Later this summer, the Pac-12 Networks will introduce a new series “The 12 Greatest” in which one football player from each of the conference’s 12 schools will be crowned as the greatest player from that school’s history. Here’s a look at each university’s top candidates who are from California high schools and who have been researched extensively for many of our Cal-Hi Sports state record lists:
Arizona State – For what he’s meant to ASU fans on-and-off the field and for what he did for the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL, the late Pat Tillman (San Jose Leland) is hard to argue against as the school’s greatest player. And for the sacrifice he made, Tillman being the greatest ever from the entire conference would get a lot of votes from a lot of people too.
California – With his ascension on many all-time NFL QB rankings to a position near the top, there isn’t anybody in the Golden Bears’ recent history at least who can top Aaron Rodgers (Chico Pleasant Valley grad). Going way back, however, Harold “Brick” Muller (Oakland Tech & San Diego High) was once voted the greatest player in the first 25 years of the 20th century.
Colorado – This one doesn’t seem obvious. The Buffs have Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam (La Jolla Country Day), but QB Sal Aunese (Vista) has been an iconic figure in the school’s history for a long time. Unfortunately, both players are now no longer with us. Aunese’s death came when he was still at Colorado.
Oregon – One of the greatest NFL QBs of all time is Oregon’s Dan Fouts, who is from St. Ignatius (San Francisco). Haloti Ngata might be an option for the Pac-12 network as well. He’s the most impressive linemen we’ve ever seen at the Nike football camps, but he’s not from California.
Oregon State – There probably isn’t a Californian who would be on top of the Beavers’ all-time greatest. One of their best ever is recent Lincoln of Stockton grad Brandin Cooks. He set numerous Pac-12 receiving records and could see his NFL career boosted even more now that he’s with the New England Patriots.
Stanford – This is another easy pick. John Elway (Granada Hills) is also one of the two or three greatest QBs in NFL history and he played baseball for the Cardinal as well.
UCLA – If the Pac-12 Networks only includes those who later were stars in the NFL, then the Bruins’ all-time greatest player may be QB Troy Aikman, who played high school football in Southern California but moved to Henryetta, Okla., for his final two years of high school. If it can be anyone, then of course it’s Jackie Robinson (Pasadena Muir), who played football, baseball and other sports at UCLA. The baseball legend is having his uniform number retired for all teams at UCLA and is being worn for the last time this season by LB Kenny Young.
USC – Okay, it’s not O.J. Simpson (S.F. Galileo) because it can easily be argued that Marcus Allen (San Diego Lincoln) can be higher, based not just on what he did for the Trojans but also in the NFL. It also could be QB Carson Palmer (Santa Margarita) or DB Ronnie Lott (Rialto Eisenhower). We’d say the eventual greatest will be Marcus or Ronnie.
Utah – One of the two Smiths (QB Alex and WR Steve) may be the greatest so far for the Utes. Alex is from Helix (La Mesa) and had a great career in Salt Lake City before becoming the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. Steve only played two years for Utah after going to University (Los Angeles) and then to JC. Still, he went on to have a Hall of Fame career in the NFL.
Washington – California again dominates any list of the greatest Huskies from QB Warren Moon (L.A. Hamilton), OL Lincoln Kennedy (San Diego Morse), RB Napoleon Kaufman (Lompoc) even back to RB Hugh McElhenny (L.A. Washington). DL Steve Emtman and DB Lawyer Milloy might be best ever not from California.
Washington State – This is one that probably doesn’t have a Californian as the greatest. Of those who are, RB Steve Broussard (L.A. Manual Arts) or DL Keith Millard (Pleasanton Foothill) may be tops.