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Top 10 Service Academy Linebackers

We are transitioning to the defensive side of the ball to recognize the top players on that side of the gridiron

NCAA Football: Army at Navy Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Today we continue our attempt to rank the top 10 athletes at a given position between three of the most intense rivalries in college sports. This time we are looking at the defensive side of the ball and showing the linebackers some love!

I have to admit; I was worried about taking on this challenge when it was assigned to me, but digging into this was pretty interesting and provided some insight into some talented athletes you probably haven’t heard, or at the very least don’t know much about other than the numbers attached to their names.

This list is definitive, and not subject to interpretation or modification. I came up with a super exclusive algorithm© that I am not going to share with you because it’s my intellectual property. No I’m just kidding. I dug into the books (read: internet) and with a little help from some of my friends on the Against All Enemies team, came up with my best assessment of the ten best athletes to play at the linebacker position at our service academies. I made a subjective judgment call on how they were racked and stacked—that’s how lists like this work. Just enjoy the ride. If you think I am wrong about something, I’d love to hear your opinion about who deserves to be put where, and why.

Honorable Mention:

NCAA Football: Air Force at Navy Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Lets start with the guy who may one day top this list, but is only halfway through his career at Navy: Diego Fagot. He led the Mids during his sophomore campaign (2019) with 100 tackles, and was good enough for second on the team in tackles for loss (12) and sacks (5.5). More important, Fagot’s breakout campaign anchored what can arguably be described as one of Navy’s Football’s greatest defenses ever, which is even more impressive when you consider how bad they were during 2018. He also earned first team All-AAC honors in his first year as a fulltime starter. The future is bright for this guy.

Tied for #9

Dave Mahoney and Tyler Tidwell - Navy

Dave Mahoney is second on Navy’s career sack list with 21; Tyler Tidwell is third with 16. Tidwell also holds the season record for sacks (10) and Mahoney ranks second in career tackles for a loss (42). They were both a part of a defense that saw the resurrection of Navy football under Paul Johnson and they are classmates, but why are they ranked together? I would offer their styles of play complemented one another and facilitated each others successful careers, which is why they were both named to the Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium All Time Team. Both were also invited to senior games: East-West Shrine Game for Tidwell, and Mahoney went to the Hula Bowl.

This outside linebacker combo kept offensive coordinators on their toes, because you never knew which one was going to slip into the backfield and which one would drop back into coverage. Guess incorrectly and your quarterback is probably getting sacked. It must have been a nightmare to develop blocking schemes that could effective account for both of these guys.

Separate Note: We would be remiss if we did not take this opportunity to mention what is going on with Tyler. He was recently diagnosed with ALS, and is in the process of medically retiring from the Marine Corps. Tyler was not just a phenomenal athlete and football player, but an incredible Marine Officer. Highly respected by his peers, seniors, and subordinates alike for his leadership ability and technical skill.

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We don’t normally plug things like this, and we also understand these are difficult and uncertain times, but if you are interested and able to help support Tyler and his family, you can do so here at a GoFundMe page set up for them by friends.

#8

Caleb Campbell - Army

Campbell made his impact on the field early in his career, earning a spot as a starter about halfway through the year. He would finish his rookie campaign on the Conference USA All-Freshman Team. He continued to start every game until he suffered a season ending injury as a junior, causing him to miss the remaining quarter of the season. That three game gap is probably why he finished 9th on the all-time tackles list for Army with 307. He was also selected to participate in the East-West Shrine Bowl as a senior.

The Detroit Lions drafted Campbell in the 7th round of the NFL Draft, but he was unable to play football immediately, due to a decision by the department of the Army that forced him into two years of active service. He would however come back to the Lions in 2010, but he did not make the final roster. He also spent time with the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs.

#7

Jim Gentile - Army

When Jim Gentile graduated in 1985 he was the all time leading tackler for the Black Knights, he is now number 2 with 376, but his impact on the program was long lasting. Gentile led a stout Army defense to an 8-3-1 season that included victories over Navy (for the first time in 8 years) and Air Force.

During that season the Black Knights went against a 95-year tradition and accepted a bowl game invitation where Army took on Michigan State in the 1984 Cherry Bowl. Gentile recovered a fumble that was converted into Army’s only touchdown of the game. The Black Knights won the game 10-6.

Gentile never had one big season, but he was a bastion of consistency and anchored a solid defense for several years. He garnered some interest from NFL teams, but by the time he was eligible after his service obligation, he was no longer interested in playing football.

#6

Tom Foertsch - Air Force

Foertsch was the first Falcon to accumulate 400 career tackles, finishing his career at 469. That impressive number was driven primarily by his sophomore and junior campaigns where he tallied 163 and 184, respectively. His all-star moment came in 1977 matchup against the eventual national champion Fighting Irish, where he wracked up 25 tackles in the contest. He is now second all-time in career tackles for Air Force.

He didn’t receive much recognition outside of the program, having only earned team MVP honors and Air Force Male Athlete of the year as a senior. He was however, recognized as a National Football Foundation National Scholar-Athlete.

#5

Josh McNary - Army

A bit of a late bloomer, McNary didn’t really start to make an impact until his Junior year, but once he showed up, he made sure he was there to stay. A constant threat to get into the backfield, McNary was always forcing the quarterback to make hurried throws, or preventing ball carriers from getting across the line of scrimmage. He capped off his regular season Army career (2010) with a 55-yard fumble return for a game-winning touchdown in the Bell Helicopter Bowl against SMU ensuring Army got its first winning season

McNary is Army’s all-time sack leader with 28, including two seasons in the double digits (2009/10) and the all-time leader in tackles for loss (49). He ended his career with 195 total tackles and a trip to the East-West Shrine Game where he earned the Pat Tillman award, and finished the season as a finalist for numerous end-of-season honors.

McNary is another NFL alum from the Service Academy Football Guild. He signed a free agent contract with the Indianapolis Colts following two years of active duty service in the Army. He remained in Indianapolis for four seasons before he signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but he never made the roster, ultimately ending his professional career.

#4

Andy Ponseigo - Navy

I can’t find a good photo of Andy Ponseigo, but this .gif tells you everything you need to know about this guy who leads all players on this list with 500 career tackles. As a sophomore he set a school record with 152, then he shattered that the following season with 169 as a junior in 1982. Those efforts really overshadowed the otherwise impressive 135 tackles he registered as a Firstie. He made two all-star game appearances in the Japan Bowl and Hula Bowl. Not really sure why he didn’t get more national attention putting up those kinds of numbers, but Navy going 3-8 in his senior campaign probably did not help.

There are great article done by the Washington Post from Ponseigo’s Senior year discussing some of the looks he was getting from NFL teams.

#3

Chris Gizzi - Air Force

Gizzi was named the Western Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year in back to back seasons (96 and 97). As a senior (1997) he anchored a Falcon defense that went 10-3 and finished 18th in the AP Poll. He registered 342 career tackles, which is third all time for the Falcons, including 179 during his senior campaign.

He would go on to be signed as an undrafted free agent by the Denver Broncos, and would ultimately finish his career as a Green Bay Packer in 2001 after seeing action in 23 games. He still works for the Packers as the Strength and Conditioning Coordinator.

#2

Clint Bruce - Navy

Bruce, is tied for 5th on Navy’s career tackle list and was the anchor for a program that went 9-3 and won the Aloha Bowl in 1996. He led the team in tackles both his junior and senior years with 117 and 125, respectively. He was also selected to participate in the Blue/Gray Game, as well as the Hula Bowl as a senior.

Bruce is probably my favorite story on this list. Often times, if an athlete is talented enough to play football at the next level, they take it and don’t look back. Who can blame them? Every kid who has ever played sports growing up wanted to be a professional athlete at some point.

He was afforded the opportunity to play on Sundays for both the Baltimore Ravens and the New Orleans Saints. He gave that up, however, when he was afforded the opportunity to become a Navy SEAL graduating from BUD/S in 1998.

#1

Terry Maki - Air Force

If you were an All-American you’re definitely making this list. Maki was a force of nature for the Falcons in the 80’s when Air Force was dabbling in the AP Top 5 and finishing in the Top 10. He became a legend when he registered 30 Tackles, 19 solo, against Notre Dame, and solidified that status by blocking the potential game winning field goal.

That season (1985) was just an opening act for Maki’s because his senior year (1986), however, was absolutely insane. He registered an astounding 195 tackles that year earning him a spot as an All-American. Maki finished his career as the career leader in tackles for Air Force (475).

There you have it! Hopefully this was informative, because I am confident it will not be controversial. But like I said earlier, we would love to get your feedback on who we left off the list, or why #10 should have been #5. See you in the comments section!

Stay safe, wash your hands, and wear a mask in public!