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Published: Aug. 20, 2014 at 11:55 a.m.

14 for '14: Toughest players in college football

14 Photos Total

  • 1. Nate Terhune, NT, Kent State 14

    David Dermer/Kent State Athletics

    1. Nate Terhune, NT, Kent State

    Particulars: 6-4, 270, junior
    Buzz: Terhune broke his left leg near the ankle in a Sept. 14 loss at LSU. Exactly four weeks later, following a quick rehab after surgery to implant a metal plate and some pins, he played at Ball State (Oct. 12). He didn't partake of painkillers during his rehab: "If I took them, they told me I wouldn't be able to lift weights." On Nov. 19, he hurdled over a defender to score on a 61-yard run (more of a rumble, actually) on a fake punt in what turned into a rout of Ohio. It's impressive enough that the guy who did the hurdling -- on a fake punt, no less -- is a nose tackle. That he did that about nine weeks after suffering a broken ankle? That's toughness, folks.

  • 2. Keenan Reynolds, QB, Navy 13

    AP Photo/Nick Wass

    2. Keenan Reynolds, QB, Navy

    Particulars: 5-11, 195, junior
    Buzz: First off, you have to be incredibly mentally tough to play football -- or any sport, really -- at a service academy. Think about the mental discipline required to balance the classwork (no one is coasting through the academies in "hmmm, I think I will take this because it won't take much time" classes), the drills associated with being in the military and all the practices. And in Reynolds' case, he plays football at a high level (103.5 rushing yards per game and 31 rushing TDs last season; he is one of just four players in NCAA history with 30-plus rushing TDs in a season). In addition, as a quarterback in Navy's triple-option offense, he gets hit on, oh, about 99 percent of the Midshipmen's running plays, whether he keeps the ball or not. And at his size, the hits add up. Yet he keeps going and going.

  • 3. Myles Jack, LB/RB, UCLA 12

    AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

    3. Myles Jack, LB/RB, UCLA

    Particulars: 6-1, 230, sophomore
    Buzz: That he is on this list should surprise no one who follows college football. He plays linebacker and running back -- and at a high level -- for the Bruins. This isn't going two ways in high school; this is going two ways -- and at a high level -- in the Pac-12. That's, uh, tough to do. He was the league's offensive and defensive freshman of the year last season, doling out punishment as a runner and as a tackler.

  • 4. Serderius Bryant, LB, Mississippi 11

    AP Photo/Thomas Graning

    4. Serderius Bryant, LB, Mississippi

    Particulars: 5-9, 215, junior
    Buzz: Rebels free safety Cody Prewitt receives more acclaim for his big hits -- he almost eviscerated Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews in last season's opener -- but Bryant deserves the honor. He's a 5-9 linebacker (and the 5-9 is his listed height, with emphasis on "listed") who starts in the SEC. Bryant's nickname is "Bird," which he picked up in high school in the Orlando area for the way he flew around the field making tackles and big hits. Yes, despite his size, a guy nicknamed "Bird" really lays the wood. You have to be tough to be a 5-9 linebacker in the SEC who makes big hits.

  • 5. Derrick Mathews, LB, Houston 10

    AP Photo/Pat Sullivan

    5. Derrick Mathews, LB, Houston

    Particulars: 6-0, 214, senior
    Buzz: Mathews obviously is not very big, but, man, is he productive. He has started all 39 games since stepping foot on campus (he never redshirted) and has made 348 tackles in his career -- the most of any returning player in the nation. That's a lot of tackles for a linebacker who weighs 214 pounds. Mathews has had at least 106 stops in each of his three seasons and has had 14 games with double-digit tackles. He also has averaged 13 tackles for loss per season.

  • 6. Jared Tevis, SS, Arizona 9

    AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

    6. Jared Tevis, SS, Arizona

    Particulars: 5-10, 195, senior
    Buzz: Tevis began his career as a hometown walk-on and has developed into one of the most productive -- and biggest-hitting -- safeties in the Pac-12. He was bothered by a badly sprained ankle in 2012, his first season as a starter, but still managed to play in 11 games and finish third on the team with 82 tackles; he also forced four fumbles. Last season, he missed two games with a knee injury but again managed to finish third on the team in tackles, with 82, and he forced three fumbles. Tevis should contend for all-league honors this fall.

  • 7. Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami (Fla.) 8

    AP Photo/Tom DiPace

    7. Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami (Fla.)

    Particulars: 6-0, 242, senior
    Buzz: Miami's defense has been, to be kind, awful the past two seasons, but don't blame Perryman. He might be the only current UM defender who would've fit in on the defenses in the Hurricanes' glory days. He is a physical, aggressive player who makes up for his lack of size (he's listed at 6-0, but he's not that tall) with tremendous instincts, and frequently just knocks the snot out of opposing players. He led Miami with 104 tackles and was an All-ACC pick last season. Look for that tackle total to go up this fall, as Perryman has moved to middle linebacker from an outside spot.

  • 8. Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington 7

    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

    8. Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington

    Particulars: 6-2, 231, junior
    Buzz: He was considered the No. 1 safety and one of the top five prospects overall nationally in the 2012 recruiting class, but he hasn't played that position with the Huskies. Instead, he started every game at nickel back as a true freshman in 2012, showing off his coverage skills, then gained 20 pounds and moved to linebacker last season. He should vie for All-Pac-12 honors this fall at linebacker, and he also expects to see time at running back; he showed well at that position in limited action in spring practice. Thompson was a standout baseball player in high school in Fresno, Calif., and played rookie ball in the Boston Red Sox organization before his freshman year at Washington.

  • 9. James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh 6

    AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

    9. James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh

    Particulars: 6-2, 230, sophomore
    Buzz: Conner was a star running back and defensive end in high school in Erie, Pa., and most schools recruited him as a defensive end. Pitt liked him as a running back, though, and while sharing time at tailback as a true freshman last season, he rushed for a team-high 799 yards and eight TDs. He doesn't have much burst, but he is a punishing inside runner (five of his TD runs covered three or fewer yards), a throwback of sorts to the 1970s-style back. But Conner didn't abandon his defensive roots. He saw some time as a pass-rushing defensive end and drew a holding call late in the game to help Pitt subdue Bowling Green in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.

  • 10. Karlos Williams, RB, Florida State 5

    AP Photo/Chuck Burton

    10. Karlos Williams, RB, Florida State

    Particulars: 6-1, 219, senior
    Buzz: Williams was a national top-10 recruit out of high school near Orlando and played safety in his two first seasons with the Seminoles. But while he is an excellent athlete, he didn't have the necessary instincts to start at that position, so he was moved to tailback early in the 2013 season. The move paid off, when Williams was the team's second-leading rusher, and it will really pay off this fall. If a person can be said to run "mean," Williams does it, as he almost seems to want to inflict punishment on would-be tacklers. Despite his weight, he possesses breakaway speed. Williams needs to improve his blocking and receiving ability, but his upside -- like his toughness -- is enormous.

  • 11. Karl Joseph, FS, West Virginia 4

    Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    11. Karl Joseph, FS, West Virginia

    Particulars: 5-10, 196, junior
    Buzz: Joseph might not necessarily be the free safety you want in pass coverage in a key situation, but if you want a tough guy to deliver a big hit, you couldn't do much better. He lacks consistency and frequently spends too much time looking for the big hit -- but the dude hits a ton. He thrives in run support, which shouldn't be a surprise given his physical nature, and has forced four fumbles in his two seasons.

  • 12. Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa 3

    AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

    12. Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa

    Particulars: 6-5, 320, senior
    Buzz: Scherff is a top-shelf athlete for a guy his size, but make no mistake, it's his toughness that makes him a special talent. He is an absolute mauler in the running game, and woe to the defensive back who is in his path when he's downfield looking for a target to blow up. He also is a solid pass protector who uses every means at his disposal, including -- wink wink, nudge nudge -- his hands to keep opposing defenders off his quarterback.

  • 13. Kyshoen Jarrett, SS, Virginia Tech 2

    AP Photo/Steve Helber

    13. Kyshoen Jarrett, SS, Virginia Tech

    Particulars: 5-11, 191, senior
    Buzz: He was recruited as a corner and was a reserve at that position as a true freshman in 2011. He was moved to strong safety during the spring of 2012 and has started all 26 games since. Jarrett played with a sore shoulder in 2012, then had labrum surgery after the season. In addition to being a big hitter and solid cover guy -- especially for a strong safety -- Jarrett is a good punt returner. The Hokies annually have one of the best secondaries in the nation, and Jarrett will be a key component in one of the nation's top five defensive backfields this fall.

  • 14. Tim Edmond, RB, Ohio 1

    Daniel Kubus

    14. Tim Edmond, RB, Ohio

    Particulars: 5-foot-11, 235 pounds, senior
    Buzz: Edmond was a running back in junior college, but was converted to linebacker upon enrolling at Ohio in 2012. He was a reserve that season, then moved back to offense last season and became a short-yardage back. Edmond also was a special-teams stalwart last season, making nine tackles. He is a workout warrior, too, winning the "Iron Bobcat" award, which is the team's highest strength and conditioning honor. He bench presses 381 pounds, squats 528 pounds and power cleans 296 pounds.

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