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Top 10 Washington Defensive players of all time

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As Washington gets set to face Michigan for the 2023 season’s national championship, there can be no doubt that the Huskies’ defense will play a big role in the title game’s outcome. Over the years, the UW program has turned out some great defensive players, and now is a good moment to look back at those who made the greatest impact during their years in purple and gold.

Reviewing the entire history of the Washington defense in order to rank the program’s 10 best players is a challenge, because so many young men have been a part of the team. Defensive stars from the Huskies’ 1991 national championship team and others who went on to also achieve success in the NFL deserve a mention on such a list, so this is a challenge worth accepting.

Let’s take a look back through the record book, and rank the 10 best former defensive players in the Washington Huskies football program’s history.

Who was Washington's starting defensive line in the 2023 season?

Bralen Trice led the Washington defense in 2023 with 77 pressures and eight sacks. He was by far the most impactful player on the team's defensive line, supported by edge rushers Voi Tunuufi and Zion Tupuola-Fetui.

The Washington defensive roster didn’t have a double-digit sack contributor, but players such as Trice and Tupuola-Fetui were consistent in hurrying the quarterback and applying pressure.

Washington Defensive Backs History

Marcus Peters and Budda Baker are two of the best Washington defensive players to have graced the team’s secondary in recent years. Byron Murphy was also a key player for the Huskies, and all three have gone on to starting roles in the NFL.

Going further back in the archives, we find names such as Dana Hall and Ray Horton, who spent more than a decade in the NFL before transitioning to a long and successful coaching career.

Famous Washington Defensive Backs

Budda Baker is likely the most famous Washington defensive back, having made a name for himself both while playing for the Huskies and as a six-time Pro Bowler in the NFL.

Washington football fans will recognize Baker’s playmaking ability when he takes the field on Sundays for the Arizona Cardinals. He remains the same game-changing safety that he was during the three years he spent in the UW program.

Now an NFL veteran, Baker has made the Pro Bowl in all but one season. He received First Team All-Pro selections in both 2017 and 2020, while earning Second Team honors in 2021.

Ranking the Top 10 Greatest Washington Huskies Defensive Players of All Time

  1. Ron Holmes

Position: Defensive End
Seasons at Washington: 1982 to 1984
Awards and Honors:
First Team Consensus All-American (1984), Morris Trophy (1984)

Ron Holmes is the first of three Morris Trophy winning defensive linemen on today's list. The Morris Trophy goes to the Pac-12 Conference’s top offensive and defensive lineman each year, and Morris was certainly a player who wreaked havoc on opposing offensive lines during the early 1980s.

Holmes helped the Huskies defeat Oklahoma in the 1985 Orange Bowl, his final college game. By the time he moved on to the NFL, he was the program’s leader in career sacks with 28 and held the team’s single-game record of five sacks.

The Washington defensive end earned First Team Consensus All-America honors in 1984 and claimed his Morris Trophy that year. He was selected in the first round of the 1985 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and spent four years as a pro with both the Bucs and the Denver Broncos.

Holmes was inducted into the Washington Huskies Hall of Fame in 2001.

  1. D’Marco Farr

Position: Defensive Tackle
Seasons at Washington: 1991 to 1993
Awards and Honors:
National Champion (1991), Morris Trophy (1993)

D’Marco Farr, one of the most underappreciated talents on the Washington Huskies during the early 1990s, was a member of the undefeated team that won the 1991 national championship.

In his final season at UW, Farr claimed the Pac-10’s Morris Trophy, the same trophy Vita Vea would go on to win more than two decades later.

Farr was often overlooked and disrespected because critics felt he was too small to play on the defensive line. No NFL team selected him in the draft, which made him determined to show what he could do when he earned a role on the Los Angeles Rams roster in the season before the team left for St. Louis.

He went on to be a disruptive defensive tackle for the Rams in the 1990s, helping them beat Tennessee in Super Bowl XXXIV and earning a trip to the Pro Bowl after that same 1999 season. He isn’t the most recognized name in the history of Washington defensive players, but deserves a spot on this list.

  1. Dana Hall

Position: Defensive Back
Seasons at Washington:
1988 to 1991
Awards and Honors: National Champion (1991), All Pac-10 Team (1991), Washington Team Defensive MVP (1991)

Dana Hall is one of several members of the Washington starting defense from the 1991 championship season who made this list. The Huskies went undefeated that year and shared the national title with Miami. It was Hall’s senior season, and he was a key part of the team’s secondary.

There have been many talented DBs in Huskies history, and Hall is up there with the best of them. He played primarily as a cornerback in 1990, helping the team defeat Iowa in the Rose Bowl by blocking a punt and returning it for a touchdown.

The following season, he transitioned to play more at safety, notching 42 tackles, an interception, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries that year. He was in the starting lineup when the Huskies beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl and was named the team’s Defensive MVP at the end of that season.

Hall went on to represent Washington in the NFL after being selected by San Francisco in the first round of the 1992 draft. He spent a total of six seasons with the 49ers, Cleveland Browns, and Jacksonville Jaguars.

  1. Michael Jackson

Position: Linebacker
Seasons at Washington: 1976 to 1978
Awards and Honors: Washington MVP (1978)

In 1977, Michael Jackson emerged as one of the budding talents on the Huskies defense and helped UW reach the 1978 Rose Bowl, where the Huskies faced the Michigan Wolverines.

Michigan was favored to win that game, and likely would have done so had it not been for Jackson’s end-zone interception in the final two minutes. The clutch play saw Jackson pick off Michigan quarterback Rick Leach, as he helped his team overcome the odds to win a game they had entered as a two-touchdown underdog.

Jackson holds multiple Washington Huskies records, including marks for single-season tackles (210) and career tackles (569). He was named the team MVP as a senior in 1978, and went on to spend eight years in the NFL with the hometown Seattle Seahawks.

  1. Vita Vea

Position: Defensive Tackle
Seasons at Washington:
2014 to 2017
Awards and Honors:
Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year (2017), Morris Trophy (2017), First Team All-Pac-12 (2017), Second Team All-Pac-12 (2016)

Vita Vea improved his game in each of his years at Washington, and by 2017 he was one of the most tantalizing prospects in all of college football.

Vea is of Tongan descent (his full name is Tevita Tuliʻakiʻono Tuipulotu Mosese Vaʻhae Fehoko Faletau Vea). He is a big man who packed a ton of power in college, which often made it impossible for offensive linemen to block him. Vea’s impact was recognized when he won the Morris Trophy, the award presented to the best defensive linemen in the conference that is voted on by opposition offensive linemen.

In 2017, Vea won the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award after his best college season. He posted three sacks that year and had 35 tackles from the interior of the defensive line.

For a player of his size and stature, Vea has always been remarkably athletic and disruptive in consistently filling gaps against the run. Not only is he able to bring down running backs while double-teamed, he can also affect the quarterback by powering his way to pressure up the middle.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Vea with the 12th overall pick in the first round of the 2018 draft. He helped them win Super Bowl LV and made the Pro Bowl after the following season.

  1. Dave Hoffmann

Position: Linebacker
Seasons at Washington:
1989 to 1992
Awards and Honors: National Champion (1991), Consensus All American (1992), Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year (1992)

Dave Hoffmann was a member of the Huskies’ 1991 national championship team. As a senior the following season, he had a major breakout year in establishing himself a one of the best players in college football. His four years in Seattle made him one of the most impactful linebackers in the Washington program’s history.

Hoffmann was named a team captain under head coach Don James in 1992, and he led the Washington defense that season from the front.

As a senior, Hoffmann stepped up after Steve Emtman had left for the NFL. Hoffmann managed to win the Pac 10 Defensive Player of the Year award that Emtman had claimed in each of the previous two seasons.

Hoffmann had a great run with the Huskies, but his subsequent career as a member of the United States Secret Service was just as important. He protected Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush during his time in government.

  1. Budda Baker

Position: Safety
Seasons at Washington: 2014 to 2016
Awards and Honors:
Consensus All-American (2016), First Team All-Pac-12 (2015, 2016)

Budda Baker made an immediate impact with the Huskies, starting in all 14 games as a true freshman. He had 68 tackles that season, setting the tone for what would be a very successful career patrolling the Huskies defense.

Named a Freshman All American for his performance in 2014, Baker earned First Team All-Pac-12 honors in the two seasons that followed. He was also voted a Consensus All-American in his final year at the school.

Baker proved to be a versatile safety who could play the single high role in the secondary, as well as being a very effective run defender when coming downhill. He has continued that trend in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals. Baker has been to the Pro Bowl six times in seven seasons, while earning two First Team All-Pro selections and one Second Team All-Pro mention.

  1. Larry Tripplett

Position: Defensive Tackle
Seasons at Washington:
1999 to 2001

Awards and Honors: All-America Team (2000, 2001), First Team All-Pac-10 (2000, 2001), Second Team All-Pac-10 (1999)

Larry Tripplett originally looked like a strong run defender for Washington, but in his second year with the program, he developed into an effective pass-rusher, too.

A Bronko Nagurski Award nominee in 2001, Tripplett disrupted opposition offenses both in the passing game and on the ground from his spot in the interior of the defensive line.

One of Tripplett’s best plays came while helping the Huskies claim a Rose Bowl victory over Purdue at the end of the 2000 season. In that game, he managed to jump up and swat down a Drew Brees pass attempt in the fourth quarter.

Tripplett was a key to the Washington rushing defense in the early 2000s. He went on to be drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the second round of the 2002 NFL Draft and spent five seasons in the pro game.

  1. Lawyer Milloy

Position: Safety
Seasons at Washington:
1993 to 1995
Awards and Honors:
Jack Tatum Trophy (1995), Unanimous All-American (1995), First Team All-Pac-10 (1995)

Lawyer Milloy certainly has a case for being named the greatest Washington defensive player of all time, but he’ll have to settle for coming in second on this list. That No. 2 ranking should hardly overshadow his accomplishments, however. The elite Huskies strong safety proved himself at both at the college and pro levels.

Milroy spent three years at Washington under head coach Jim Lambright and became a leader and tone-setter for the Huskies defense as his career developed.

In the last of his three seasons, Milroy was recognized as a unanimous All-American while also claiming the Jack Tatum Trophy and becoming a First Team All-Pac-10 selection.

Milloy was not only a great football player. He also lettered three years in baseball and was selected in the 1995 MLB draft by the Detroit Tigers. He opted to go the NFL route and enjoyed tremendous success with the New England Patriots, whom he helped win Super Bowl XXXVI.

  1. Steve Emtman

Position: Defensive End
Seasons at Washington:
1988 to 1991
Awards and Honors:
National Champion (1991), Unanimous All-American (1991), Outland Trophy (1991), Lombardi Award (1991), Bill Willis Award (1991), UPI Lineman of the Year (1991), Morris Trophy (1990, 1991), Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year (1990, 1991), College Football Hall of Fame (Inducted 2006)

Steve Emtman is by far the most decorated defensive player in the history of the Washington Huskies football program.

The star defensive lineman helped set the tone for a rebuilding Huskies defense in 1990 and led the team all the way to a Rose Bowl victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes.

One year later, Emtman was considered the best player on the Washington team that won the 1991 national championship. He brought a certain level of intensity to the defense, always played hard, and was extremely effective both as a run defender and a pass-rusher.

For his efforts on the Washington defense in 1991, Emtman finished fourth in the final Heisman Trophy voting. He also helped the team go undefeated and share the national title with Miami.

The Huskies final game of the Emtman era featured a 34-14 Rose Bowl rout of the Michigan Wolverines, whose roster included Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard. The Huskies shut down Michigan on the ground, and Emtman was a major part of that success.

Emtman, who went on to a six-year NFL career after being the No. 1 overall pick in the 1992 draft, is the best player to have ever been part of the Washington defensive line. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006.

Parameters for Ranking

These former Washington Huskies defensive stars have been ranked for their accomplishments as members of the UW program alone and not what they were able to achieve in the NFL. Their college stats have been taken into account as well as personal accolades and championships they helped the team win during their years at the school.


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