When I think of all the stellar K-State linebackers of the past, I recall specific plays they made that remain entrenched in my mind. For instance, Brandon Archer’s 45-yard interception return for a touchdown against Missouri in 2005 was a spectacular play that sealed the game in what we all thought at the time was Bill Snyder’s last game. Ted Sims’ interception return for a touchdown in the 2003 Big 12 championship game. Arthur Brown’s interception against Robert Griffin III in 2012, followed by his sack of Griffin on the next series. Travis Ochs’ non-facemask <snicker> and sack of Eric Crouch against Nebraska in 1998. The list goes on and on. More often than not, linebacker is a strength on the K-State football team. Current Wildcat Daniel Green is the latest in a long list of great K-State linebackers.
Whittling the substantial list of great linebackers down to four players was an even bigger chore than it was with the defensive linemen, but I am confident in my selections.
Here is my Mount Rushmore of K-State Linebackers.
If you ask any “seasoned” K-State football fan who the best Kansas State football player of all time is, they are likely to say Gary Spani. The Manhattan High School graduate was a three-time all-Big 8 selection, the Big 8 defensive player of the year in 1977, and K-State’s first consensus all-American in 1977. Spani was elected to the college football hall of fame in 2002 and is a member of the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame, the Kansas State Sports Hall of Fame, and the K-State ring of honor.
Attending K-State from 1974 to 1977, Spani had 21 or more tackles in a game four times.
He is K-State’s all-time leader in career tackles with 543. Second place is 107 tackles behind him. The career tackles number is one K-State football record that I believe will never be broken. It is K-State’s version of Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak or Cal Ripken Jr.’s consecutive games played streak. It may belong to Spani forever.
A consensus all-American in 1999, Simoneau was the Big 12 defensive player of the year and was first-team all-Big 12 in 1999. The media voted him all-Big 12 first team in 1997, 1998, and 1999. He also was inducted into the college football hall of fame in 2012.
As for his place in the record books, he is in third place on the K-State career tackle list and third place on the K-State career list of tackles for loss.
One of the best athletes to wear a Wildcat uniform, Arthur Brown was Big 12 defensive player of the year in 2012 and was selected first-team all-Big 12 in 2011 and 2012. Brown is only the third K-Stater to win Big 12 conference player of the year, joining Mark Simoneau and Terence Newman. In 2022, he was selected as a member of the K-State ring of honor.
Buhl is the K-State record holder for tackles in a season, with 184. This number ranks third in NCAA history. He is also fourth on the K-State all-time tackle list. In 2003, he was selected first-team all-Big 12 and Sporting News all-American.
It was tough not putting Lankas on Mount Rushmore after researching what he did when he played in Manhattan. He was All-Big 8 in 1966 and 1967 and is a member of the K-State Athletics Hall of Fame, but his numbers in the K-State record books are most impressive. He had over 21 tackles in a game six times and is the K-State record holder for number of tackles in a game with 28. And guess what? He is also second on the list with 26 and tied for third (twice) with 25. Lankas is tied for second with Gary Spani for tackles in a season with 178, and he is also in fourth place with 175. Finally, he is sixth on K-State’s career tackle list and was voted second-team all-American in 1967. Anyone could easily make a case that he is one of the top four linebackers in K-State history.
Here are a few other K-State linebackers that I considered.
Brooks Barta – Second on the career tackles list. First team all-Big 8 in 1991.
Jeff Kelly – Two-time all-Big 12 first team (1997 and 1998), consensus all-American in 1998.
Ben Leber – First team all-Big 12 in 2001
Elijah Lee – First team all-Big 12 in 2016.
Terry Pierce – Big 12 defensive freshman of the year in 2000.
Travis Ochs – Top 20 in career tackles.
Whaddya think? Did I get it right?