#26 Chad Lavalais
One point. Chad Lavalais failed to qualify for college on his ACT by one point. Twice. Lavalais, his dreams of college football seemingly dashed, moved on with his life and even got a job as a prison guard. But a funny thing happened on his way to becoming a cautionary tale, he finally qualified and showed up on campus as an older and wiser freshman. The only other freshman who took longer to find his way onto campus was Matt Mauck, who tried to acheive his pro baseball dreams.
Lavalais was the centerpiece of perhaps the greatest defense of the decade. Not greatest LSU defense, I mean greatest defense in college football. The 2003 LSU Tigers, per game, allowed 11.0 points (#1 in the nation), 252.0 yards (#1), 67.0 on the ground (#3), a passing efficiency of 89.81 (#2), and forced 33 turnovers (#9). The defense was so awesome that it has probably raised unreasonable expectations around these parts. That defense was just frighteningly good.
And in the middle, the leader of this ferocious unit, was Lavalais. He earned his starting job as a freshman, and was a dominant player by his junior year. By his senior year, he was just a force of nature, collecting 61 tackles and 16 of those for a loss. He could get to quarterback and also clog up the running lanes. There was just nothing he couldn't do on a football field.
Lavalais won The Sporting News Defensive Player of the Year and 1st team All-American honors, but he was denied the Outland and Lomardi Trophies. He has to settle for being the best player on the best defense that many of us have ever seen. Oh, and the first national title brought to Baton Rouge in 45 years. Not a bad resume.