Former New Mexico defensive back Brian Urlacher was named as part of the 2017 College Football Hall of Fame Class in January, and he will be officially inducted during the 60th NFF Annual Awards Dinner Dec. 5 at the New York Hilton Midtown.
By Matt Fortuna, college football reporter for The All-American.
Urlacher: Up Close
- Named a consensus First-Team All-American in 1999.
- Competed as a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award in 1999.
- Led the nation in tackles (178) as a junior and named 1999 Mountain West Conference Player
of the Year.
- Played for coaches Dennis Franchione and Rocky Long.
- Becomes the first Lobos player to enter the Hall.
It may be hard to imagine now, but there was a time when Brian Urlacher wasn’t the most menacing player when he stepped on the gridiron.
As an undersized receiver for Lovington (N.M.) High, Urlacher often found himself overlooked. And while his dream may have been to play some 100 miles up the road at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders never offered. So he stuck in New Mexico, putting forth an effort so impressive that he becomes the first Lobos player ever elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. In fact, he is also the first player to have played in the Mountain West Conference to be elected to the Hall.
“If you can play, they will find you,” Urlacher told the Albuquerque Journal in July. “(UNM) found me. I wasn’t a great high school player. I was good enough to get looked at by UNM. But I feel that if you can play they will find you. It may not be the school that you want, but if you’re playing somewhere it’s a good thing in my opinion.”
Before he went on to become one of the most iconic post-1985 Chicago Bears, Urlacher dazzled all over the field for the Lobos, playing for coaches Dennis Franchione and Rocky Long at linebacker, as expected, but also as a free safety, receiver and return specialist.
A two-time captain and team MVP, Urlacher really began to thrive his junior season when he set a single-season school record with 178 tackles, which also led the nation. His senior campaign featured 154 tackles, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and a 15.8-yard average on punt returns. His versatility also allowed him to score seven touchdowns (42 points), which led the team in scoring. His senior performance culminated with him as the MWC Player of the Year, a consensus First-Team All-American, and the Defensive MVP in the Senior Bowl.
All totaled, Urlacher left Albuquerque with 442 career tackles, ranking him fourth all-time in Lobo history, and 11 career forced fumbles, which places him second in school annals. A member of the State of New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame, Urlacher’s No. 44 jersey was retired by the Lobos in 2013.
“I think every kid has that dream, but it’s hard,” Urlacher told the Journal of his college career. “You have to stay healthy, number one. And you have to do well in school, get through college to where you can actually give yourself a chance to show your skills.”
Urlacher has the chance to pull off a rare feat if things break right for him in February, as he is now eligible to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well. The double dose of celebration would be quite the punctuation on a career that had its doubters back when he was an under-recruited prospect in Lovington. For now, though, he is still taken aback by the collegiate recognition.
“I was shocked, I didn’t know that I was eligible or how you got in,” Urlacher told KRQE News 13 in Albuquerque of the College Hall. “[The school] told me probably 18 months ago: ‘Be ready.’ I go: ‘What are you talking about?’ I didn’t know I was eligible and I was excited. It was cool. What a great class, a bunch of good guys, college and NFL players that I am going in with.”