Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Many big NFL stars emerge from small colleges

As we remember Steve McNair, who was found dead from gunshot wounds last week, we look back at his humble beginnings as a quarterback from a small school. Not everyone who starred in the NFL went to USC, Ohio State, Florida or Texas. Some came from little-known outposts such as Itta Bena, Miss., Morehead, Ky., and Rohnert Park, Calif. We take a look at some of the best NFL players to come from small schools.

Steve McNair, Alcorn State

McNair was an all-state prep selection in Mississippi and probably could've gone to a bigger school if he had been willing to play defensive back. But he chose Alcorn State so he could play quarterback. A Heisman finalist in 1994 and the third overall pick by Houston in 1995, he made three Pro Bowls and nearly guided the Titans to victory in Super Bowl XXXIV.

Walter Payton, Jackson State

Not recruited by any SEC schools, Payton chose to go where older brother Eddie went. The fourth overall pick by the Bears in 1975, he was the NFL's all-time leading rusher until Emmitt Smith broke his record.

Jerry Rice, Mississippi Valley State

Rice grew up 20 minutes from Mississippi State but was never recruited by the Bulldogs. So the wide receiver went to Mississippi Valley State and became, arguably, the best small-school player in NFL history and just maybe the greatest football player of all time.

Howie Long, Villanova

Long could have gone to Boston College but turned down that offer to play at Villanova. He made a name for himself by being MVP of the Blue-Gray game in 1980. A second-round pick of the Raiders in 1981, Long went on to become an eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end and a Hall of Famer.

Doug Williams, Grambling

A native of Louisiana, Williams decided to play for legendary coach Eddie Robinson at Grambling. Drafted 17th overall by the Bucs in 1978, Williams led the young team to three playoff appearances. Later with the Redskins, he became the only African-American quarterback to win the Super Bowl, earning game MVP honors.

Deacon Jones, South Carolina State/Mississippi Vocational College

Jones went to two small schools, playing three years at S.C. State before losing his scholarship after he took part in a civil rights sit-in then moving on to what later became Mississippi Valley State. A 14th-round draft pick, Jones was a member of the Rams' Fearsome Foursome and one of the greatest defensive linemen ever.

Art Shell, Maryland State

Today, the school is known as Maryland Eastern Shore, and its most famous alumni are Shell and Bruce Springsteen's saxophonist, Clarence Clemons. Shell played in eight Pro Bowls and is considered one of the greatest offensive linemen ever.

Phil Simms, Morehead State

Little-known fact: The 49ers had Simms rated ahead of Joe Montana in the 1979 draft and figured he would slip to the third round. Instead, the Giants surprised everyone by taking Simms with the seventh overall pick. The quarterback was the MVP of Super Bowl XXI.

Kurt Warner, Northern Iowa

Warner was a third-stringer at Northern Iowa until his senior season. Undrafted, Warner bounced around the Arena Football League and NFL Europe before becoming one of the best quarterbacks of his generation, winning two MVP awards and starting in three Super Bowls, winning one.

Terrell Owens, Tennessee-Chattanooga

T.O. is one of the NFL's most controversial figures, but the guy can play. He is a five-time All-Pro wide receiver and a six-time Pro Bowl player.

Other famous small-school players

Michael Strahan (Texas Southern), Larry Allen (Sonoma State), Andre Reed (Kutztown University), Darrell Green (Texas A&I), Adam Vinatieri (South Dakota)

Many big NFL stars emerge from small colleges 07/08/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:41pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. FSU-Tulane coming to Amalie Arena in December

    Blogs

    Florida State basketball is coming to Tampa.

  2. Is Mikhail Sergachev, who debuts with Lightning at Wednesday camp, ready for the NHL?

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — When defenseman Mikhail Sergachev was taken ninth overall by the Canadiens in the 2016 NHL draft, a horde of Montreal media surrounded him for his first news conference.

    Mikhail Sergachev takes a shot during warmups prior to a game between the Canadiens and Arizona Coyotes in October in Montreal. [Getty Images]
  3. Top pick Brendan McKay signing with Rays for $7M bonus

    Blogs

    The Rays are set to sign top pick 1B/LHP Brendan McKay for a bonus just over $7-million, the Tampa Bay Times has learned.

    McKay was the No. 4 overall pick in the June 12 draft as he starred as a two-way player leading Louisville to the College World Series.

    The deal is expected to be finalized …

    Brendan McKay was the No. 4 overall pick in the June 12 draft as he starred as a two-way player leading Louisville to the College World Series.
  4. Vince Young takes shot at Bucs' Ryan Fitzpatrick

    Blogs

    Former NFL quarterback Vince Young, out of the league since 2011 and complaining about not getting more opportunities to prolong his career, took a shot at new Bucs backup Ryan Fitzpatrick in a story posted at …

    Veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who signed with the Bucs to be Jameis Winston's backup this fall, has played for six other NFL teams in his 12 seasons in the league.