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Top 50 football players in Arizona Wildcats history: No. 1 Ricky Hunley

Photo illustration by azcentral sports.

Photo illustration by azcentral sports.

Position, years at UA: Inside linebacker, 1980-83

Honors, accomplishments at UA: Two-time consensus All-American, in 1982 and 1983. … Earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors three times. … Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year as a senior, when he had 176 tackles. … His 566 career tackles are No. 1 in school history. … Picked seventh overall in the 1984 NFL draft, the highest selection ever for an UA player.

Why he made our list: Any of the final five in our countdown of the top 50 players in UA history has a case to be No. 1.

There are four College Football Hall of Famers — Hunley, Chuck Cecil, Rob Waldrop and Tedy Bruschi — and another, Art Luppino, who led the nation in rushing for consecutive seasons.

We went with Hunley, the first of the school’s Hall of Famers and a fearsome defender whose playmaking ability helped the Wildcats upset four top-10 teams during his tenure. When we talked to former UCLA quarterback Rick Neuheisel recently, he still sounded in awe of Hunley 30 years later.

“He and his brother were walking nightmares,” Neuheisel said.

Ricky and LaMonte Hunley played together at linebacker for three seasons at Arizona, and they are reunited as bookends on our countdown, with LaMonte kicking off the list at No. 50.

Neuheisel recalls Arizona’s defense setting up Ricky Hunley to be the ultimate playmaker.

“You couldn’t block him. Nobody had schemes to get to him, and he ran sideline to sideline. He was sitting there in the gap, in position to make tackles on both sides. And then he did it. He absolutely did it.”

Hunley, 51, has been in coaching the past two decades, in college and pro, working for his old college coach Larry Smith, Steve Spurrier and Marvin Lewis. Hunley, who lives in Los Angeles, is not coaching this fall but aims to be back next season.

We talked with Hunley this week:

Question: What are you doing these days?

Answer: I’m currently spending most of my time with my daughters. My oldest daughter (Alexis) is about to leave to do an internship with the NFL Players Association, so daddy has to go help her get moved in. And my other daughter (Kenady) is back enrolled at USC. Other than traveling around and doing some public speaking, I’m getting a chance to sit back and enjoy some football without coaching a team and being in meetings. It could be boring, but at the same time, it might be fun and exciting.

Q: How did Arizona’s scheme allow you to be playmaker you were?

A: First of all, the credit has to go to Joe Drake. He was a 320-pound nose guard, and Joe could at times eat up three people. If he can eat three, then there was no one to block me. I was quick enough and fast enough, so that even if he got a piece of them, they couldn’t come off the combination block to get up to the second level.

And (linebacker coaches) Chuck Amato and Tom Roggeman both played us at a 6-yard depth, so we really had an opportunity to flow and make plays. The two outside ’backers really set the edge so that everything would funnel inside … and then it’s going to be the inside ’backers and the safeties making all the plays.

On occasion, (linebacker) Julius Holt would get upset. He would say, “Ricky is making all the damn plays.” Coach would tell him, “That’s the way the defense is designed. Stay on your block.” I had success, and the team had success, and I got an opportunity to make a lot of football plays. So I guess that kind of puts you up there where nobody can catch up with your stats.

Q: Larry Smith had a great influence on you. What of his advice still resonates the most with you?

A: When you think of Larry Smith, the first thing you think of is discipline. He’s a guy who came out of the service academies, and he held you to a higher standard. There’s an old saying in coaching that I learned a long time ago: “Players will walk if you let them.” And he was never one to let us walk. And none of his staff was like that.

Larry always coached the coaches to coach his kids the same way he would do it — from a discipline standpoint and a being-responsible standpoint. He knew your teammates counted on you, and no one wants to go to battle with a guy you can’t count on.

Q: Was he hard on you?

A: Man, he was always hard on me. But he loved you first, so it was OK. I knew he loved me, so I could accept it. If I didn’t know he loved me and cared about me, man, I wouldn’t have hit that sled the way he wanted me to hit that sled. I wouldn’t have been out there killing myself in the summer in the heat.

Q: Those teams had so many big wins, what was it about Larry that instilled that belief?

A: He wore his emotions on his sleeve in everything he did. We saw him cry. We saw him cheer. We saw him get in our face and push us and challenge us. There was no surprise about who this guy is. It was easy to buy into what Larry Smith was selling. He didn’t change. He wasn’t no chameleon. He didn’t change with the next guy who came in. Those are the things that players want. All they want is for a coach to be honest and to be fair.

And he would cry for you if you fell short. Some of us used to laugh at him. We thought it was the goofiest thing to have a head coach crying. But he was an emotional guy. Being older now, I can appreciate that. Seeing my kids do something great, it brings tears to my eyes.

Q: When you were in Tucson recently, what do you think of the new football facilities?

A: I got a tour, and I’m telling you, it was awesome. It was absolutely awesome to see how far this program has come. It’s such a great springboard to where this program can really go. I think they’re really ready to turn the corner.

Q: What is it that you like about coach Rich Rodriguez?

A: I love the way he keeps the game fun, the way they practice with tempo, the way he brings them together and cheer each other on. That’s like a fun family atmosphere. I know if I was a recruit, I would go to Arizona all over again — just because of him and what he’s doing with those kids. In the limited time I have been around him, I see that he’s a special cat.

In partnership with the Arizona Republic, we counted down the top 50 football players in Arizona Wildcats history. 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

No. 3 — Rob Waldrop

No. 2 — Chuck Cecil

No. 1 — Ricky Hunley


Who we left off

The top five games in Arizona history

Greatest team in Arizona history: 1993 or 1998?

Arizona football: The best one-year wonders

Arizona Top 50 debate: Close calls at wide receiver

The historical impact of Button Salmon

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Bruce Cooper of azcentral sports also spoke with Ricky Hunley via Skype:

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