Brian Urlacher is going where no Lobo football player has ever gone.
The Lovington High School grad and collegiate All-American has been named to the College Football Hall of Fame.
Urlacher is one of 13 college standouts elected. Tennessee’s Peyton Manning, former Florida coach Steve Spurrier and San Diego State’s Marshall Faulk also headline the class.
Urlacher will be inducted on Dec. 5, 2017 at the National Football Foundation Annual Awards Dinner in New York City.
Urlacher was born in Pasco, Wash., and raised in Lovington. Playing a variety of positions, he helped the Wildcats win the 1995 Class 3A title.
He had hoped to play for Texas Tech, but after the Red Raiders did not recruit him, he took an offer from New Mexico and then-coach Dennis Franchione.
“He could play eight or 10 different things for us,” Franchione said at the time. “Linebacker, defensive end, defensive tackle. He’d be a great tight end. If he lost weight, he could be a receiver. You can’t get enough Brian Urlachers. I wish I had 10 more like him.”
But Franchione left after the 1997 season.
“I wasn’t sure if I would have a spot on the team,” Urlacher said then.
It was under coach Rocky Long, who took over the program, that Urlacher blossomed.
In 1998, as a hybrid linebacker-safety (known as the “Lobo” position), Urlacher led the nation in tackles with 178. NFL scouts approached him about leaving after his junior season, but he declined.
“A lot of the guys were coming back, and I didn’t want to let them down,” Urlacher said in 1998.
In 1999, he was a Jim Thorpe Award finalist and was 12th in the Heisman Trophy voting. That season Urlacher recorded 154 tackles, five forced fumbles, three recovered fumbles, seven pass breakups, seven touchdowns, 42 points and had a 15.8-yard average on punt returns.
He had 442 career tackles at UNM with 11 forced fumbles.
After being named to the 1999 AP All-America team, Urlacher said: “It’s awesome. I came from a small town and got looked over by a lot of schools. This is the only one that gave me a chance to play. … Hopefully, those other schools will be kicking themselves in the rear right now, wishing they had given me a scholarship. But I’m glad they didn’t. I’m glad I came here.”
He was picked ninth in the 2000 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears and went on to have an All-Pro career.
UNM retired his jersey No. 44 in 2013.
Urlacher was a Hall nominee last year, but was not elected.
Two New Mexico State Aggies are in the Hall. The late Warren Woodson, who coached the Aggies from 1958-67, was inducted in 1989. Running back Pervis Atkins, who played for Woodson at NMSU from 1959-60, was elected in 2009.
Manning started for four seasons at Tennessee and set school records for yards passing (11,201) and touchdown passes (89). He led the Volunteers to four consecutive bowl games and was Heisman Trophy runner-up as a senior in 1997.
But Manning never did beat Spurrier’s Gators, going 0-3. Spurrier built Florida into an SEC powerhouse from 1990-2001, winning six conference titles and the school’s first national championship in 1996. He also was never shy about taking verbal jabs at his rivals such as Tennessee (“You can’t spell Citrus without U-T”) and Florida State (“Free Shoes University”).
Urlacher time line
1996 Brian Urlacher graduates from Lovington High School, where he played baseball, basketball and ran track. He also played some football. As a 6-4, 210-pound receiver/defensive back his senior year, he accounted for 1,348 yards and 23 TDs, leading the Wildcats to a 14-0 record and a state title.
1996 With his only other offer being from New Mexico State, he enrolls at UNM.
Aug. 13, 1996 Urlacher practices at linebacker for the first time, shifting from strong safety.
Nov. 1997 Urlacher, playing linebacker against Tulsa, has 14 tackles, an interception and a sack and is named WAC Mountain Division defensive player of the week.
Dec., 1997 Dennis Franchione leaves UNM for TCU. Rocky Long takes over.
Spring 1998 Urlacher moves to free safety
Aug. 13, 1998 Urlacher (now 6-4, 235) is named a starter for the first time in college. He’ll play the “lobo” position.
Sept. 1998 Urlacher has 14½ tackles, six for loss, and a sack against Utah State.
Nov. 1998 NFL scouts contact him about turning pro. He decides to stay in school.
Aug. 1999 Atlanta Falcons scout Bob Harrison visits practice to check out Urlacher (now 240 pounds). Harrison says, “He really is a fine prospect. He’s a big linebacker playing safety.”
Nov. 1999 Urlacher is ranked seventh on a list of top 50 NFL prospects by ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.
Nov. 27 1999 In his final game as a Lobo, he forces a fumble late to preserve the win over Air Force in front of 21,013 fans.
Dec. 1999 Urlacher finishes 12th in the Heisman Trophy voting.
Dec. 1999 He is named to AP All-America team, the second Lobo to receive that honor.
April 2000 Urlacher is taken ninth overall by the Bears in the NFL draft.