Kansas State football has a long history of great defensive back play. The school has had 20 defensive backs drafted by NFL teams in its history, including three first-round and two second-round picks. It was somewhat difficult to narrow the list of great players down to four. Two were likely no-brainers that most K-Staters would agree with, while the final two may cause some argument.
I had a list of four players in my head before I looked at the all-time statistics. When I dug deeper into the stats, there were two players that I couldn’t keep off of the list.
Without further ado, here is the Mount Rushmore of K-State defensive backs.
Newman played at K-State from 1998 to 2002 and was an unheralded recruit out of high school. He redshirted his first season and played as a backup the next two seasons before becoming the starter his junior and senior seasons. He became one of the best overall players in K-State football history. Among his accolades are being selected as second-team All-Big 12 in 2001, becoming a unanimous all-American selection in 2002, and winning the Jim Thorpe Award, which goes to the top defensive back in college football. He was also selected as the Big 12 defensive player of the year in 2002 and made the All-Big 12 first team. The Dallas Cowboys selected him as the fifth overall pick in the 2003 NFL draft. He had a long and successful NFL career, making the Pro Bowl in 2007 and 2009. He last played in 2017 and is currently the defensive backs coach for the Minnesota Vikings.
Scott played at K-State from 1968 to 1970. He was a first-team all-American in 1970 and is a member of the Kansas State Hall of Fame and the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the K-State ring of honor. The Cleveland Browns selected him in the first round of the 1971 NFL draft, where he played for 13 seasons and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1973. After his retirement, the Cleveland Browns honored him as a Cleveland Brown Legend, their franchise Hall of Fame. Scott has as many, or more, accolades at the collegiate and NFL level as any other K-State defensive back, so he’s an easy selection to this Mount Rushmore.
Canty played at K-State from 1994 to 1996. He was a two-time consensus all-American and the winner of the Jack Tatum trophy in 1996, an award presented to the top defensive back in college football. He was selected first-team all-Big 12 in 1996. Canty also continues to show up prominently in the K-State record books. He is first in K-State history in passes defended, holds the K-State record for interceptions in a season, and is second on the career interceptions list.
Mendez played at K-State from 1989 to 1993. He was a consensus first-team All-American in 1993 and was selected to the first team all-Big 8 that same season. He was also selected to the league’s first team in 1992. Mendez was voted into the Kansas State Hall of Fame in 2013 and is a member of the K-State ring of honor. Along with Canty, Mendez appears prominently in the K-State record books. He is 11th on the career tackle list (second among defensive backs), holds the record for most interceptions in a game (4), is 4th in interceptions in a season (six, twice), and is the record holder for career interceptions. That’s enough to get him in the top four.
Unfortunately, I had to leave some great players off of the list. Lamar Chapman, a two-time first-team all-Big 12 selection, Thomas Randolph, a second-team all-American and second-round NFL draft pick, Jarrod Cooper, a first-team all-Big 12 selection and 12th on the K-State career tackle list, Jon McGraw, a second-round draft pick and former Kansas City Chief, Tysyn Hartman, 22nd on K-State’s career tackle list, and Ty Zimmerman, 24th on K-State’s career tackle list.
Plenty of other great defensive backs have played for K-State over the years. I probably don’t have room to list them all, so I won’t try. What do you think of the top four? Did I get it right, or am I off base?
Next week I’ll do the defensive line. Stay tuned!