When we unveiled part one of the 20 greatest Oklahomans to play for the Sooners earlier this week, we took a trip back through the careers of several familiar Sooner State standouts such as Teddy Lehman, Gerald McCoy, Sterling Shepard and Ryan Broyles. As homegrown talent has been the bedrock of the OU program through multiple eras of a winning tradition, it would take a truly legendary career to outshine the accomplishments of the players above who just missed the cut for the top ten.
So with no further delay, let’s look back at the Oklahoma Sooners legends who each left their mark on the OU football program forever.
10. Rod Shoate – Spiro
One of the most ferocious linebackers to ever play college football, Rod Shoate was the leading tackler of the 1974 team that captured Barry Switzer’s first title at Oklahoma. Best known for his relentless motor, speed and explosive hits all over the field, Shoate was a three-time All-American at OU and finished seventh in Heisman Trophy voting as a senior in ’74. His 426 career tackles (in just three collegiate seasons) currently sit at sixth all-time in the record books.
The former Sprio standout went on to be drafted in the second round of the 1975 NFL Draft and played seven seasons for the Patriots and concluded his football career in 1984 with a brief stint in the United States Football League (USFL). Shoate was named posthumously to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2013 after tragically passing away all too soon in 1999. The late Jimbo Elrod once heaped the highest praise an Oklahoma linebacker could ever receive on his former teammate.
"We've gone through George Cumby and Daryl Hunt to 'The Boz' and Paul Migliazzo, Rocky Calmus to Rufus (Alexander) and everybody else... But I don't think any of them were as good as Rod Shoate." – Jimbo Elrod (1972-75)
9. Rocky Calmus – Jenks
The captain of the defense during the Sooners’ most recent national title season in 2000, Rocky Calmus ushered in the new generation of Oklahoma linebackers at the turn of the new millennium. The former Jenks star teamed with ’01 Orange Bowl MVP Torrance Marshall to form one of the most fearsome and productive duos in the nation during the 2000 season on his way to being named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Also a finalist for a bevy of defensive honors the following season including the Bronko Nagurski and Chuck Bednarik Awards, Calmus took home the Butkus Award after finishing second to Miami’s Dan Morgan the year before.
Calmus finished his storied OU career with two consensus All-American selections and ranked fifth all-time in tackles, with 431, in school history. His monstrous 22-tackle outing at Colorado in 1999 is tied with The Boz for second-most ever in a single game at Oklahoma, trailing only Jackie Shipp’s 23 against Mizzou in 1981. Unfortunately, Calmus’ NFL career lasted just three injury-plagued seasons after being drafted in the third round by the Titans in 2002.
8. Jammal Brown – Lawton
One of the most dominant offensive linemen in recent history, the former Lawton Mac mauler anchored the Sooners’ potent offenses in the early 2000s. Originally recruited to play defensive tackle, the positional switch proved to be a watershed moment for the Sooners offense, as Brown didn’t allow a single sack as a senior in 2004 on his way to being awarded the Outland Trophy. His skill was matched only by his discipline as Brown rarely committed penalties while tirelessly winning matchups against the country’s best on the other side snap after snap.
Twice named an All-American, unanimously in 2004, Jammal Brown was on the shortlist for the Sooners’ best overall player on those early 2000s rosters loaded with future NFL draft picks. Paving the way for Adrian Peterson’s breakout freshman season, he went on to be drafted thirteenth overall in 2005 by New Orleans, where he twice earned Pro Bowl honors on one of the league’s best offenses in 2006 and 2008. He unfortunately spent the Saints’ Super Bowl season in 2009 sidelined with injury and after being traded the following summer, finished his NFL career playing alongside fellow Sooner Trent Williams for three seasons in Washington before retiring in 2012.
7. Kurt Burris – Muskogee
The more accomplished sibling of the OU Burris family, Buddy’s younger brother Kurt could arguably be considered the best center to have ever played at Oklahoma. The rock of Bud Wilkinson’s mid-century juggernaut during the middle of an all-time record win streak, Burris paved the way to an undefeated 1954 season that culminated with the first of two consecutive national championships. A consensus All-American that season, Burris finished as the Heisman runner-up in 1954 to Wisconsin running back Alan Ameche.
It’s hard to imagine many lineman earning an invite to the Heisman ceremony these days, let alone a second-place finish in the voting, but thus were the times of college football and Burris was truly one of the nation’s best. In fact, the Sooners’ head coach headed up his player’s Heisman campaign, saying Burris was “probably more deserving of the Heisman than any other man in the nation in any position.”
Drafted thirteenth overall by the Browns in the 1955 NFL Draft, Burris instead chose a career in the Canadian Football League, where he played for five seasons. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
6. Jason White – Tuttle
Navigating with class through one of the most challenging career trajectories ever for a student-athlete, small town Oklahoma star quarterback Jason White is remembered for more than just his outstanding accomplishments on the field. Suffering season-ending knee injuries during the 2001 and ’02 seasons, the former dual-threat gunslinger at Tuttle High School masterfully re-developed his body and game to become the nation’s best pocket passer and winner of the 2003 Heisman Trophy, throwing 40 touchdowns to only eight picks.
White, one of the most fluid deep-ball launchers to date, guided the high-octane Sooners to back-to-back BCS National Championship Game appearances on two surgically reconstructed knees in the ’03 and ’04 seasons. He was named a unanimous All-American, the AP and Sporting News Player of the Year to go with his Heisman Trophy in 2003, and went on to add the 2004 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm and two Davey O’Brien awards during his resurgent last two seasons of college football.
Awarded with an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA due to medical hardship, White again finished as a finalist for the Heisman along with teammate and 2004’s top freshman, running back Adrian Peterson. Together, the two stars led OU through an undefeated regular season culminating with a highly anticipated national championship meeting with the USC Trojans in the 2005 Orange Bowl. Though the game would end up being his worst as a Sooner, White concluded his special OU career passing for 7,922 yards and 81 touchdowns, and uniquely etched his name in college football history.
5. Tony Casillas – Tulsa
Considered among the greatest defensive players to ever wear the Crimson & Cream, the outspoken Tony Casillas was given lavish praise by Coach Barry Switzer of being "perhaps the greatest Sooner defensive lineman ever." The run-destroying nose guard won the Lombardi along with being named Big Eight Defensive Player of the Year and UPI Lineman of the Year in 1985. Making a switch from tackle as a junior, the Tulsa East Central standout paced the Sooners’ feared defensive unit along with The Boz during the national championship run of ‘85.
Casillas earned consensus All-American honors twice at OU and wrapped up his collegiate career with 213 tackles and 18 sacks. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004 as well as being named the College Defensive Player of the Decade for the 1980s by the National Football Foundation. Casillas was drafted second overall by the Falcons in the 1986 NFL Draft and enjoyed a solid 11-year career, making second team All-Pro with Atlanta in 1989 and winning back-to-back Super Bowls with the Cowboys in 1992 and ’93.
4. Billy Vessels – Cleveland
Leading the Sooners to their first national championship under Bud Wilkinson in 1950, halfback Billy Vessels followed that up to become OU’s first-ever Heisman Trophy winner in 1952. Vessels was the Sooners’ leader in rushing and receiving during the title-winning season of ‘50 and rushed for 1072 yards and 17 touchdowns in his Heisman campaign, topping the 100-yard mark in seven games.
Vessels, who finished his OU career with 2,153 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1974. The second overall pick by the Baltimore Colts in 1953, he played for the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL before ultimately returning to Baltimore to finish his brief professional career in 1956.
3. Steve Owens – Miami
Joining Vessels in college football greatness, running back Steve Owens became OU’s second Heisman winner in 1969. Though he’d never win a national championship, Owens concluded his collegiate career as one of the most celebrated college football players of the era. He was also voted a unanimous All-American and took home the Walter Camp Award to add to his Heisman Trophy in ‘69.
Owens held the all-time touchdown record at OU with 57 for a little over forty years until DeMarco Murray surpassed his mark in 2010. But Owens has rushed for more touchdowns than any other player in school history and in three seasons compiled a total of 4,041 yards on the ground, presently fifth all-time at Running Back U. Following his time at Oklahoma, Owens played five seasons with the Detroit Lions who drafted him with the 19th pick in the first round in 1970.
2. Sam Bradford – Oklahoma City
Debuting in one of the most impressive campaigns ever by a freshman in 2007, Sam Bradford’s Heisman-winning sophomore season is arguably the single greatest by a quarterback in college football history. One of the smoothest, most accurate passers the game has ever seen, he led the high-octane Sooners to their fourth BCS National Title Game appearance under Bob Stoops in a record-setting season. With Bradford at the helm, OU scored a video-game-like 99 touchdowns in 2008 — with a school-record 50 coming through the air from the former multi-sport star from Putnam City North — and also set an NCAA mark at that time for most points in season with 716 until Florida State bested that mark by seven in 2013.
Slingin’ Sammy B topped the nation in passing efficiency in his first two collegiate seasons, with a rating of 180.84 in his Heisman campaign, and his career passer rating of 175.62 is also the NCAA’s best all-time mark. Bradford currently owns the OU record for single-season passing yards with 4,270 and threw only eight interceptions as a sophomore in the first year the Sooners implemented their now-signature, no-huddle attack. Following an injury-marred junior season in which he played only three games, Bradford concluded his 31-game collegiate career with 8,403 passing yards and 88 touchdowns, both ranked second all-time in school history.
The first pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Sam Bradford is preparing to enter his eighth season as a starting pro quarterback, his second in Minnesota after leading the league with a 71.6 completion percentage in 2016.
1. Lee Roy Selmon – Eufaula
A no-brainer pick to top this list, the greatest Oklahoman to don the Crimson & Cream is also widely considered the greatest Sooner to ever lace ‘em up. The youngest of the Selmon trio to grace the OU campus in the ‘70s, Lee Roy joined his brothers in 1972 and quickly developed into the best of the bunch, twice being named consensus All-American and capturing the Outland and Lombardi Trophies along with UPI Lineman of the Year honors in 1975.
Lee Roy Selmon was also the principal disruptor of offenses and undisputed leader of a dominant defensive unit that helped the Sooners win consecutive national championships in 1974 and ’75. Coach Switzer has often referred to Lee Roy — who registered an eye-popping 18 sacks and 125 total tackles as a junior followed by 132 tackles in his final season — as the best player he’s ever coached. He is widely considered among the best college football players of all-time and was named to the Sports Illustrated Team of the Century in 1999.
Following an outstanding collegiate career, Lee Roy Selmon became the first pick of the 1976 NFL Draft, taken by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their inaugural season, and was soon joined by brother Dewey who the Bucs selected in the second round. Lee Roy went on to star with the Buccaneers for eight seasons in a Hall of Fame career, making six straight Pro Bowls and being named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1979. He also earned a spot on the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team.
The late Lee Roy Selmon, affectionately known as “The Gentle Giant”, sadly left us too soon in 2011, but his legacy of humility, hard work, excellence and leadership will live on for generations to come.