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Texas History: The 10 best players of the Mack Brown era

Posted June 5th, 2018

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This season marks the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the Mack Brown era at Texas. During that time Brown coached:

A Heisman Trophy winner, two Heisman runners-up and a third-place finisher, three Maxwell Award winners, two Doak Walker Award winners, two Thorpe Award winners, two Nagurski Trophy winners, two O’Brien Award winners, a Butkus Award winner, a Lombardi Award winner, two Manning Award winners, a Hendricks Award winner, 54 All-Americans, 73 first-team All-Big 12 selections, five Big 12 Offensive Players of the Year, six Big 12 Defensive Players of the Year and 12 Big 12 Freshman of the Year honorees.

Ridiculous.

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MORE: Texas history: The first time Mack Brown … 

MORE: Texas history: Mack Brown before his Longhorn days

Before Brown was at Texas, he coached Troy Aikman when he was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma. Before that, he coached NFL players Greg Ellis, Brian Simmons, Dre Bly, Vonnie Holliday and Natrone Means at North Carolina.

But who are his best Longhorn players?

Editor’s note: Players who didn’t sign a LOI with Mack Brown weren’t included. So while Ricky Williams, Brown’s lone Heisman winner, is probably the best player Brown coached at Texas, Williams was brought in by John Mackovic and played most of his career under him. The same standard eliminates Quentin Jammer, Casey Hampton, Shaun Rogers, Leonard Davis, Major Applewhite and others.

Here’s our top 10:

Longhorn football player, Brian Orakpo on Thursday, November 20, 2008. (Deborah Cannon/ American-Statesman)

10. Brian Orakpo, defensive end

PHOTOS: Brian Orakpo through the years

Orakpo helped Texas win the 2005 BCS National Championship as a redshirt freshman as he started all 13 games and helped the defense to a top-10 ranking. He was the Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2005 and continued to get better. Orakpo left Texas as the 2008 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, the 2008 Nagurski, Hendricks and Lombardi award winner. He was also a consensus All-American. Orakpo had 23 sacks and 34.6 tackles for a loss in four seasons at Texas.

9. Roy Williams, wide receiver

Roy Williams, center, walks off of Kyle Field wtih a Rose in his mouth after defeating Texas A&M 46-15 at College Station, Texas, on Friday, November 28, 2003. (Rodolfo Gonzalez/ American-Statesman)

PHOTOS: Roy Williams through the years

“Legend.” Williams had that nickname before he even arrived at Texas after a sensational career at Odessa Permian. He left Texas as one of the most accomplished and flashiest receivers in program history. Williams was a three-time All-Big 12 honoree, the 2003 Cotton Bowl MVP and twice was a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award. He caught 70 passes his senior season with nine touchdowns and 1,079 receiving yards. He graduated as the all-time leader in Texas receptions, reception yards and receiving touchdowns.

Texas’ Cory Redding leaps over North Carolina’s QB Ronald Curry at the goalline for a touchdown return of an interception he threw during first quarter action in the Horns 44-14 win Saturday afternoon in Austin, TX.  (Ralph Barrera/American-Statesman)

8. Cory Redding, defensive line

PHOTOS: Cory Redding through the years

Probably the first gigantic recruiting win of Mack Brown’s career at Texas, Cory Redding was a USA Today High School All-American and the publication’s Defensive Player of the Year. The North Shore product picked Texas and its second-year coach, and he went on to be a two-time All-Big 12 player. He finished his career at Texas with 201 tackles and 21 sacks. Redding is here because he set the standard for Texas defenders under Brown. He started 35 straight games and played in every game of his college career at a time when Brown was trying to establish himself at Texas.

Aaron Ross makes an interception against OU at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on Saturday Oct. 7, 2006.  (Jay Janner/ American-Statesman)

7. Aaron Ross, cornerback

PHOTOS: Aaron Ross through the years

One of the more accomplished Longhorn pros, Aaron Ross not only won a national title at Texas, but he also added two Super Bowl championships as a professional with the New York Giants. When he was on the 40 Acres, Ross won the 2006 Jim Thorpe Award, was an All-Big 12 first-team and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Ross left Texas after five years with 10 interceptions, 33 pass deflections and 205 career tackles.

University of Texas’ #8, Jordan Shipley turns and runs upfield against the Oklahoma Sooners during fourth quarter of Big 12 action held at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas, on Saturday October 11, 2008. Texas defeated Oklahoma 45-35. (Rodolfo Gonzalez / American-Statesman)

6. Jordan Shipley, wide receiver

PHOTOS: Jordan Shipley through the years

Shipley was on campus for six years. He redshirted in 2004 and missed all of 2005 with an injury. Once he was able to play, he went on to become, statistically, the most accomplished receiver in Texas history and perhaps the best. He is the program’s all-time leader in receptions with 248 and second in yards (3,191) and touchdowns with 33. He started 35 of the 53 career games he played at Texas. Shipley was also a dangerous return man as he is No. 2 all-time in all-purpose yards with three punt return touchdowns and another one on a kickoff. In 2008 he set program’s all-time single game record for receptions with 15 against Oklahoma State. He and Colt McCoy are one of the most prolific passing duos in college football history with 234 connections. Shipley was a 2009 consensus All-American and first team All-Big 12. He was a Biletnikoff finalist and Maxwell semifinalist in 2009.

Texas’ Mack Brown congratulates Michael Huff and Vince Young after being named the Defensive and Offensive Players of the game following their victory over USC 41-38 for the National Championship in the Rose Bowl. (Ralph Barrera/ American-Statesman)

5. Michael Huff, defensive back

PHOTOS: Michael Huff through the years

Perhaps the best defensive player and certainly the biggest defensive game changing player on the 2005 national title team, Huff is one of the greatest defensive backs in Texas history. He was a unanimous first team All-American in 2005, the 2005 Thorpe Award winner and a two-time All-Big 12 first team selection. He was a Freshman All-American in 2002. He famously recovered Reggie Bush’s notorious fumble in the in the 2006 BCS National Championship Game. Huff started 50 of the 51 games he played in and recorded seven interceptions at Texas.

UT lb Derrick Johnson flies over the line of scrimmage to try to stop Nebraska qb Jammal Lord on a quarterback sneak from Nebraska’s own one yard line in the second quarter on Saturday Nov. 1, 2003, at Royal Memorial Stadium. Texas won 31-7. (Jay Janner /American-Statesman)

4. Derrick Johnson, linebacker

PHOTOS: Derrick Johnson through the years

For most college football coaches, Derrick Johnson would be the greatest player they ever coached. He is probably the second-greatest linebacker in Texas history, perhaps the second greatest defensive player in Texas history. Johnson won the Butkus, Nagurski and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2004. He was a two-time consensus All-American, three-time All-Big 12 first team selection and left Texas as the all-time leader in interceptions by a linebacker (nine), all-time leader in tackles for a loss with 65,  third all-time in tackles with 458 and the all-time leader in forced fumbles in a single season with nine.

Actor, and former Longhorn, Matthew McConaughey congratulates Cedric Benson after Texas beat Michigan 38-35 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on Saturday, January 1, 2005. (Deborah Cannon/American-Statesman)

3. Cedric Benson, running back

PHOTOS: Cedric Benson through the years

Maybe it’s because Benson’s pro career didn’t exactly pan out the way most thought. Maybe it’s because Benson’s teams came up short in big games before his senior season, but for so many other programs Benson would be considered one of the greatest players of all-time because he is one of the best college running backs of all-time. The Midland Lee star is 10th all-time in NCAA FBS rushing with 5,540 career yards. He graduated as the sixth all-time leading rusher. He had more rushing yards than Ladainian Tomlinson and Hershel Walker in his career. Benson was a two-time All-American, the 2004 AT&T ESPN All-American Player of the Year, a two-time All-Big 12 first team selection (he made a second and third team as well) and the 2004 Doak Walker Award winner. He rushed for 1,834 yards and 19 touchdowns his senior year. He had the most rushing attempts in program history, he is second with 64 all-time rushing touchdowns holds the record for most rushing yards by a freshman and sophomore as he is the second all-time leading rusher at Texas. Benson had 25 career 100-yard rushing games. Benson’s college career ended a few weeks after falling just short of winning the Heisman Trophy with him helping the Longhorns to the 2005 Rose Bowl title, where he rushed for 75 yards.

UT quarterback Colt McCoy celebrates after beating Texas Tech at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Saturday Nov. 10, 2007. 9Jay Janner/ American-Statesman)

2. Colt McCoy, quarterback

PHOTOS: Colt McCoy through the years

When Colt McCoy graduated from Texas, he was the NCAA’s all-time leader in wins with 45. A true college football success story, McCoy came from tiny Jim Ned High School in Tuscola. He beat out prized recruit Jevan Sneed for the starting job after his redshirt season and the former 3-star recruit never looked back. He finished his career as the program’s all-time leader in passing yards (13,253), touchdowns (112) and passer rating (155.0). His career completion percentage of 70.3 is second in NCAA history. He graduated with the sixth-most passing yards, seventh-most passing touchdowns and fourth-most total offense in NCAA history. He holds just about every passing record in program history, from most 300 yard passing games (14) to starts (53). He is tied for the most touchdowns passes by a freshman in NCAA history with 29. McCoy was a Heisman finalist twice, the Maxwell, O’Brien, Manning and Unitas award winner in 2009. He is a two-time Walter Camp Award winner. He was the Sporting News College Athlete of the Year in 2009 and was a two-time first team All-American.

University of Texas’ #10, Vince Young stands in the midst of a confetti band as he celebrates the Longhorns 41-38 victory over the University of Southern California during the 2006 Rose Bowl National Championship Game held in Pasadena, CA., on Wednesday, January 4, 2006. (Rodolfo Gonzalez/ American-Statesman)

1. Vince Young, quarterback

PHOTOS: Vince Young through the years

Young is neither the most decorated player of the Brown era nor the most statistically accomplished player of the 16 year period. But he is the signature player of Brown’s tenure and one of the three most important players in Texas football history, the two others being Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams. Young was 30-2 as a starter at Texas. He led the Longhorns to a Rose Bowl victory as a sophomore and to a national championship as a junior before heading to the NFL instead of playing his fifth-year senior season. Young is not only the greatest dual threat quarterback in Texas history but one of the greatest in college football history. He left Texas with 6,040 passing yards with 44 touchdowns. He rushed for 3,127 yards and 37 touchdowns. One of the biggest and brightest recruits in history of Texas high school football, Young was Parade Magazine’s Player of the Year in 2001 with 3,819 total yards and 59 touchdowns as a senior. He was the Class 5A Player of the Year for Houston Madison in 2001. Young won the Maxwell, Manning and O’Brien awards in 2005 and was the Heisman runner-up. He was a 2005 consensus All-American. Most importantly, Young was the 2006 Rose Bowl (the BCS National Championship Game) MVP, where some suggest he played the greatest game in college football history. Young rushed for 200 yards and three touchdowns. He passed for 267 more while completing 30 of 40 passes. His game-winning touchdown on an 8-yard run against USC with 19 seconds left is the biggest play in program history.

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