SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Wilber Marshall joined the Gators as a tight end, but the switch to linebacker carried him all the way into a special blazer at Saturday's induction ceremony at the College Football Hall of Fame.
The day's biggest applause went to for former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz as he and Marshall joined a class with 19 others including former UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman, Oklahoma State running back Thurman Thomas, Arizona State guard and former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Randall McDaniel and coach John Cooper.
"It's a prestigious thing for us players because it's different from the NFL," Marshall, who played at UF from 1980 to 1983, told the South Bend Tribune. "You can't be a bad person to get into this … and I think that's the way it should be."
After then-coach Charley Pell put Marshall's athleticism on the defensive side of the ball, the reluctant-at-first linebacker broke Florida's single-season records for sacks (11) and tackles for loss (27) as a sophomore. He had 58 tackles for loss during his career and finished with 23 sacks and 343 tackles, 210 solo. He was a finalist for the Lombardi Award for the nation's top lineman or linebacker twice. Marshall, 47, one of five members of the Gators' Ring of Honor at Florida Field, has two Super Bowl rings (1985 Bears, 1991 Redskins).
Holtz took over six struggling programs and turned them into bowl teams within two years. He led the Irish to their last national title in 1988. Holtz, 72, said the key is to have a plan, hold people accountable and believe it can be done. "You have to get people to make good decisions. Wherever you are in life, good or bad, it's because of the choices you make. … We had a plan, a vision and we wouldn't compromise," he said.
Thomas, 43, holds the OSU record with 4,595 rushing yards and went to four Super Bowls with the Bills but joked his biggest accomplishment might have been keeping Barry Sanders on the bench for two years. "I practiced real hard and kept giving my coach a lot of money," he said.
Cooper, 72, who coached at Ohio State, Arizona State and Tulsa, said that as a young assistant he went to coaching conventions hoping to catch a glimpse of Woody Hayes, Ara Parseghian, Bo Schembechler and Bear Bryant. "It's a humbling experience to be in that group," he said.
Former LSU tailback Billy Cannon was enshrined 26 years after he was first elected. The 1959 Heisman winner was chosen in 1983, but the honor was rescinded after he was arrested on federal counterfeiting charges. He served 2½ years in prison. "I thank the people who voted for me initially, and I really thank the people who voted for me the second time," said Cannon, 71, who is now the dental director at the Louisiana State Penitentiary.
Times staff writer Antonya English contributed to this report.