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Top of the Mountain (West)

By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.

The Mountain West Conference is full of teams with proud traditions on the gridiron. We decided to look at each current MW school and come up with the best player to ever wear their uniform.  It’s a subjective list, of course, but we think we’ve found the best of the best. Here we go:

AIR FORCE: CHAD HENNINGS. The most decorated football player in Air Force history. First-Team All-American selection in 1987 and recipient of that season’s Outland Trophy (awarded to the game’s interior lineman). Had 24 sacks in that season. Later won three Super Bowl rings with the Dallas Cowboys.

BOISE STATE: RYAN CLADY. 2x First-Team All-WAC selection and 1987 consensus All-American, the mammoth offensive tackle was a key contributor to Boise’s undefeated 1986 season, including the Broncos’ storybook upset over national power Oklahoma. Later became a 2x All-Pro in the NFL, helping the Denver Broncos win Super Bowl 50.

COLORADO STATE: JACK CHRISTIANSEN. We’re diving deep into the history books here. Jack Christiansen was a standout at CSU in the late 1940s, when the school was known as Colorado A&M. In his first game, the heralded track star returned a punt 89 yards for a TD. Went on to set numerous school records for return yards. In 1967, Christiansen became the first CSU athlete to be inducted to the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.

FRESNO STATE: HENRY ELLARD. The 2x NFL All-Pro receiver enjoyed a record-setting career as a Bulldog. In his senior season, Ellard set an NCAA records for receiving yards (1,510) and average yards per reception (24.4).

HAWAII: COLT BRENNAN. One could make a good case for either Al or Niko Noga, but we’re still giving the nod to Brennan. All-American QB led Hawaii to an undefeated regular season and a Sugar Bowl berth in 2007. Finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting that year. His 2006 campaign was arguably even better, as Brennan threw for an NCAA record 58 TDs.

NEVADA: COLIN KAEPERNICK. He may be a polarizing figure off the football field, but there is no disputing his football résumé with the Wolf Pack. The 2x WAC Offensive Player of the Year is the only player in college football history to record more than 10,000 passing yards and 4,000 rushing yards. Kaepernick was recently named to the Nevada Athletics Hall of Fame.

NEW MEXICO: BRIAN URLACHER. Consensus 1999 All-American led the country in tackles (178) during his junior season, setting the school record. The future Hall of Fame linebacker also played safety, receiver and punt returner for the lobos. In fact, he had 6 TD receptions in his final year in Albuquerque. The school retired his number (#44) in 2013. He was also the first Lobo to be named to the program’s Wall of Fame.

SAN DIEGO STATE: MARSHALL FAULK. Talk about making an immediate impact: In just his second collegiate game, Faulk went off for 386 rushing yards and 7 TDs against Pacific. Went on to collect 5,562 all-purpose yards and 62 TDs as an Aztec, finishing second in the 1992 Heisman Trophy race. Rushed for 300 yards in a 1992 win over Hawaii. A member of both the College Football Hall of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame.

SAN JOSE STATE: FRANK MANUMALEUGA. 2x All-American linebacker still holds the school record for most tackles in one game (27). Inducted to the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame in 2019. Football legend Dick Vermeil said of Manumaleuga, “He had more instinctive ability than any linebacker I’ve ever evaluated.”

UNLV: RANDALL CUNNINGHAM. The prototype for future dual-threat QBs such as Michael Vick and Lamar Jackson. Earned All-America honors in 1983 and ’84…as a punter. Set 18 school records as a QB and punter. Later played 16 NFL seasons. A 4x Pro Bowl and 2x All-Pro selection.

UTAH STATE: MERLIN OLSEN. The Logan, Utah native was simply one of the greatest defensive linemen ever. Was a consensus All-American as an Aggie and won the coveted Outland Trophy Award. Later joined the NFL and became part of the Los Angeles Rams’ “Fearsome Foursome” defensive line. A member of both the college football and pro football Halls of Fame.

WYOMING: JAY NOVACEK. Josh Allen? Soon, but not yet. Novacek was a 5x Pro Bowler Who started his Wyoming career as a receiver, but blossomed after he switched to the TE position. In 1984, he had 33 receptions for 745 yards and 4 TDs and set an NCAA Mark for average yards per reception for a TE (22.6). Later a 3x Super Bowl champion with the Dallas Cowboys. A member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

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