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6 first-timers join star-studded list from Pac-12 schools on 2023 College Football Hall of Fame ballot

Jun 6, 2022

Six all-time great stars from current Pac-12 schools are up for College Football Hall of Fame consideration for the first time, as announced by the National Football Foundation (NFF) on Monday.  Of the more than 5.54 million individuals who have played college football, only 1,056 players have earned induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. This year's ballot includes 80 players and nine coaches from the Football Bowl Subdivision and 96 players and 33 coaches from the divisional ranks.  17 players from current Pac-12 schools made the list of 2023 nominees including these six newcomers: 

RB LaMichael James, Oregon (2009-11)

In his three seasons with the Ducks, James was a two-time First-Team All-American including a unanimous selection in 2010.  The 2010 Doak Walker Award winner as the nation's top running back, James finished with over 1,500 rushing yards in each of his three seasons and led the country in rushing as a sophomore while finishing third in the Heisman voting.

James helped lead Oregon to three conference titles and an appearance in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game.  He was a second-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in the 2012 NFL Draft. 

DT Haloti Ngata, Oregon (2002, 2004-05)

Ngata was a 2005 consensus First-Team All-American, the first Oregon consensus player since 1962.  A finalist for both the Nagurski and Outland trophies in 2005, he was named the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year that season to become the first Duck to ever take home that prize.

A first-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in the 2006 NFL Draft, Ngata made the All-Pro team five times in his 13-year career and was a member of the Ravens team that won Super Bowl XLVII.

QB Ryan Leaf, Washington State (1994-97)

A 1997 First Team All-American, Leaf will best be known on the Palouse for leading the Cougars to the 1998 Rose Bowl, ending a 67-year drought in the "Grandaddy of them All".  The 1997 Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year led Washington State to their first league title in school history while setting conference single-season records for touchdown passes, total yards and passing yards.  Leaf finished third in the Heisman voting that year, the highest in school history.

The No. 2 pick in the 1998 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers, Leaf was inducted to the Washington State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2019.

QB Alex Smith, Utah (2002-04)

The 2005 Fiesta Bowl MVP, Smith was a First-Team All-American in 2004 as he finished fourth in the Heisman voting that year.  The 2004 Sports Illustrated National Player of the Year led Utah to its first-ever 12-0 season and finished as the No. 4 team in the country.  Smith was named the 2004 Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year and finished his career with over 5,000 yards passing and 47 touchdowns.  

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, Smith played 16 seasons as a professional and was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2020.  He was also inducted to the Academic All-America Hall of Fame in 2020.

DB Eric Weddle, Utah (2003-06)

A 2006 consensus First-Team All-American, Weddle helped lead the Utes to victory in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl.  A 2003 Freshman All-American, the two-time Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year holds the school record for career forced fumbles and is second in career interceptions.  

A second-round pick of the then-San Diego Chargers, Weddle spent 14 years in the NFL, making six Pro Bowls. He came out of retirement this past postseason to help the Los Angeles Rams win Super Bowl LVI.

LB Matt Russell, Colorado

The 1996 Butkus Award winner as the nation's top linebacker, Russell was named consensus First-Team All-American that season.  In his four seasons at Colorado, he was named All-Conference in both the Big Eight and the Big 12 while leading the team to four straight bowl berths and two top five final national rankings. 

The Buffs all-time leader in unassisted tackles, Russell was a fourth round pick in the 1997 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions and is currently works in the Philadelphia Eagles front office as an advisor to general manager.

Greats from Pac-12 schools who return to the ballot in 2023 include:  OG Jeff Bregel (USC), RB Reggie Bush (USC), DB Mark Carrier (USC), OG Joe Garten (Colorado), RB Toby Gerhart (Stanford), TE Tony Gonzalez (California), PK John Lee (UCLA), RB Marshawn Lynch (California), LB Ken Norton Jr. (UCLA), LB Ron Rivera (California), K Luis Zendejas (Arizona State).  Former Arizona State head coach Darryl Rogers is on the ballot for the fourth time while current UCLA Defensive Coordinator Bill McGovern makes the list for his playing career at Holy Cross as a defensive back (1981-84).

The Hall of Fame class will be announced in early 2023 and inducted on Dec. 5, 2023.

The class of 2022 will be honored this December and inlcudes WR Mike Hass (Oregon State), QB Andrew Luck (Stanford) and RB Rashaan Salaam (Colorado).  Gary Pinkel, who's being inducted for his time as head coach at Toledo and Missouri, was also an assistant coach at Washington under Don James in 1976 and 1979-90.