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 offensive linemen.
Tier 1: David Drechsler, Harris Barton, Ron Rusnak, George Barclay
This is an absolutely loaded group of offensive linemen. David Dreschler was a key part of the Tar Heels offensive lines during one of the most successful periods of Tar Heel football from 1979-82. Dreschler was a four-year starter in Chapel Hill, moving all over the offensive line in his first two seasons before settling at guard for the final two. Dreschler was named a first-team All-American in each of his final two seasons and a first-team All-ACC in both of those seasons, as well. While he never was able to win the Jacobs Trophy, Dreschler is still highly regarded as one of the best Tar Heel offensive linemen to ever steps on the field.
Harris Barton was a four-year starter from 1983-86 and was part of four straight 1,000 yard rushing seasons. Barton helped pave the way for three 1,000 yard rushing seasons in his four seasons as a starter. Barton was a consensus All-American in 1986 and won the Jacobs Trophy that same year, as well. Barton was also a two-time All-ACC member in his four seasons on campus.
Ron Rusnak was another unanimous All-American, as he was part of the 1972 offensive line that helped the Tar Heel reach the 11 win mark. Rusnak was a two-time first team All-ACC member and was a Jacobs Trophy award winner in 1972. Rusnak was also a part of the 1970 season where Don McCauley set the program record for rushing yards in a season with 1,863 yards.
George Barclay is the other member of this list that has the distinction of being a two-time All American, and he did so in just a three year career in Chapel Hill. Barclay became the Tar Heels first ever All-American following the 1933 season and was a consensus All-American in 1934. He was highly regarded on both sides of the football and that is the reason that his number is retired in the Tar Heels ring of honor.
Tier 2: Ken Huff, Ron Wooten, Jonathan Cooper
Ken Huff was one of the key members of the early 70’s offenses that set records under Bill Dooley. Huff was a three-year starter from 1972-74 and peaked as a senior where he was a consensus first-team All-American and first team All-ACC member in 1974. Huff would take home the Jacobs Trophy in that 1974 season as he helped lead both James Betterson and Mike Voight to 1,000 yard rushing seasons.
A four year starter in Chapel Hill, Ron Wooten was another important part of the 1980 offensive line that was just so dominant. As a senior in 1980, Wooten was not only a co-captain of the eventual ACC champions, but also took home the Jacobs Trophy and first-team All-American honor. Prior to that season, Wooten was a second-team All-American in 1979.
Jonathan Cooper is the best offensive lineman the Tar Heels have had since the turn of the century. Cooper was a four-year starter at left guard from 2009-12, starting 48 games in his four seasons following a redshirt season in 2008. Cooper is a two-time second team All-ACC member (2010, 2011) and earned both unanimous first-team All-ACC and All-American honors.
Tier 3: Jeff Saturday, Brian Blados, Landon Turner, Pat Crowley
Putting Jeff Saturday in the third tier is a bit controversial, but his accolades don’t quite stack up with those of the first two tiers. Saturday was a three-year starter at center from 1995-97, including back-to-back first-team All-ACC in his final two seasons. Saturday also received first-team All-ACC academic team in the 1997 season and is considered the best offensive linemen from the first Mack Brown-era.
Brian Blados was another key members of those Dick Crum-era offensive lines. Blados was a part of the 1980 team that won the ACC, but really took off later in his career peaking as a senior in 1983. He was a first-team All-ACC and All-American while paving the way for two 1,000 yard rushers in a season where the Heels would be ranked as high as No. 3 in the country.
Landon Turner may not be the most talked about member of this list, but he is quietly one of the most successful. Turner played in 52 games in his four year career, starting 42 of those 52 after redshirting in his first year on campus. Turner had a solid start to his career, landing on the third team All-ACC as a junior, but exploded his senior season. Turner started all 14 games of the 2015 season, earning first-team All-ACC honors and first-team All-American honors from the Associated Press. CBS Sports and FWAA placed him as a second-team member that year.
Pat Crowley rounds us out here in Tier 3. Crowley was nominated to the an All-ACC team in three of his four seasons on campus and even made a first-team All-American team in 1989. Crowley is highly regarded as one of the biggest successes of Mack Brown’s first tenure in Chapel Hill, including by Mack himself.
Tier 4: James Hurst, Rick Donnalley, Brian Bollinger
James Hurst will always be remembered for his performance to open the 2013 season, where he shut down eventual No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney, but his career was much more than just that. His career started with him earning freshman All-American honors as a true freshman in 2010 and his career only progressed from there. Hurst earned second-team All-ACC honors in 2011 before closing his career with back-to-back first-team All-ACC honors. Hurst started 48 games, which is tied with Jonathan Cooper for the most in program history among offensive linemen.
The Dick Crum-era just continues to rule this list, as Rick Donalley becomes the next member of those late 70’s-early 80’s offensive lines to land in a tier. Donalley was another key part of that 1980 offensive line that paved the way for Amos Lawrence and Kelvin Bryant to both run for over 1,000 yards, racking up first-team All-ACC honors and second-team All-American honors. Donnalley was a big part of why Lawrence was able to rush for 1,000 in each of his four seasons.
Brian Bollinger was a key part of the late 80’s and early 90’s offensive lines. Bollinger paved the way for two 1,000 yard rushers (Kennard Martin in 1988, Natrone Means in 1991) and landed on the first-team All-ACC in his senior season. His 1991 season also landed him second-team All-American honors and made him a 3rd round draft pick in 1992.
Tier 5: Jerry Sain, Mike Salzano, Kevin Donnalley
The final tier is where we start to see a little bit of drop off, but still hosts three very good Tar Heel offensive linemen. Jerry Sain was part of that 1972 offensive line that helped lead the Tar Heels to an 11-1 record. Sain was a two-time first-team All-ACC member in 1971 and 1972 and also earned second-team All-American honors for his effort. Although he may not be as talked about as his teammates, Ron Rusnak and Ken Huff, are, he is a solid fifth tier member.
We can’t help but to go back to the late 70’s one last time here in Tier 5. Mike Salzano was another key member of the offensive lines that helped Mike Voight and Amos Lawrence run for 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons on campus. Salzano earned All-ACC in both 1977 and 1978 and landed on the third-team All-American team in the 1977. Salzano did all this while also becoming a key member of the Tar Heel track team, holding some program records in the shot put for nearly 15 years.
The brother of Rick Donnalley, Kevin Donnalley, finishes off the list. Donnalley was a two year starter after starting his career at Davidson University. As a senior, Donnalley received second-team All-ACC honors and third-team All-American honors. Donnalley was named the team captain of the Tar Heels in 1989, his first year on campus, showing just how highly thought of he was from the minute he arrived on campus.