Despite college football’s rich history of great players, it’s always a treat to see individuals playing on both sides of the ball. Yet, it’s not often that one of these two-way players finds themselves performing well enough to be a starter on offense and defense. Then again, not everyone is like Wisconsin’s Tanner McEvoy.
Last season, we were taken aback when we learned that McEvoy would be starting at both wide receiver and free safety. That’s right, folks. This former quarterback — yes, he played QB as well — is No. 1 on the team’s depth chart in multiple positions. Talk about impressive. If you’re curious as to why Wisconsin would employ this tactic, just listen to how Badgers head coach Paul Chryst talks about McEvoy. Then you’ll understand.
I think just in being around him, his football IQ, his awareness of the game, that was pretty evident early. Then athletically, I think he’s a pretty unique athlete, big, skilled guy, and you know, wasn’t quite sure how physically it would all go.
But I thought last week during the week, and he had a great week of practice, and you know, I think we had a good plan for him. I think there’s some things we’ll continue to tweak. I’m not saying we’ve perfected it. But he bought into it. And that’s when you knew that he had a chance to be real.
After reading about McEvoy’s situation at Wisconsin, we couldn’t help but feel the need to acknowledge other gifted athletes who took on the challenge of playing both offense and defense during their collegiate playing days. Therefore, with that in mind, here’s a look at the five best two-way players in college football history.
1. Dick Butkus
Dick Butkus may be more well-known for his days with the Chicago Bears — one of the most intimidating linebackers in the history of the National Football League — but before he even made it to the pros, Butkus was terrorizing college players on both sides of the ball.
During his time at Illinois, the two-time All-American played center, fullback, and linebacker. He finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1963 (as a junior) and finished with the third most votes the following year. To this day, the Dick Butkus Award is given to the best linebacker in all of college football.
2. Chuck Bednarik
Chuck Bednarik was considered to be as close to a “Sixty Minute Man” as you could get in the sport of football. That’s because “Concrete Charlie” found himself playing all 60 minutes of his college games.
As a member of the Pennsylvania Quakers, he played center, middle linebacker, and handled duties on special teams. By the time he was through with his college career, Bednarik was a two-time Consensus All-American (1947 and 1948), a seventh-place finisher in the Heisman Voting in 1947, and a Maxwell Award recipient in 1948.
3. Bronko Nagurski
There are forces of nature on the football field, and then there was Bronko Nagurski. From a physically dominating standpoint, this guy was in a league of his own. During his college playing days at Minnesota in the late ’20s, Nagurski controlled the game as both a fullback and a defensive tackle. In fact, he was so skilled that in 1929 — his senior season — Nagurski was voted First-Team All-American in both positions. Now that’s a bad dude right there.
4. Charles Woodson
During his time at Michigan, Charles Woodson did it all for the Wolverines. He was a lockdown cornerback — finishing his career with 16 interceptions — he returned punts, and he even lined up at wide receiver. In 1997, not only was Woodson a Consensus All-American, but he was also named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, won the Nagurski, Bednarik, and Thorpe Awards, and took home the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award. To top it all off, Woodson even beat out Peyton Manning for the Heisman Trophy.
5. Jim Thorpe
Jim Thorpe was a once-in-a-generation athlete. In fact, the Associated Press voted him “The Greatest Athlete of the First Half of the Century.” He played Major League Baseball, pro football, and won gold medals in both the decathlon and pentathlon at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. Of course, during his college career at Carlisle, Thorpe was just as special on the gridiron. He played running back, defensive back, kicker, and punter. Dubbed by his coach Pop Warner as “the greatest all-around athlete in the world,” Thorpe went on to be named a Consensus All-American in 1911 and 1912.