Did You Know These Five NFL Legends Are Kent State Alumni?
In over 100 years of football, Kent State University has had the honor of sending roughly 50 players to the National Football League. With the 2022-23 football season underway, what better time to celebrate them than to honor these legends who graced the field at Dix Stadium before making their mark in the NFL?
Based on all-time statistics, here are one student’s (mine) top five Kent State football (and NFL) stars.
Julian Edelman transferred to Kent State his sophomore year and became the starting quarterback for the next three years. Edelman led the team in rushing and passing yards as a QB, and his total offense in a single season broke the record previously held by Joshua Cribbs. Edelman was selected 27th in the 2nd round by the New England Patriots as a wide receiver, where he won three super bowls. He stayed with the team for 12 seasons until retirement in 2021. Edelman was recently featured on “A Football Life,” a documentary-style series by NFL Films.
James Harrison walked on the Kent State football team as a linebacker in 1998, but did not see the field at all that year. Over the next three years, Harrison transitioned to a starter and eventually led the MAC conference in sacks his senior year. He signed as an undrafted rookie to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2004, where he set the franchise record for all-time sacks and became the only undrafted player in NFL history to win a Defensive Player of the Year award. Harrison retired in 2014, returned to football a month later, then retired a second time in 2017 with the New England Patriots.
Josh Cribbs played as quarterback for Kent State from 2001-2004 and continues to be the all-time offensive leader with a remarkable 10,839 yards. He also holds the record at Kent State for rushing touchdowns, pass completions and total points scored. Cribbs signed as an undrafted free agent to the Cleveland Browns in 2005 where he played as a kick returner until 2012. During his career, Cribbs set a franchise record with the Browns during his rookie season for return yards and tied the NFL career record for most touchdowns from kick returns in a season (8).
Antonio Gates did not play football in college, but instead played for the Kent State basketball team all four years and was even part of the historic 2001 Cinderella season. After being told he would not succeed in the NBA due to his play style, he tried out for the San Diego Chargers and was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2003. He holds the Chargers’ all-time record for receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, while also holding the NFL record for most touchdowns made by a tight end. Gates retired in 2020 after 16 consecutive years with the Chargers.
Jack Lambert played for Kent State from 1970-1973 and led the school to its first and only MAC championship in 1972. Lambert was also named MAC’s Defensive Player of the Year and led the league in tackles that same year. He was drafted to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1974 and was recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame as the “greatest linebacker of his era.” Lambert retired with the Steelers in 1984 after 10 seasons and four Super Bowl titles.
Kent State Athletics Hall of Fame has inducted over 50 football players over the last few decades, the most recent being former NFL running back Dri Archer. In addition to a variety of players, Kent State is also honored to be the alma mater of legendary college football coaches Nick Saban and Lou Holtz.
To learn more about the Kent State Athletics Hall of Fame, please visit kentstatesports.com/honors/hall-of-fame.
Photos courtesy of Kent State Athletics.