Best Players in Clemson history: Cornerbacks

Clemson has had a lot of great cornerbacks through the years like Steve Ryan, Rod McSwain, Delton Hall, Dexter Davis, Dexter McCleon, Antwan Edwards, Justin Miller, Tye Hill, Mackensie Alexander and Cordrea Tankersley to name a few, but perhaps the best of the bunch was Donnell Woolford.

Woolford is the only Clemson cornerback to be named a First-Team All-American in back-to-back years, a feat he accomplished as a junior and as a senior in 1987 and in 1988. In 1988, he was consensus First-Team All-American as he was a part of a Clemson team that went 10-2 and beat Oklahoma in the 1989 Citrus Bowl.

He led the Tigers in passes broken up (PBU) and in passes defended in both 1987 and 1988. In 1987 he recorded five interceptions to lead the team and set a Clemson record at the time with 20 passes defended. He had 15 PBUs in 1987 and in 1988.

Donnell Woolford recorded 10 interceptions in his career and had at least one interception in all four years he played at Clemson. He played in 47 games and started 35 of them in his Clemson career. He had 44 PBUs in his career as well as 187 tackles. (File photo)

Woolford recorded 10 interceptions in his career and had at least one interception in all four years he played at Clemson. He played in 47 games and started 35 of them in his Clemson career. He had 44 PBUs in his career as well as 187 tackles.

Besides being a stellar cornerback, Woolford was also an excellent punt returner. He is second in career return yards with 754. He was one of the best punt returners in the country in 1987 as he averaged 15.0 yards per return.

Woolford, who played at Clemson from 1985-’88, is one of only three players in Clemson history to return two punts for touchdowns in his career, and is the only one to do it in the same season, which he did against Georgia Tech and Maryland in 1987.

Honorable mentions:

Justin Miller (2002-’04): Miller Finished his career with 13 interceptions, the second most by a cornerback in Clemson history. His eight interceptions in 2002 led the ACC and tied a Clemson record for a season. In 2002 and in 2003 he led the Tigers in passes defended and PBUs. Miller finished his career with 169 tackles and 31 PBUs. In 2004, Miller was a second-team All-American as a kick returner as he returned three kicks for touchdowns that season, including two against Florida State. He had five career kickoffs returned for touchdowns in his career, second in Clemson history to C.J. Spiller.

Fred Knoebel (1950-’52): He wasn’t an all-American and he wasn’t an all-conference player even, but all Knoebel did was intercept passes in a day when passes were hardly thrown. Besides interceptions and fumbles, defensive statistics were not kept back in the days when Knoebel played or he might be considered one of the best Clemson players of all-time for all we know. But what we do know is that he recorded a then Clemson record seven interceptions in 1951. He finished his Clemson career with a then record 15 interceptions and he did it in three years.

Tye Hill (2002-’05): Hill came to Clemson to play running back, but after seeing he was not going to get much playing time at the running back position he asked could he play cornerback, which turned out to be a good move for all involved. After being moved to cornerback in 2003, Hill played in 36 games and started 34 of them in his final three seasons at Clemson. In 2004, he set a Clemson record with 21 PBUs, though he did not have an interception. He followed that up with three interceptions and 10 passes defended in 2005, when he earned First-Team All-American and All-ACC honors. A shutdown corner, Hill led the Tigers in PBUs and in passes defended in 2004 and in 2005.

Mackensie Alexander (2014-’15): If Alexander would have played longer than two years, you could probably make the argument he was the best shutdown cornerback Clemson has ever had. He went the last 25 games of his career without allowing a touchdown. Though he never recorded an interception in his career, opponents seldom caught a pass on him or even threw the ball near him. Only 38 percent of passes thrown in his direction were caught and when they were caught he immediately made a tackle. A third-team All-American in 2015, Alexander had 12 career PBUs, but he allowed just one touchdown in 27 games.

Cordrea Tankersley (2013-’16): Because no one would throw on Alexander, it benefited Tankersley the most. In 2015, when he started opposite Alexander, he became a third-team All-ACC performer after he led the Tigers with five interceptions and 11 passes broken up. He returned one interception 36 yards for a touchdown. He was also a good tackler in one-on-one situations as he tallied 60 tackles. In 2016, Tankersley carried over his momentum and experience from 2015 and became a First-Team All-American. He was second on the team with four interceptions and again led the team with 11 PBUs. He also had 65 tackles, including 6 tackles for loss. Tankersley appeared in 55 games (30 starts), the second most in Clemson history.

Dexter Davis (1988-’90): Davis was a two-time All-ACC cornerback, including a First-Team selection in 1990 when he led the Tigers with six interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown. He also had a big fumble recovery for a touchdown which turned the tide in a comeback victory at NC State. Davis led the Tigers in PBUs as well in 1990 and had 15 passes defended to lead the team that year. Overall, Davis had 10 interceptions in his career and recorded at least one in each of the three seasons he played for Clemson.


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