Helton signed on with the New York Jets as an undrafted free agent. Helton has the potential to make life difficult for opposing NFL offenses for years to come.
6-3 – 225 lbs. – Linebacker
High School: Ooltewah (2010)
Professional: NFL – Atlanta Falcons
Opponents of the Ooltewah Owls didn’t
want to find themselves in Jacques Smith’s crosshairs. In his senior season at Ooltewah, Smith shook up ball carriers to the tune of four forced fumbles. That same year, he was relentless in his pursuit of the quarterback, tearing his way to 9.5 sacks. Smith made First Team All-State and was named Class 5A Tennessee Mr. Football Lineman of the Year in both 2008 and 2009 before making his way to Knoxville to play at the next level. As a Vol, he saw plenty of action as a freshman and was named to the 2010 Freshman All-SEC Team. He would go on to sign a free agency contract with the Atlanta Falcons in 2014.
6-1 – 190 lbs. – Defensive Back
High School: Ridgeland (2013)
College: Ohio State
Opposing wide receivers have their head on a swivel when Vonn Bell is prowling at his safety position in the center of the Buckeyes defense. Bell has made a name for himself at Ohio State by picking off opposing quarterbacks when the Buckeyes need it the most. But when he can’t get the interception, he doesn’t cheat himself on the hit, and he never has. At Ridgeland, he was First Team All-State in his junior and senior seasons, and was an Under Armour All-American his senior year. In 2014, as a sophomore at Ohio State, Bell started 14 games at safety for the Buckeyes National Championship team and was named Honorable Mention All-Big Ten Conference.