While tackling has become somewhat less ferocious in recent years, the CFB records books are littered with heavy hitters who made taking down their opponent an art form appreciated around the world. Of those tackling terrors, who left their mark — both literally and figuratively — with the most career total tackles in college football history?
CFB records: Career total tackles
Establishing the career total tackles leaders in the CFB records books is a complicated affair. Defensive statistics haven’t been compiled for as long, or as in depth, as offensive statistics. For example, the player with the most career tackles in FBS history is John Offerdahl of Western Michigan with 694 total tackles between 1982 and 1985. Furthermore, Keith LaDu of DIII Oberlin posted 712 tackles between 1984 and 1987.
Are either of those tackling titans listed by the NCAA as the career total tackles leader? No.
The NCAA didn’t start counting defensive statistics until 2000. According to the NCAA CFB records book, Northwestern’s Tim McGarigle has the most career total tackles having tallied 545 tackles between 2002 and 2005. However, the NCAA doesn’t provide a comprehensive list so we turn to sports-reference.com, which has detailed defensive statistics from 2005.
1) Luke Kuechly, Boston College
The numbers alone for Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly are mesmerizing. In just three seasons for the Eagles, Kuechly tallied 532 total tackles, including 35.5 tackles for loss. From 2009 to 2011, he had over 150 total tackles per season, more than some linebackers will have in their careers. Over half of Kuechly’s total tackles were solo efforts, tallying 299 solo tackles during his three seasons on Chestnut Hill.
Meanwhile, Kuechly was a force in all phases of the game, tallying seven interceptions during his Boston College career. While the numbers alone earn him a place in the CFB records book, it’s the manner of Kuechly’s play that has earned him a place on the College Football Hall of Fame 2023 Class ballot. There are few players who possessed his terrifying blend of athleticism, football intelligence, physicality, and character.
2) Marcus McGraw, Houston
It’s a testament to Kuechly’s dominance of the game that the next man up in the CFB records book for career total tackles, Houston linebacker Marcus McGraw, registered his 510 tackles across four seasons. That’s not to denigrate McGraw’s achievements. The linebacker was dominant for the Cougars, tallying over 100 tackles every season. Meanwhile, he registered 37 tackles for loss, nine sacks, and forced eight fumbles.
A true playmaker, McGraw was tabbed as undersized for an inside linebacker but played much bigger than his diminutive stature. The Houston LB was also a highly intelligent football player who returned to the Cougars as a coach in 2015 after going undrafted in the 2012 NFL Draft.
3) Tyler Matakevich, Temple
Started by basketball coach John Chaney, Temple TUFF became inextricably linked with the Matt Rhule-led Temple teams from 2013. One player that exemplified that mantra was linebacker Tyler Matakevich. While he started his career with the Owls in 2012, he’d etch his name into the CFB records book during Rhule’s tenure with 493 total tackles.
Even in his first season, the Temple LB tallied over 100 total tackles. Meanwhile, in 2013, he’d register over 100 solo tackles while also forcing three fumbles. Yet, it was in 2015, when Matakevich was at his devastating best. Earning the AAC Defensive Player of the Year, Bronko Nagurski, and Chuck Bednarik Awards, he tallied 138 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and five interceptions. Pure dominance.
4) Quin Blanding, Virginia
Quin Blanding was, and still is, a football legend in Virginia. A former five-star recruit who opted to stay at home and play for the Cavaliers, Blanding’s made a name for himself with the local community at every stage of his football journey. Even within the annals of the CFB records books, he stands out amongst the crowd. Surrounded by linebackers atop the most career total tackles, Blanding stands alone as the only safety listed here.
Amusingly, Blanding reveled in the coverage element of playing in the secondary. While his 10 interceptions are testament to his ability there, it was Blanding’s impactful tackling fortitude that has immortalized his name. During his four playing seasons between 2014 and 2017, the Virginia playmaker tallied 492 total tackles. Of those, 259 were solo attempts. While he never found NFL success, Blanding returned to Virginia to help discover the next great talent.
5) Colin Schooler, Texas Tech
While an extra season comparative to the rest of the CFB records’ top five has helped boost his stats, Colin Schooler is very much deserving of his place in the history books. With experience at two different teams across two different conferences, the 6’1″, 230-pound linebacker’s success isn’t defined by defensive scheme or question marks over the level of competition. He’s just a flat-out competitor who routinely hustles to the football to make a play.
While at Arizona, Schooler averaged over 100 tackles per season. In his final season with Texas Tech, he recorded 106 total tackles. For his college career, he tallied 482 total tackles. Meanwhile, the linebacker made a habit of living in the opposition’s backfield with 58.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks. A disruptive force, Schooler has finished his career with eight forced fumbles and five interceptions.
Career total tackles | 6-10
6) Eric Kendricks
UCLA, 476 tackles
7) Keith Smith
San Jose State, 476 tackles
8) Nick Bellore
Central Michigan, 471 tackles
9) Travis Freeman
Ball State, 465 tackles
10) Greg Jones
Michigan State, 465 tackles