Let's get to the middle of the defense. LSU likes to think of itself right now as DBU, and we have also seen a spectacular amount of talented linemen go through the program recently, but the best linebackers do seem to be from a previous era. In fact, LSU used to be closer to LBU than DBU, routinely having an All-American LB.
Could this be another chance for the old guys to keep out the Golden Era players? Let's see. First up, the Golden Century Members, which had four linebackers on it:
GOLDEN CENTURY TEAM
Michael Brooks (1985 All-American). If you are an LSU fan of a certain age, and by that I mean my age, Michael Brooks is one step away from Football God. He was an All-American as a junior and on his way to a second All-American campaign as a senior until a knee injury wiped out his senior year. He is the best linebacker I ever saw play in the purple and gold. He still ranks 5th all-time among LSU players in career tackles for a loss, and 1st among linebackers. He ranks 2nd all-time among LSU linebackers in career sacks.
Mike Anderson (1970 All-American). Anderson started every game for three years, which is a tremendous accomplish for a player back in the day when underclassmen rarely got to play early in their careers. He was the middle link of the trio of linebackers who made consecutive All-American teams for LSU.
Roy Winston (1961 All-American at guard). We already covered Moonie Winston as an offensive lineman. He made the All-American team as a guard, not a linebacker, but the mere fact he was a 60 minute man shows what a tremendous bad ass he was. He also was All-SEC for the baseball team. Just sayin'.
Warren Capone (1972 and 1973 All-American). Two-time All-American. Do we need to say more? The 1972 and 1973 teams allowed 274 points... combined. In 1972, they allowed all of 12 touchdowns on the season. He was the best player on some stout defenses.
George Bevan (1969 All-American). The first player in the Bevan-Anderson-Capone troika. He was the guy who started the tradition of great linebackers at LSU. He came back from an Achilles injury back when that should have been a career ender to make that All-American team. His greatest moment was blocking an extra point against Auburn in a 21-20 win in 1969. He at least deserves the shout out.
Rydell Melancon (LSU career leader in sacks). Bet you didn't know that. His 25 sacks lead all comers, and he is one of only three LSU players to have 10 sacks in a season (1981). That 1981 linebacking unit, which we're about to get into in more detail, was a damned monster, though surrounded by little else. By 1982, it would turn into an Orange Bowl squad.
Al Richardson (1982 All-American, LSU career leader in tackles). Paired with Lawrence Williams and Rydell Melancon, they made probably the best linebacker unit in LSU history from 1980-82. Richardson had 150 tackles in 1981, then an LSU record, while Lawrence Williams had 144 on the same team. Richardson owns THREE of the top 10 seasons in tackles (in chronological order: 129, 150, 121). He had 21 tackles in one game against South Carolina, and 452 tackles on his career, easily the LSU record. Richardson is the forgotten great of LSU history.
Oliver Lawrence (LSU single season leader in sacks). If we're looking at peak, he has the best season in LSU history when it came to getting to the quarterback, with 12 sacks in 1989. The 1980's were the Golden Era for LSU linebackers. He was the last of the run of tremendous linebackers LSU fans enjoyed.
Selecting just four guys is rough. I think the Golden Century team did not give enough credit to the recent past, which makes sense of you remember how we felt about LSU football in 1993. There was a tendency to look far back to when things were better instead of the messy 1980's era, which was viewed at the time as resulting in the crash of Curley. I'm submitting four guys for consideration, and then one guy I refuse to even debate:
And I won't even entertain a discussion on Michael Brooks. It would be like bad mouthing Jesus.
I actually think is this one category the old guys absolutely dominate. It's odd considering how many stellar athletes the state of Louisiana boasts, there seems to be a dearth of elite LB play at LSU. We pretty much run through All-Americans at RB, DB and DL these days. We've put a shit ton of WRs into the league, even in a run-heavy approach. QB and OL are notoriously two of the toughest positions to evaluate, so lack of greatness there isn't exactly unique to LSU. But to struggle to find LBs is... odd. This is with having some notable LB coaches on staff as well. Perhaps Aranda can rectify, but I think my list is actually pretty thin...
Bradie James (2nd All-Time Tackles, Single Season Tackles Leader, 1st Team All-American, 2x 1st Team All-SEC)
Like Nacho, Bradie was a true scholar athlete and landed on the Academic All-SEC team. He got it done on the field, too. 1st team All-American and twice selected to the First Team All-SEC team. He's one of only two LBs to rank in the top 10 in career tackles since 1993 (Kelvin Sheppard is the other). And he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Faulk/Spears as guys who were elite prospects but made it cool to stay home and play. In many ways, he is the perfect representation of an LSU athlete and easily the best LB of the Golden Era.
Ali Highsmith (1st Team All-American, 2nd Forced Fumbles, 2nd Team All-SEC)
Highsmith really put together a strong senior season, registering 101 tackles, 9 TFL, 3 Sacks, 9 Hurries, 2 FF and 8 PD. He was a do it all LB in the middle of a dominant defensive unit. My main counter here is that he was a 3 year starter but doesn't really rank in any career LSU leading stats. This illustrates that he was a perfectly fine player who had a demonstrably great senior year, but one of the best all-time?
Kelvin Sheppard (9th in Career Tackles, 1st Team All-SEC, 3rd in Forced Fumbles)
Sheppard was a blue collar type that had a more productive career than an acclaimed one. He was a known good player, but never considered the best player on the defense. He's the tortoise in the fable. That's not a bad thing, and his career should be remembered more fondly than it is, but is he an all-time great?
Kevin Minter (1st Team All-American, 2nd in Single Game Tackles , 4th in Single Season Tackles , 6th in Single Season TFL)
Minter is entirely a one year wonder here. If you remember, most of his career was spent sharing time with folks like Karnell Hatcher, so while he was present in the 2011 defense, he was hardly a difference maker there. His 2012 is one of the single best LB seasons in LSU history, though, and that's the only reason he gets any mention.
There's other names here. Guys that had some brilliance but faded (Darry Beckwith) or left too early (Trev Faulk), or had single great years (Lionel Turner). But this honestly isn't a group I can stump for up against the links of Al Richardson, Michael Brooks, Mike Anderson, Warren Capone, Moonie Winston, etc.
So, those are my four:
Damn, that's my four as well. I really have no argument to put forth here, so let's just mention a few odds and ends.
Think about Kevin Minter and how great he was in 2012. Think of the Florida game, specifically. Got it? OK, Al Richardson had more tackles in a single game and not only did he have more tackles in a season, he also had a season in which he had one less tackle in TWO less games. Al Richardson was a machine. It's criminal that he is not referred to in hushed tones around town. Now, part of that is that he was followed by Brooks, who IS talked about in those tones, but Richardson was a great, great player. It's Minter's peak season, done three times.
The big shock, I think, is our casual passing over of Mike Anderson. First off, I find his restaurant to be pretty good, though I haven't been in years. But I do think his high profile post-playing career slightly, and I mean slightly, inflates his reputation. He's in a run of three straight great linebackers, and it's hard to argue he was better than Capone, ya know, the two-time All-American. He's probably my #5 guy, maybe #6 behind the career sack leader Melancon. But it's close.
Bradie is the clear cut guy from the modern era, though we might be making a case for Kendall Beckwith after this season. We'll see. Bradie is important not just for how good he was, or for being an all-around good dude, but also for being one of the key recruits in LSU history. He's one of the guys who form the rock upon which the Golden Age is built. We cannot thank him enough for what he did for the program. A lot of this doesn't happen without Bradie James showing up, and then being awesome.
But he still wasn't as good as Michael Brooks.
Here's the team so far:
QB Bert Jones
OT Andrew Whitworth
OT Kevin Mawae
OG Eric Andolsek
OG Alan Faneca
C Ben Wilkerson
K David Browndyke
KR Odell Beckham, Jr.
DE Gabe Northern
DT Glenn Dorsey
DT Booger McFarland
DE Marcus Spears
LB Bradie James
LB Al Richardson
LB Michael Brooks
LB Warren Capone
P Donnie Jones
PR Pinky Rohm