Most Interceptions in College Football History
Though college football offenses have changed over the years, the defensive side of the ball has remained the same in some pretty wonderful ways. That includes our awe of the players who have been some of the game's greatest ball hawks.
While the game itself is ruled almost completely through the air in our current era and records for passing and receiving seem to get set every year, the records for defensive players seem much harder to touch. Maybe that's because it's a much more objective and utilitarian way to gauge how well someone performs. Or maybe it's just because it's harder.
Here's a look at the players with the most interceptions in college football history.
13. Anthony Young, Temple — 20 Interceptions (Tie)
Born: October 8, 1963 (Columbia, South Carolina)
High School: Pemberton High School (Pemberton, New Jersey)
Height/Weight: 5-foot-11, 187 pounds
Career highlights: Temple Hall of Fame (2005), NFL Ed Block Courage Award (1986)
Bottom line: Anthony Young left Temple with seven school records, which included career pass interceptions (20), punt returns (74), punt return yards (715) and punt return touchdowns (three). Young was a standout rookie for the Indianapolis Colts in 1985 but suffered a career-ending neck injury on a tackle.
13. Chris Williams, LSU — 20 Interceptions (Tie)
Born: January 2, 1959 (Alexandria, Louisiana)
High School: Tioga High School (Tioga, Louisiana)
Height/Weight: 6-foot, 197 pounds
Career highlights: Two-time All-SEC (1978, 1980)
Bottom line: Chris Williams still holds LSU's career record for interceptions and is still tied for the single-season record with eight interceptions in 1978. Williams played three seasons in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills and had his best season in 1983 with three interceptions and a fumble recovery.
13. Kevin Smith, Texas A&M — 20 Interceptions (Tie)
Born: April 7, 1970 (Orange, Texas)
High School: West Orange-Stark High School (Orange, Texas)
Height/Weight: 5-foot-11, 190 pounds
Career highlights: AP All-American (1991), three-time All-SWC (1989-91), three-time Super Bowl champion (1993, 1994 1996), NFL All-Pro (1991), Texas A&M Hall of Fame (1997)
Bottom line: Kevin Smith led West Orange-Stark High to back-to-back Texas high school state championships in 1986 and 1987 before becoming a star at Texas A&M, where he set career records for interceptions for both the Southwest Conference and A&M. Smith kept on winning in the pros, where he was a three-time Super Bowl champion with the Dallas Cowboys.
13. Mitch Meeuwsen, Oregon State — 20 Interceptions (Tie)
Born: April 20, 1982 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
High School: Forest Grove High School (Forest Grove, Oregon)
Height/Weight: 6-foot-3, 210 pounds
Career highlights: AP All-American (2004), Freshman All-American (2001), All-Pac-10 (2004)
Bottom line: Forest Grove High star Mitch Meeuwsen played on some of Oregon State's best teams and finished his career with a school record of 20 interceptions as well as 217 tackles, 29 pass deflections and 10.5 tackles for loss. Meeuwsen went undrafted but still played two seasons in the NFL and one season in NFL Europe.
13. Mark Collins, Cal State Fullerton — 20 Interceptions (Tie)
Born: January 16, 1964 (St. Louis, Missouri)
High School: Pacific High School (San Bernardino, California)
Height/Weight: 5-foot-10, 190 pounds
Career highlights: PCAA Defensive Player of the Year (1985), two-time Super Bowl champion (1987, 1991), NFL All-Pro (1989), Cal State Fullerton Hall of Fame (2007)
Bottom line: Cal State Fullerton once had a proud football program and it was never better than when future NFL All-Pro Mark Collins was patrolling its secondary. Collins helped lead Fullerton to a pair of PCAA championships and the only bowl in school history — the California Bowl in 1983. Fullerton went 11-1 that year but their record was later changed to 12-0 after UNLV forfeited all of its wins.
Collins was a star for the New York Giants on a pair of Super Bowl teams in 1987 and 1991, playing for head coach Bill Parcells and defensive coordinator Bill Belichick.
7. Alphonso Smith, Wake Forest — 21 Interceptions (Tie)
Born: October 20, 1985 (Pahokee, Florida)
High School: Pahokee High School (Pahokee, Florida)
Height/Weight: 5-foot-9, 193 pounds
Career highlights: Two-time AP All-American (2007, 2008), two-time All-ACC (2007, 2008), Freshman All-American (2005)
Bottom line: Alphonso Smith starred for famed Pahokee High in Florida before making his way to Wake Forest, where he became a full-time starter as a redshirt freshman in 2005 and led the nation with eight interceptions. Smith was a second-round pick by the Denver Broncos in 2009 and played four seasons in the NFL.
7. Jamar Fletcher, Wisconsin — 21 Interceptions (Tie)
Born: August 28, 1979 (St. Louis, Missouri)
High School: Hazelwood East High School (St. Louis, Missouri)
Height/Weight: 5-foot-9, 187 pounds
Career highlights: Two-time AP All-American (1999, 2000), Jim Thorpe Award (2000), Jack Tatum Trophy (2000), three-time All-Big Ten (1998-2000), Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year (2000), Big Ten All-Decade Team (1990-2000)
Bottom line: One of two players from Wisconsin to make this list, Jamar Fletcher won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back in 2000 and helped lead the Badgers to back-to-back Rose Bowl wins. His most admirable move was a game-winning, 46-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the 1999 Rose Bowl against UCLA.
Fletcher's interception total is even more impressive when you think of the consistency — seven interceptions each in three seasons — and that he left school for the NFL with one year of eligibility remaining.
7. Ed Reed, Miami — 21 Interceptions (Tie)
Born: September 11, 1978 (St. Rose, Louisiana)
High School: Destrehan High School (Destrehan, Louisiana)
Height/Weight: 5-foot-11, 205 pounds
Career highlights: Two-time AP All-American (2000, 2001), BCS National Champion (2001), Big East Defensive Player of the Year (2001), two-time All-Big East (2000, 2001), Super Bowl champion (2013), NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2004), eight-time NFL All-Pro (2003, 2004, 2006-11), nine-time Pro Bowl (2003, 2004, 2006-12), NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, NFL 100th Anniversary Team
Bottom line: Miami's Ed Reed is the best player on this list and might be in the conversation for the greatest defensive back in college football history.
Reed carried Miami's football program on his back for most of his career, capping things off with a national championship in 2001, when he was also named Big East Defensive Player of the Year. Reed played 12 seasons in the NFL, where he was selected to eight NFL All-Pro Teams and set the NFL record by leading the league in interceptions eight times. Reed was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2018 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019.
7. Jim Leonhard, Wisconsin — 21 Interceptions (Tie)
Born: October 27, 1983 (Ladysmith, Wisconsin)
High School: Flambeau High School (Tony, Wisconsin)
Height/Weight: 5-foot-8, 188 pounds
Career highlights: Three-time AP All-American (2002-04), three-time All-Big Ten (2002-04)
Bottom line: Few paths to college football stardom have been more improbable than the one 5-foot-8 Jim Leonhard took from tiny Tony, Wisconsin — population 113 — to the Big Ten and the NFL. Leonhard walked on at Wisconsin and became a multiple All-Big Ten pick at safety. He also set Big Ten records for career interceptions and punt return yardage (1,347). Leonhard went undrafted in 2005 but still played 10 seasons in the NFL for six different teams.
7. Chuck Cecil, Arizona — 21 Interceptions (Tie)
Born: November 8, 1964 (Red Bluff, California)
High School: Helix High School (La Mesa, California)
Height/Weight: 6-foot, 185 pounds
Career highlights: AP All-American (1987), two-time All-Pac-10 (1986, 1987), Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year (1987), Pro Bowl (1992)
Bottom line: One of the most feared hitters in football history on any level, Chuck Cecil first shot to fame as a star for Arizona in the 1980s despite joining the Wildcats as a walk-on. Cecil eventually became a consensus All-American and the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 1987 — the same year he set the school's single-game record with four interceptions against Stanford. His 105-yard interception return for a touchdown against Arizona State in 1986 is widely regarded as the greatest play in school history.
Cecil played eight seasons in the NFL and made the Pro Bowl in 1992. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
7. Terrell Buckley, Florida State — 21 Interceptions (Tie)
Born: June 7, 1971 (Pascagoula, Mississippi)
High School: Pascagoula High School (Pascagoula, Mississippi)
Height/Weight: 5-foot-10, 180 pounds
Career highlights: AP All-American (1991), Jim Thorpe Award (1991), Jack Tatum Trophy (1991), Super Bowl champion (2002)
Bottom line: Like fellow Florida State star Deion Sanders, Terrell Buckley played three sports for the Seminoles: football, basketball and track and field. Buckley still holds the NCAA record for career interception return yards (501) and is still Florida State's career interceptions leader. Buckley led the nation with 12 interceptions as a junior in 1991. He was the No. 5 overall pick by the Green Bay Packers in the 1991 NFL Draft and is one of only two players in NFL history with 50 career interceptions and no Pro Bowls.
4. Lamont Thompson, Washington State — 22 Interceptions (Tie)
Born: July 30, 1978 (Richmond, California)
High School: El Cerrito High School (El Cerrito, California)
Height/Weight: 6-foot-1, 220 pounds
Career highlights: Washington State Hall of Fame (2015), Pac-10 champion (1997)
Bottom line: Lamont Thompson made a name for himself as a true freshman at Washington State when he led the team with six interceptions in 1997 on the way to winning a Pac-10 championships and making it to the Rose Bowl. Thompson's most notable game that season was when he had three interceptions in the Apple Cup against Washington. Thompson spent two seasons playing out of position at cornerback then returned to safety for his senior season and led his team with eight interceptions and a win over Purdue in the Sun Bowl.
Thompson played six seasons in the NFL for four different teams.
4. Dre Bly, North Carolina — 22 Interceptions (Tie)
Born: May 22, 1977 (Chesapeake, Virginia)
High School: Western Branch High School (Chesapeake, Virginia)
Height/Weight: 5-foot-10, 185 pounds
Career highlights: AP All-American (1996, 1997), ACC Rookie of the Year (1996), Super Bowl champion (2000), two-time Pro Bowl (2003, 2004)
Bottom line: North Carolina's Dre Bly burst onto the college football landscape as a redshirt freshman when he led the nation with 11 interceptions and became just the fifth player in NCAA history to be named a consensus All-American. Bly would eventually become the only player in ACC history to earn consensus All-American honors twice.
Bly played 11 seasons in the NFL and was a two-time Pro Bowler. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2014.
4. Bennie Blades, Miami — 22 Interceptions (Tie)
Born: September 3, 1966 (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)
High School: Piper High School (Sunrise, Florida)
Height/Weight: 6-foot, 221 pounds
Career highlights: National Champion (1987), Jim Thorpe Award (1987), two-time AP All-American (1986, 1987), three-time NFL All-Pro (1988, 1991, 1992), Pro Bowl (1991), PFWA All-Rookie Team (1988), Detroit Lions All-Time Team
Bottom line: Fort Lauderdale native Bennie Blades was a star on Miami's 1987 national championship team, winning the Jim Thorpe Award that season and carving out a reputation as one of the most intimidating college football players of all time.
Blades was selected No. 3 overall by the Detroit Lions in the 1988 NFL Draft and played 10 seasons, making the NFL All-Pro Team three times. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008.
3. Tracy Saul, Texas Tech — 25 Interceptions
High School: Idalou High School (Idalou, Texas)
Height/Weight: 6-foot, 185 pounds
Career highlights: Four-time All-SWC (1989-92), AP All-American (1991), Freshman All-American (1989), Southwest Conference Hall of Fame (2015)
Bottom line: Tracy Saul grew up in tiny Idalou, Texas, about 10 miles from Texas Tech's campus. He eventually became a star for the Red Raiders, where he registered his first interception in his first start as a true freshman in a 27-24 upset of No. 12 Texas A&M.
Saul made the All-Southwest Conference team four times — twice as a punt returner and twice as a defensive back — becoming just one of four players in SWC history to do so.
2. Tony Thurman, Boston College — 26 Interceptions
Born: March 15, 1962 (Jacksonville, Florida)
High School: Classical High School (Lynn, Massachusetts)
Height/Weight: 6-foot, 194 pounds
Career highlights: AP All-American (1984), two-time All-East (1983, 1984), two-time Lambert Trophy champion (1983, 1984), Boston College Hall of Fame (1992)
Bottom line: Tony Thurman was the star defensive player on Boston College's most famous team — the 1984 squad that featured Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie at quarterback. Boston College went 10-2 that year and won the Cotton Bowl as Thurman led the nation with 12 interceptions and was named an All-American.
1. Martin Bayless, Bowling Green — 29 Interceptions
Born: October 11, 1962 (Dayton, Ohio)
High School: Belmont High School (Dayton, Ohio)
Height/Weight: 6-foot-2, 195 pounds
Career highlights: AP All-American (1983), three-time all-MAC (1981-83), Blue-Gray All-Star Game (1984), BGSU Hall of Fame (1989)
Bottom line: Martin Bayless went from walk-on to four-year starter to setting MAC and NCAA records with 29 career interceptions. Bayless was a three-time All-MAC selection and led the nation with 10 interceptions as a senior before adding two more interceptions in the Blue-Gray Senior All-Star Game. Bayless was a fourth-round pick by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1984 and played 13 seasons in the NFL for five different teams.