It seems as though the Miami football team has only been as good as their defensive tackles have. When the Canes were at their peak, in the late 80’s and early 90’s, punishing and athletic interior lineman were wreaking havoc like never before seen on collegiate offenses. Even at the beginning of the 2000’s, the most recent era of prolonged championship-caliber football, The U had the talent to shut down rushing lanes and pressure the QB.
Picking five of these difference makers isn’t too challenging. There are, appropriately enough, five Canes who stand out along the position group. Ranking them is where the chore lies. You might just be better off ranking them all as tied for first. Nevertheless, here are the top five Miami defensive tackles.
5. Vince Wilfork (2001-03)
Big Vince was a freshman during Miami’s last title but it didn’t mean the talent space-eater didn’t contribute. Despite not starting a game, Wilfork routinely clogged gaps and brought down ballcarriers, finishing tenth on team with 41 tackles to go with a ring and a member of the greatest team of all time.
Wilfork didn’t start in 2002 either but continued establishing himself as one of the best defensive lineman in the nation. The Sporting News rated Wilfork as the second best at his position entering the 2003 season. The Boynton Beach native didn’t disappoint, notching 64 tackles and a team-high 20 QB hurries. Despite his size and frame suggesting otherwise, Wilfork was a special athlete and continued his dominant play at the NFL level, a first round pick and key piece of the Patriots’ Super-Bowl winning defense from 2004-14.
4. Cortez Kennedy (1988-89)
The late, great Kennedy didn’t spend his entire collegiate career at Miami but it didn’t matter. His two years in Coral Gables established him as one of the best, not only at Miami, but at his positon. Coming over from North Mississippi Junior College, Kennedy made an impact in his first year. With 27 total tackles and two sacks, the transfer was only scratching the surface of his potential.
Kennedy exploded as a senior, one of the, literally, biggest parts of Miami’s nationally recognized front four. He racked up 87 tackles and 6.5 sacks in the 1989 championship season, earning second team All-American honors to go with a ring. Kennedy’s combination of size, speed and agility made him a force at the next level, being selected third overall by the Seahawks and eventually inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
3. Russell Maryland (1987-90)
The other part of the interior of that ’89 team was Russell Maryland, an anchor along that defensive line for his four years with the Hurricanes. Maryland was one of the biggest parts of a defense that helped guide Miami to two national titles and in 1990 was the first Hurricane to win the Outland Trophy.
Maryland totaled 279 tackles, with 25 for loss, and 20.5 sacks in his four dominant years for Miami. He would go on to be selected first overall by the Jimmy Johnson-led Cowboys in 1991, just the second interior lineman all-time to receive the honor of being picked first.
2. Warren Sapp (1992-94)
If not for no. 1’s contributions beyond the field of play, Sapp might’ve been the most purely talented DT that has ever come to Coral Gables. The Plymouth native was a highly-touted recruit but chose to stay close to home when he picked Miami. It didn’t take long for Sapp to prove how dominant he could be over the very best college football had to offer. Originally a tight end, the athletic, big-body redshirt freshman moved to defensive tackle and didn’t look back. In his first year he logged 40 tackles and three sacks, flashing his enormous potential that he would reach in the coming years.
In 1993, Sapp garnered 52 tackles and six sacks, even that lofty bar being surpassed with one of the best seasons by an interior lineman in the history of college football. 1994 was the year of Warren Sapp at Miami. Sapp had power and athleticism that was unrivaled, defeating double teams regularly on his way to 84 tackles, 10.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. For his dominance, Sapp received a long list of awards, most notably the Lombardi Trophy to the best DL or LB in the nation and even made the shortlist for the Heisman Trophy.
1. Jerome Brown (1983-86)
Jerome Brown was the original Miami defensive tackle. His badass attitude exemplified what it meant to be a Cane in those days. Brown was unarguably one of the originators of that famous Miami swagger. And he wasn’t bad on the football field either.
Brown came to Miami and immediately established himself as a unique player. As a freshman, he found himself starting in the ’84 Orange Bowl, a key part in Miami’s first national title. Brown got better and better, showing his ability as both a run stuffer and pass rusher. He would finish his career with a crushing loss to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl but it did little to take the shine off his tremendous accomplishments. Brown finished his Miami career with 183 tackles, 21 sacks, 19 TFLs and five forced fumbles. He was also a consensus All-American as a senior.
Remembered not only for his role at the Oklahoma coin toss and Fiesta Bowl dinner, Brown was universally beloved by his teammates and respected as a leader. Although his promising professional career was tragically cut short in a fatal 1992 car accident, Brown will always be remembered as the greatest Miami defensive tackle to step foot on the gridiron.