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Nevada football: Top 10 Wolf Pack players of all time

Nevada football: Top 10 Wolf Pack players of all time
November 26, 2010; Reno, NV, USA; Nevada Wolf Pack quarterback Colin Kaepernick (10) celebrates with fans after the Wolf Pack defeated the Boise State Broncos 34-31 in overtime at Mackay Stadium. (Photo: Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY Sports)

RENO, Nev. (BVM) – Nevada football has a rich history of talented teams and players spanning 100-plus seasons. From record-breaking quarterbacks to multiple-time Pro Bowl selections and Super Bowl champions, the Wolf Pack have produced a healthy share of NFL talent. 

With an emphasis on what each alumnus accomplished in Reno, here are the top 10 Nevada football players of all time.

10. Derek Kennard, OL 

Kennard came to Nevada from Edison High School (CA) and turned into a second-team All-Big Sky player as a sophomore before back-to-back first-team All-Big Sky nods as a junior and senior. He was named to the Division I-AA All-American team as an offensive tackle in 1983 and then selected in the third round (53rd overall) of the 1984 USFL Draft by the Los Angeles Express. Kennard became a second-team All-Pro (1992) and then a Super Bowl champion when he started Super Bowl XXX at center for the Dallas Cowboys with a severely separated shoulder. In 1996, Kennard was inducted into the Nevada Athletics Hall of Fame.

9. Tony Zendejas, K 

Born in Curimeo, Michoacan, Mexico, Zendejas’ family moved to Chino, California where he set a single-season Chino High School record with 10 field goals as a senior. Mainly a soccer player throughout his youth, Zendejas was recruited from Mt. San Antonio College by Nevada assistant John Smith based on what he accomplished in high school. Zendejas went on to set Wolfpack records for field goals made in a single season (21) and longest field goal (55 yards) as a sophomore. He then set new conference and school records for field goals attempted (33) and field goals made (26) as a junior before breaking the school record for the longest field goal (58 yards). During his 11-year NFL career, Zendejas scored 874 points and became the first kicker in NFL history to convert all of his field goal attempts, going 17-for-17 in 1991. 

8. Doug Betters, DE 

Betters began his collegiate career at the University of Montana before transferring to Nevada in 1977 and by the next year, he was a sixth-round draft pick of the Miami Dolphins. He became a part of Miami’s “Killer B’s” defense and went to Super Bowl XVII and XIX. In 1983, Betters tallied 16 sacks in 16 games, won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award and was named a Pro Bowler. He was named the Dolphins “Outstanding Defensive Lineman” in back-to-back seasons (1983-84) and recorded 64.5 career sacks in 146 NFL games. In 2008, Betters was inducted into the Miami Dolphins Ring of Honor. 

7. Frank Hawkins, RB 

Nicknamed “The Hawk,” Hawkins is the only Wolf Pack player in the college football Hall of Fame. His 5,333 career rushing yards at Nevada ranks fourth all-time in NCAA history behind Ricky Williams (Texas), Tony Dorsett (Pittsburgh) and Charles White (USC). A three-time All-American for the Wolf Pack, Hawkins was selected in the 10th round of the 1981 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders who he played in Super Bowl XVIII with. During his seven seasons with the Raiders, Hawkins was the second-leading rusher for three consecutive seasons (1983-85). His No. 27 jersey was retired by the Wolf Pack. 

6. Nate Burleson, WR 

Burleson might be the most recognizable name on this list in part because of his historic 2002 season that is one of the greatest in Nevada history. He caught 138 passes (fifth-most in a single-season in NCAA history) for 1,629 yards and 12 touchdowns. Burleson even had a 326-yard game in 2001 which is the seventh-most ever in NCAA history. Selected in the third round of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings, Burleson played for three teams during his 11-year NFL career. 

5. Brock Marion, DB 

Marion became a four-year starter at Nevada and led the secondary in tackles each year. He played cornerback during his first three seasons before moving to strong safety as a senior and finished his Wolf Pack career with 303 tackles, 13 interceptions and an additional 44 passes deflected. The two-time All-Big Sky selection was chosen in the seventh round of the 1993 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys who we won two Super Bowls (XXVIII, XXX) with. The three-time Pro Bowler led the NFL in interception return yards in 2001 and kickoff return yards in 1999. Marion was inducted into the Nevada Athletics Hall of Fame in 2006. 

4. Charles Mann, DE 

Mann played defensive end for the Wolf Pack from 1979-82 and finished his collegiate career with 191 tackles and 16 sacks. Most of that damage was done during his senior season when he led the Big Sky with 14 sacks and was named the conference’s Most Valuable Defensive Lineman as well as an AP All-American. Mann was drafted in the third round of the 1983 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins and went on to have four double-digit sack seasons, highlighted by a career-high 14.5 in 1985. He won three Super Bowls and was selected to four Pro Bowls (both are high for a Wolf Pack alum). 

3. Joel Bitonio, OL 

Bitonio is the only active player on this list and his high ranking speaks to his excellence at Nevada and in the NFL. He started 39 consecutive games for the Wolf Pack from his redshirt sophomore to senior seasons and was an All-Mountain West Conference selection in his final year in Reno. Bitonio was considered one of the best offensive tackle prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft and was selected in the second round (35th overall) by the Cleveland Browns. A four-time Pro Bowler, Bitonio was a second-team All-Pro for three consecutive seasons (2018-2020) before earning a first-team All-Pro nod in 2021. The iron man has started all 114 games he’s played in during his NFL career. 

2. Colin Kaepernick, QB 

The only quarterback to appear on this list is probably the most famous Wolf Pack alum of all time. One of the best college players ever, Kaepernick is the only player with 10,000 passing yards and 4,000 rushing yards in college. The two-time Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Offensive Player of the Year was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft and is one of three Wolf Pack alums to start an NFL game at quarterback. Kaepernick became the 49ers’ starter in the middle of the 2012 season after Alex Smith suffered a concussion and led the team to its first Super Bowl appearance since 1994. He then helped the 49ers reach the NFC championship game the next year in his first full season as a starter. Kaepernick remains unsigned after kneeling during the national anthem prior to a game in 2016 but holds a pair of NFL records: the most rushing yards by a QB in a game (181) and the most rushing yards by a QB in a postseason (264). 

1. Marion Motley, FB 

Motley was born in Canton, Ohio in 1920 and returned nearly 50 years later when he became the first Wolf Pack alum to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After three standout seasons at Nevada from 1940-42, Motley served in World War II before breaking the color barrier in modern professional football along with teammate Bill Willis in 1946 when the pair played their first game for the Cleveland Browns. He’s the all-time leading rusher of the AAFC, led the NFL in rushing in 1950 and was all-league five consecutive years. His No. 41 has been retired by the Wolf Pack. 

Originals

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