Top 20 Marshall Football Players of All-Time

By Keith Morehouse

Throughout his career, boxing legend Muhammad Ali was often known to proclaim, “I must be the greatest.” In the last 115 years, Marshall University has seen its fair share of football players that wowed fans and foes alike with their greatness. From Gunner Gatski to Randy Moss, the Thundering Herd football program is rich in talent. But who are the greatest of all time? That is a question HQ recently decided to tackle. We began by picking a number to target, in this case the 20 greatest football players to ever don the green and white. Next, we decided to assemble a panel of experts to assist us in making our selections.

The panel included Mike Hamrick, director of athletics at Marshall; Bob Pruett, the winningest coach in Marshall football history; and Keith Morehouse, sports director at WSAZ NewsChannel 3. Our panel members were asked to submit their own lists of the 20 greatest football players of all time. The lists were tabulated, and the results we are confident comprise the 20 greatest Marshall football players of all time. The list of players is in no particular order.

Chad Pennington - 1995 to 1999

Chad Pennington 1995-1999

One of the most beloved football players to ever wear the green and white, Chad Pennington left an indelible mark on Marshall football. He finished his career at Marshall University having completed 1,026 of 1,619 passes for 13,423 yards and 115 touchdowns. He led Marshall to its first ever bowl win in 1998, beating Louisville 48-29 in the Motor City Bowl. His teams won 47 games and lost only seven in his four years as quarterback. His final drive in the comeback win over Western Michigan in the ’99 MAC title game will forever be remembered in Herd lore, as Marshall finished the season undefeated at 13-0 and ranked No. 10 in the nation. He was a Heisman finalist his senior season. Drafted in the first round of the 2000 draft by the New York Jets, Pennington was twice named NFL Comeback Player of the Year. He finished runner-up to Peyton Manning in 2008 for the NFL MVP Award. He’s the most accurate passer in NFL history among quarterbacks with at least 1,500 pass attempts, completing 66 percent of his passes.


Chris Parker 1992-1995

Chris Parker 1992-1995

Simply put, Chris Parker is one of the best runningbacks to ever suit up for Marshall. He’s the career all-time rushing yardage leader with 5,924 yards. His 68 rushing touchdowns are the most ever, as are his 7,145 total yards. Parker was named the Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year in 1993 and 1995. His 1,833 yards rushing in 1995 is a single-season record that still stands. He played professionally for the Jacksonville Jaguars.


Randy Moss 1996-1997

Randy Moss 1996-1997

Randy Moss is arguably the greatest football player and athlete to ever suit up for the Thundering Herd. He possessed world-class speed; he “ran like a scalded dog,” Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden once said of Moss. Former Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz called him “the best high school football player I’ve ever seen.” In just two years at Marshall, Moss caught 53 touchdown passes, still a career Marshall record. Some of his greatest feats at Marshall included a five-touchdown performance against Ball State, scoring a touchdown in every game he played and his now-legendary 90-yard catch and run against Army that ESPN called one of the greatest plays of the 1997 NCAA football season. He won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best receiver and was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 1997. He was drafted in the first round of the NFL draft by the Minnesota Vikings and was later named NFL “Rookie of the Year.” A four-time pro bowl selection, Moss is second in NFL history with 153 touchdown catches.


Jackie Hunt 1938-1941

Jackie Hunt 1938-1941

He played in the leather helmet era, when film and video highlights were nonexistent, but Jackie Hunt’s reputation has endured all these many years later. He played from 1938-41 at Marshall and is still ranked third of all time, with 43 career rushing touchdowns. Hunt’s breakout season came in 1940, when he scored 27 touchdowns on the year, a national record at that time. That season, he scored 162 points. Hunt was named to famed sportswriter Grantland Rice’s All-American team. “I doubt there’s a better back in America than Jackie Hunt,” Rice said.


Carl Lee 1979-1983

Carl Lee 1979-1983

South Charleston High School star Carl Lee was a highly recruited player when Sonny Randle convinced him to come to Marshall in 1979. He was a three-time All-Southern Conference performer at defensive back. Lee’s speed and athleticism were constantly on display, including the day he ran a blocked field goal 88 yards for a touchdown against Morehead State. He was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings and made the NFL Pro Bowl three times. He had 29 interceptions in his career with Minnesota and the New Orleans Saints. He was named to Minnesota’s 40th anniversary team as a starting cornerback.


Ahmad Bradshaw 2004-2006

Ahmad Bradshaw 2004-2006

Ahmad Bradshaw was a highly coveted cornerback out of high school and originally enrolled at Virginia before leaving and coming to Marshall. Demonstrating his trademark cutting ability game after game, Bradshaw left Marshall as fifth of all time in career rushing yards after only three seasons. His junior year, he ran for 1,523 yards and 19 touchdowns. He was named first-team All-Conference USA in 2006 and was drafted in the seventh round by the New York Giants. He eventually earned the starting tailback job and ran for 1,235 yards and eight touchdowns last season.


Larry McCloud 1994-1997

Larry McCloud 1994-1997

This middle linebacker is a throwback player who was one of the most productive tacklers ever at Marshall. He’s third of all time in tackles at Marshall with 451. He

led Marshall in tackles for three straight years (1995-1997). He had a storybook final season with 150 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception for a touchdown. His textbook tackle of Mississippi tightend Rufus French in the 1997 Motor City Bowl is a YouTube sensation, and he was a Sports Network second-team All-American in 1996.


Byron Leftwich 1997-2002

Byron Leftwich 1997-2002

Byron Leftwich followed a legend in Chad Pennington and then crafted a legacy of his own as one of the best passers in Marshall history. Leftwich completed 939 of 1,442 passes (65.1 percent) for 11,903 yards and 89 touchdowns. The iconic image of Leftwich being carried down the field by his offensive linemen (after he had fractured his leg during a game against Akron) has been a staple of TV sports shows when recognizing courageous athletes. Leftwich will also be remembered for engineering the “Miracle in Mobile,” bringing the Herd back from a 38-8 halftime deficit in the GMAC bowl in 2001; Marshall eventually beat East Carolina 64-61 in one of the highest-scoring bowl games ever played. He was the seventh overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2003, making him the highest-ever NFL draft pick out of Marshall.


John Wade 1994-1997

John Wade 1994-1997

John Wade started at center for two years at Marshall before embarking on a long and successful NFL career. The 6-foot-5-inch 300-pounder was the anchor of the offensive line when Marshall went 25-3 from 1996-1997. He snapped to quarterbacks Eric Kresser and Chad Pennington in his Marshall career, helping the Herd to the I-AA national championship in 1996 and the Herd’s first bowl bid in 50 years in 1997. He was drafted in the fifth round of the ’98 draft by Jacksonville and started 110 games for three different teams in his NFL career.


Troy Brown 1991-1992

Troy Brown 1991-1992

His nickname might as well have been “Touchdown Troy.” During his career at Marshall, Troy Brown scored a touchdown once every eight times he touched the ball. Brown still holds the NCAA Division I-AA record, averaging more than 29 yards per kickoff return. His four kickoff returns for touchdowns in 1992 also stand as a single-season NCAA I-AA record. He holds the Marshall record with a 99-yard touchdown catch against VMI, and he put together a monster season with 101 receptions for 1,654 yards and 16 touchdowns. His final catch at Marshall was actually an interception in the 1992 I-AA Championship win over Youngstown State. Brown was selected by the New England Patriots in the 1993 draft and went on to become the second-leading receiver in franchise history. He holds the club record, with 101 receptions in 2001. Brown has three Super Bowl rings and is in the Patriots Hall of Fame.


Frank 'Gunner' Gatski 1941-1942

Frank “Gunner” Gatski 1941-1942

Frank “Gunner” Gatski is the only former Marshall player who has a bronze bust in the NFL Hall of Fame. He played center for Marshall for two seasons and helped pave the way for All-American running back Jackie Hunt to help the Herd set a national scoring record in 1941. He tried out for the Cleveland Browns in 1946 and played in the old All-American Football Conference, where his teams won four championships. When the Browns went to the NFL, he and Cleveland picked up three more NFL titles. He won more titles than any position player – other than kickers – in pro football history. His jersey number at Marshall, No. 72, is retired, never to be worn again.


Mike Barber 1985-1988

Mike Barber 1985-1988

Maybe the most sure-handed receiver who ever played wideout at Marshall, Mike Barber’s name is at the top of every career receiving mark in the record books for the Thundering Herd. A product of Winfield High School, Barber is the all-time reception leader at Marshall with 249 catches; that mark is the Southern Conference all-time career reception record as well. Barber was named the American Football Coaches’ Association National Player of the Year in 1988 and was the second Marshall player (after Jackie Hunt) to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He was drafted in the 1989 draft in the fourth round by the San Francisco 49ers.


Chris Crocker 1999-2002

Chris Crocker 1999-2002

Always ready with a quick smile and a good quote, this safety was a terror in the defensive backfield for the Herd from 1999-2002. Chris Crocker combined speed and a fierce on-field demeanor to help lead the Herd to three straight bowl appearances from 2000-2002. Crocker is in his ninth season in the NFL, where he’s accumulated 341 tackles, 12 sacks, 10 interceptions and one touchdown in his career.


Billy Lyon 1993-1996

Billy Lyon 1993-1996

Billy Lyon was a one-man wrecking crew at defensive tackle for the Herd in the mid-1990s. He was a Sports Network and Associated Press first-team All-American in 1996. He led the Herd with nine sacks helping Marshall win its second I-AA national championship. He was named first-team all-Southern Conference and is among the top 20 tacklers of all time at Marshall. He’s second all time at Marshall with 30 sacks.


Vinny Curry 2008-2011

Vinny Curry 2008-2011

Defensive end Vinny Curry is still carving out his legacy at Marshall as one of the best ever at his position. Curry was named the 2011 Conference USA Preseason Defensive Player of the Year and is living up to the hype. His speed and strength are a tough matchup for the offensive linemen who’ve watched him total 45 tackles for loss, 26 sacks and nine forced fumbles with at least three games left in his college career. He was named a semifinalist for the 2011 Rotary Lombari Award, given annually to the nation’s top lineman or linebacker, and he is currently in the running for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, presented annually to the nation’s best defensive player, and the Bednarik Award, given annually to the nation’s best defensive player. Numerous pro scouts predict he will be a second-round draft pick in the NFL.


Michael Payton 1989-1992

Michael Payton 1989-1992

Michael Payton will always be remembered for “the drive” in the 1992 National Title game. Marshall had squandered a 28-0 lead against Youngstown, and the Penguins tied the game late in the fourth quarter. Payton calmly led the Herd down the field and set up Willie Merrick for a fairytale 22-yard field goal, giving Marshall its first-ever national championship in football. He was the I-AA National Player of the Year in 1992 and a first-team Associated Press All-American. He’s third of all time at Marshall in touchdown passes (69), completions (689) and passing yards (9,411).


Herb Royer 1934-1937

Herb Royer 1934-1937

Herb Royer made a name as a player and coach for the Thundering Herd. He helped Marshall to an undefeated 9-0-1 record in the Buckeye Conference in 1937. He was a two-time all-conference first-team selection and played for the College All Stars against the Philadelphia Eagles in 1938. Old-time Thundering Herd fans will remember Royer as a “triple threat” on the gridiron where he could run, pass and kick on offense. As if that weren’t enough, he could also play safety on defense. He originally made plans to play professional football for the Detroit Lions, but ultimately Royer decided to go into teaching and coaching. He was head coach of the Herd from 1953-1958.


Doug Chapman 1996-1999

Doug Chapman 1996-1999

Doug Chapman was a bruising tailback who had no problems administering a blow to a defensive player. In his four years at Marshall, Chapman was on two Herd teams (1996 and 1999) that finished undefeated. His 4,016 career rushing yards are second of all time at Marshall, along with his 52 rushing touchdowns. Chapman scored the memorable go-ahead touchdown in the 1999 season opener against Clemson; the Herd finished that season unbeaten and ranked 10th in the nation. He was drafted in the third round of the 2000 draft by the Minnesota Vikings and played four years in the NFL.


Mike Bartrum 1989-1992

Mike Bartrum 1989-1992

Mike Bartrum came to Marshall from Pomeroy, Ohio, with aspirations of playing quarterback, but that only lasted one practice. He left as one of the greatest tight ends in Marshall history. Bartrum was a second-team All-American in 1992 as he caught nine touchdown passes and helped the Herd to the I-AA National Championship. He was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs and played 13 seasons in the NFL for four different teams. He scored six career touchdowns in the NFL and made the NFL Pro Bowl in 1995. He’s been recognized as one of the best long snappers in league history.


Johnathan Goddard 2001-2004

Johnathan Goddard 2001-2004

Johnathan Goddard had a year most defensive players only dream about in 2004. Goddard’s motor never stopped as he led the nation with 16 sacks and 28 tackles for loss. He singlehandedly changed the game in Manhattan, Kan., when he intercepted an option pitch and ran it back for a touchdown as Marshall upset No. 6 Kansas State in 2003. He scored a touchdown in Marshall’s near-upset of Ohio State in 2004. He was the first defensive player from Marshall to be named a finalist for the Bronco Nagurski Trophy.

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