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Top 50 football players in Arizona Wildcats history: No. 3 Rob Waldrop

Photo illustration by azcentral sports.

Photo illustration by azcentral sports.

Position, years at UA: Defensive tackle, 1990-93

Honors, accomplishments at UA: Unanimous All-American in 1993 and a consensus All-American in 1992. … Won the 1993 Outland Trophy as the nation’s top interior lineman. … Was the inaugural winner of the Football Writers’ Defensive Player of the Year award, now known as the Bronko Nagurski Trophy. … Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year as a senior.

Why he made our list: Though defensive end Tedy Bruschi was the face of Desert Swarm, Rob Waldrop was UA’s immovable and invaluable centerpiece in the middle of the line. Waldrop wasn’t media-hungry, never sought the spotlight and did not match Bruschi’s popularity with fans, but the Swarm started with him.

“He’s a different kind of person than Tedy,” former coach Dick Tomey said. “But he was the first guy of that group to really make the team special.”

Waldrop did that, Tomey said, by completely dedicating himself in the summer after his sophomore season, following UA’s 4-7 campaign in 1991. These were the days when hardly any players stayed around in the summer for workouts.

“He said, ‘I want to put myself on two-a-days. I’m tired of being just a good player. I want to be a great player,’” Tomey said. “And he became a great player. He became an unblockable player.”

With a rare combination of brute strength and great footwork, Waldrop had 18 sacks in his final two seasons, an astounding number for an interior lineman facing double- and triple-teams. He finished his career with 45 tackles for a loss and 22 1/2 sacks. With Waldrop in the middle, Arizona led the nation in rushing defense in 1993, allowing a paltry 30.1 yards per game.

“I have heard the argument that it was the Arizona defense that let him shine,” teammate Heath Bray said in 2011. “Let me tell you, him shining allowed the Arizona defense to be what it was.

“I played middle linebacker for a third of a season, lined up behind him. I tell you what, you didn’t have to worry about guards and centers coming up on you because they were all trying to block him. And if they blocked him with one guy, guess what? That’s a sack.”

Waldrop was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame in May 2011.

“I’m convinced there would not have been a Desert Swarm defense without Rob Waldrop,” former teammate and linebacker Brant Boyer said in 2011. “We had a lot of great players on that team, but it started and ended with that guy.”

Life after college: Waldrop, perhaps too short and too small for the NFL prototype, was a fifth-round pick of Kansas City in 1994. He and the club clashed over workout methods, and he was satisfied to go to the Canadian Football League after playing in three games with the Chiefs as a rookie. He once said he didn’t like being treated “like cattle” in the NFL.

He was a success in Canada, earning all-star status, but football was never the end-all for Waldrop. He quit football at 27, rejecting $100,000 to play in Canada and offers to go to NFL camps.

He went into law enforcement in Los Angeles, reinvented himself as co-owner of a marketing company in Tucson, then returned to law enforcement in Southern California.

“I didn’t play as long as other people did,” he told TucsonCitizen.com in 2011. “I’m all right with that. I’m happy with what happened. It’s two separate things. There’s pro and then there’s college.”

In partnership with the Arizona Republic, we are counting down the top 50 football players in Arizona Wildcats history. Leave your top five at AG’s Wildcat Report on Facebook, and check out azcentral.com for the countdown of ASU’s Top 50 football players.

Arizona’s top 50

No. 50 — LaMonte Hunley

No. 49 — Hubie Oliver

No. 48 — Rob Gronkowski

No. 47 — Jim Donarski

No. 46 — Ontiwaun Carter

No. 45 — Steve McLaughlin

No. 44 — John Fina

No. 43 — Glenn Parker

No. 42 — Bobby Lee Thompson

No. 41 — Marcus Bell

No. 40 — Fred W. Enke

No. 39 — Ka’Deem Carey

No. 38 — Juron Criner

No. 37 — Dana Wells

No. 36 — Tom Tunnicliffe

No. 35 — Bruce Hill

No. 34 — Chuck Osborne

No. 33 — Brandon Sanders

No. 32 — Sean Harris

No. 31 — Mike Thomas

No. 30 — Bobby Wade

No. 29 — T Bell

No. 28 — Joe Salave’a

No. 27 — Eddie Wilson

No. 26 — Chuck Levy

No. 25 — Allan Durden

No. 24 — Nick Foles

No. 23 — Tony Bouie

No. 22 — ‘King Kong’ Nolan

No. 21 — Bill Lueck

No. 20 — Walter “Hoss” Nielsen

No. 19 — Trung Canidate

No. 18 — Mark Arneson

No. 17 — Chris Singleton

No. 16 — Mike Dawson

No. 15 — Max Zendejas

No. 14 — Dennis Northcutt

No. 13 — Jackie Wallace

No. 12 — Antoine Cason

No. 11 — Vance Johnson

No. 10 — Lance Briggs

No. 9 — Byron Evans

No. 8 — Darryll Lewis

No. 7 — Joe Tofflemire

No. 6 — Chris McAlister

No. 5 — Art Luppino

No. 4 — Tedy Bruschi

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