Brian Westbrook Among Former CAA Standouts Up For College Football Hall
Brian Westbrook Among Former CAA Standouts Up For College Football Hall
Eight players from six CAA programs are on the ballot for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2022.
The National Football Foundation’s release of the College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2022 ballot features an array of standouts who shaped the history of present-day Colonial Athletic Association members.
Eight players from six current CAA programs appear on the ballot, including a Walter Payton Award winner-turned-NFL star; a nominee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame; and one of the pioneers of the pass in college football.
A standout in Stony Brook’s Div. III years, Chuck Downey earned induction into the university’s Hall of Fame in 1996. The accolades piled up in his career include winning ECAC Div. III Player of the Year in 1986, and garnering the program’s first-ever Associated Press All-American nod in 1987.
Downey picked off seven passes in 1986, including a 69-yard pick-six against Hofstra, and he intercepted 13 in total during his time as a Seawolf. His 12 broken-up passes the same year remains tied for the most in a single season ever at Stony Brook, and highlights a truly special year for Downey at defensive back.
Among his other performances that season was a 15-tackle, three-interception outing against SUNY Cortland.
Pass-happy offenses and the dissolving of huddles around college football have made the game more conducive to big numbers in the 21st Century. However, etched firmly atop most all Rhode Island passing statistical records is quarterback Tom Ehrardt.
In an era when potent passing attacks like Mouse Davis’ at Portland State, Satellite Express at Mississippi Valley State and LaVell Edwards’ BYU teams were remarkable outliers, Rhode Island was similarly plugged into the future. Ehrardt still owns the top four marks for most completions in a single game at Rhody, his 43 against Akron atop the heap. That same day, he went for 472 yards and five touchdowns — good enough for second-most in a single Rams game behind his eight touchdown passes thrown November 1985 against UConn.
Ehrardt finished 1985 with 365 completions and 42 touchdowns, outperforming his 308-completion, 36-touchdown 1984. He was key to the Rams’ 10 wins and Div. I-AA quarterfinals run in ‘85, capping his three-year run winning ECAC Player of the Year.
Two-time All-American Curtis Eller had his Villanova No. 42 retired during the 1998 Battle of the Blue, at which Hall of Fame Wildcats coach Andy Talley called him “the best linebacker that ever played in the new Villanova era.”
Villanova’s “new era” refers to the program restart in the mid-1980s after being disbanded in 1981. The first of 13 playoff appearances in program history came in 1989, with Eller leading the way for the defense. His tenacity and ball-hawkin style, which included a 22-tackle performance in his final game, a 23-20 nail-biter against the Jim Tressel-coached Youngstown State dynasty in the 1992 Playoffs.
Eller’s contributions helped build Villanova into the perennial power it is today.
One of the most important figures in the history of Elon football, Bobby Hedrick left the program with four straight 1,000-plus-yard rushing seasons; the 1980 NAIA national championship; and reached milestones as both the NAIA’s all-time leading rusher, and the most prolific ball-carrier in Elon history at 5,177 yards.
His championship campaign produced 1,383 yards and a remarkable 18 touchdowns. Following the NAIA title game that season, in which Hedrick rushed 41 times for 185 yards, Northeastern State coach George Elliott told the Associated Press, “As for Hedrick, he’s just one of the finest I’ve ever seen. We hit him pretty hard and he just kept coming back.”
Hedrick died in 2015. His Elon legacy is immortalized with his No. 44 retired.
Legendary Delaware football coach Tubby Raymond told The News Journal in December 1981, “[Garry Kuhlman] is a fine football player. He could have played at any level in the country. He ranks with the we’ve ever had in the line.”
Considering Kuhlman’s time with the Fightin’ Blue Hens came up right after Herb Beck won All-American recognition, Raymond’s praise for Kuhlman as one of the program’s best-ever is particularly noteworthy. And the tackle won the hardware to back it up.
Kuhlman is a two-time 1st Team All-American, garnering selections in 1980 and 1981. The Blue Hens won nine games in each of those campaigns behind one of the College Division’s most potent offenses. The ‘81 offense, thanks in part to Kuhlman’s blocking in the famed Wing-T formation, scored at least 31 points eight times.
“I figure like this,” Sean Landeta said in a 1982 The Evening Sun (Baltimore) profile. “There’s nobody in the National Football League any better than I am. Some of them will get off a better punt now and then. Maybe. But nobody is going to go out there and kick the ball consistently better than I do.”
Think of it like the special-teams equivalent of Babe Ruth calling his home-run shot. Landeta did indeed transition from Towson to the NFL expertly, doubling as a nominee for both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
Punting is one of those nuances of the game that people either do not know how to evaluate, or choose not to educate themselves. From that same Evening Sun piece, Landeta offered an assessment of his contributions that deserve notice.
“You know what statistic means the most to me? The one that says ‘In 20,’ punts that ended up inside the 20-yard line. I’ve done that 12 times [in 28 punts]. That means 12 times the opponent had to drive 80 yards or more to score after one of my kicks.”
In two All-American seasons at Delaware — 1988 and 1989 — defensive end Michael Renna racked plenty of impressive statistics. He made eight sacks in ‘88, totaled 37 tackles for loss in his career, and blocked three kicks.
One play in particular might be the most historic in Renna’s illustrious Blue Hens career, however. A late-October win over Massachusetts put Delaware on the path to a Yankee Conference championship and Div. I-AA playoff berth, and Renna’s recovery of a Minutemen fumble at the goal line in the fourth quarter sealed the victory.
After his 1988 All-American selection, The News Journal recounted the unique circumstances of Renna’s recruitment. He wanted to play at Rutgers, but the Scarlet Knights only wanted him as a walk-on. Ron Rogerson, then the head coach at Princeton and a 10-season assistant coach at Delaware, suggested UD and Renna would be the right fit.
How right Rogerson was.
Outside of Pro Football Hall of Fame nominee Sean Landeta, none of the CAA-school alumni up for a College Football Hall of Fame induction transitioned to the NFL with as much impact as Brian Westbrook. His two Pro Bowl selections — one of which came the same season he helped the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl — and 2007 selection as a First-Team All-Pro cemented Westbrook in pro fame.
Before joining the Eagles organization, Westbrook did his thing at an elite level elsewhere in the Philadelphia area. He capped a standout Villanova career with a season-single program record 1,603 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns, numbers that propelled Westbrook to the Walter Payton Award in 2001.
He closed out his career with 4,499 rushing yards, far and away the most ever at Villanova, 54 rushing scores — also a record — and 725 carries.
While 2001 was his collegiate masterpiece, Westbrook’s best game might have been his first. He went for 428 all-purpose yards against Pitt in 1998, a game after which Andy Talley told The Washington Post Westbrook was “a Div. I-A player.”
Close: He was an NFL player.
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