It’s time for another installment of the Heel Tough Blog’s offseason series. The series will place the top players in Tar Heel football history at each position group into five different tiers to determine their standings in Tar Heel history. The series will continue today by looking at the five tiers of Tar Heel defensive backs.
Tier 1: Dré Bly
For the second straight installment of this offseason series, the first tier is a one-man club. Dré Bly might very well be the most accomplished player to ever play in a Tar Heel football player. Bly is the only player in Tar Heel history to be named a three-time All-American and in all three of those seasons, he landed on at least one publications first-team. Bly holds the bulk of the school records for interceptions, headlined by his career interceptions (20) and interceptions in a season (11) records. He was the only Tar Heel freshman to earn first-team All-American honors prior to Ryan Switzer and earn ACC Rookie of the Year in 1996, as well. That 1996 season still goes down as one of the best seasons in NCAA history for a cornerback.
Tier 2: Lou Angelo, Bracey Walker, Trimane Goddard, Dexter Reid
There was a tough debate with this second tier because Lou Angelo is clearly the second-best defensive back in program history. Although the accomplishment are limited to just one appearance on an All-ACC team (first-team in 1972), Angelo still sits second all-time in program history in career interceptions with 16 despite playing in an era where passing was not as prominent as it is in today’s games. Angelo’s eight interceptions in the 1972 season was a program record until 1996 and remains the second-most in a season for a Tar Heel.
Bracey Walker is always remembered for his Peach Bowl performance in 1992 against Mississippi State, but he was much more than just that. Walker was a two-time first team All-ACC in his four years at Carolina and was deemed a first-team All-American following his senior season in 1993. Walker was also honored with as the National Special Teams Player of the Year by Sports Illustrated after that 1993 season, following a career where he blocked four punts, including two in that Peach Bowl we discussed above. Walker would finish his college career with 263 career tackles, four interceptions and 14 pass deflections.
Trimane Goddard is another player on this list who had one season that left a lasting impact at Carolina. As senior in 2008, Goddard led the nation with seven interceptions and was named a first-team All-ACC member out of his safety position. Amazingly, Goddard somehow did not land on a single first-team All-American team, but did earn second-team honors. Goddard’s seven interceptions in a season remains tied for third in a season, while his 12 career interceptions still remain tied for fourth.
Tier 2 closes out the best tackling safety in Tar Heel history. Dexter Reid finished his Tar Heel career with 466 total tackles, the most in ACC history for a defensive back until that was broken in 2017 by Virginia’s Quin Blanding. That number still stands as the top mark in Tar Heel history and his 166 total tackles in the 2002 season sits only behind Buddy Curry’s 171 in the 1979 season as the program record for total tackles in a season. Reid would earn All-ACC honors both as a junior and a senior, headlined by a first-team appearance in 2002.
Tier 3: Ricky Barden, Willie Harris, Deunta Williams, Tre Boston
The third tier gives us the first member of the late 70’s defenses. Ricky Barden was part of Bill Dooley’s fantastic defenses late in his tenure as the teams top defensive backs. In his three year career, Barden would haul in at least two interceptions one his way to nine career interceptions. Barden had the prestigious honor of being a first-team All-ACC member in each of his final two seasons on campus (1978, 1979) and as a senior he was named a second-team All-American by Football News.
We go from one two-time All-ACC first-teamer to another. Willie Harris accomplished his feat in 1982 and 1983, despite only pulling in three interceptions during that time. He became an important part of the early 80’s defenses and is remembered as one of the Tar Heels with the prestigious notion of being named to the All-ACC first team in back-to-back years.
Deunta Williams is the next member of the list and he could very well have been a Tier 2 member had he not had a quite senior season. Williams career at Carolina started with a bang, as he won ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2007 after tallying 57 total tackles and three interceptions. Williams would have another solid season in 2008, before landing on the All-ACC first-team after hauling in six interceptions and finishing 47 total tackles. His 12 career interceptions is tied for fourth in program history.
Tre Boston is the final member of this third tier. Boston was a key four-year contributor for the Tar Heels, as he intercepted at least one pass in each of his four seasons on the field. In his final three seasons as a full-time starter, Boston finished with 70+ total tackles and three or more interceptions, earning second-team All-ACC honors as a senior in 2013. His 13 career interceptions are the third-most in program history.
Tier 4: Robert Williams, Steve Streater, Kendric Burney, Omar Brown
The fourth tier begins with Robert Williams, the man who played opposite of Dré Bly. Williams is not talked about much, but he was a key member of the Tar Heels lockdown defenses in 1996 and 1997. Williams received second-team All-ACC honors in 1996, before joining the first-team in 1997 as part of a secondary that allowed just 131.4 yards per game thru the air.
Steve Streater is the next member of the list, but we will also see him later on in this offseason series amongst the special team rankings. In his three years on campus, Streater would haul in 11 interceptions, which is tied for eighth in program history. Streater was named a first-team All-ACC selection in 1980 as both a defensive back and a punter after pulling in five interceptions for the second consecutive season.
Kendric Burney is another member of the Butch Davis who could have been higher on this list had he not missed time during his senior season. Burney is only the second player on this list to have at least one interception in each season of a four year career. Burney’s 11 career interceptions are tied for eighth in Carolina history and also finished his career with 209 total tackles in his career. Burney was a member of the All-ACC second-team in 2008 and the All-ACC first-team in 2009, a season where he finished first on the team in interceptions with five.
The final member of the fourth also hails from that mid 90’s secondary where Dré Bly and Robert Williams had success. Omar Brown, a four-year starter at Carolina from 1994-97 and was another member of that secondary that appeared on the All-ACC team twice in his Tar Heel career. Both appearances were as a second-team member and can in 1996 and 1997.
Tier 5: Bobby Cale, Larry Griffin, M.J. Stewart, Don Jackson
The final tier kicks off with one of the most underrated defensive backs in Tar Heel history. Bobby Cale never landed all-conference honors, but still had a strong career in his three years as a starter. Cale finished each of his three seasons on campus with three or more interceptions and his 12 career interception is still in a tie for fourth all-time.
We go from a three-year starter to a converted wide receiver had one phenomenal season at cornerback. Larry Griffin spent the first three years of his career at wide receiver with some some decent success, but moved to corner prior to his senior season in 1985. Griffin tallied six interceptions and was named to the All-ACC first-team. One has to wonder wherte on this list Griffin would be if he had been at corner more than one season.
M.J. Stewart is the most recent Tar Heel to appear on this list and was another player who had a very solid four-year career. Stewart made a living out of that nickelback spot in three different defensive schemes, finishing his career with 199 total tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, six interceptions and 41 pass deflections. Stewart’s best season came as a sophomore in 2015, where he registered 62 total tackles, four interceptions and 14 pass deflections and was named to the All-ACC second-team.
For the final member of this list we go from the most recent member on this list to the oldest. Don Jackson split time at both quarterback and defensive back with his best season coming in 1935. Jackson intercepted that six passes that season, with four coming in a game against Tennessee. That single-game number still holds up as the most in a single game by a Tar Heel player.