No. 31 — Chris Borland, Football
In the current generation of Badger football players, there are plenty who have national name recognition. One of the greatest of that lot was, and is, former linebacker Chris Borland. A quick look at the numbers and accolades and it is easy to see why Borland is so recognizable.
Borland played in 53 career games as a Badger, just one short of the all-time record at the school. He also ranks in the top 10 in UW history in career tackles (6th with 420), solo tackles (5th with 234), tackles for loss (4th with 50), tackles for loss yardage (10th with 172), quarterback sacks (tied for 8th with 17) and fumble recoveries (2nd with 8). The biggest feather in his cap is that he is the all-time Badger and FBS record holder in forced fumbles in a career, with 15. It’s a number that is more than double the next closest person at UW (Erasmus James at 7).
If there’s anything those numbers tell you, it’s that Borland was perhaps one of the best all-around players and athletes of his generation at the University of Wisconsin. However, the career numbers aren’t the only impressive thing for Borland. His athletic prowess was also unrivaled at UW. The numbers coming out of workouts and videos were equally impressive.
There was no slow introduction to the college game for Borland either, as he played right away his freshman season. He ended up setting the single-season record for forced fumbles in 2009 (at 5) and tied it again in 2011. His overall performance got him named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Honorable Mention All-Big Ten in 2009.
After sitting out the 2010 season with a shoulder injury, Borland would be a first-team All-Big Ten selection in each of his final three seasons as a Badger. He would also be named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Linebacker of the Year in 2013, his final season at UW. Those honors also led to first team All-American honors from the FWAA.
Borland was even in line to be the replacement kicker should something go wrong during his final season at UW. That’s how talented and multi-dimensional Borland was as a pure athlete. What he lacked for in height or overall size and speed, he made up for in pure athletic talent. It was a rare combination, and a rare find right from under the nose of the Ohio State Buckeyes as well.
After his days at UW, Borland became a third round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers and became a starter for them in his rookie season. However, he shocked the football and sporting world by announcing his retirement after just one season due to lingering issues in his head. Borland left the game before things got worse for him, and many have commended his decision as one best for him personally and one many wish others would do.
Few players had the staying power, let alone the ability to be consistently great like Borland did. Most impressively, Borland did some of his best playing while also working through a transition from the traditional 4-3 defense to a new role as one of two inside linebackers in the 3-4 system of Gary Andersen and Dave Aranda.
Simply put, Borland stands out as one of the greatest athletes to ever play defense on the University of Wisconsin football team.
Full 50 Greatest Badgers List:
No. 50 – Randy Jablonic
No. 49 – Alex Rigsby
No. 48 — Michael Lihrman
No. 47 — Howard “Cub” Buck
No. 46 — Don Davey
No. 45 — Pat O’Dea
No. 44 — Curtis Joseph
No. 43 — Dean Anderson
No. 42 — Ivy Martin
No. 41 — Ron Vander Kelen
No. 40 — Carly Piper
No. 39 — J.J. Watt
No. 38 — Joe Pavelski
No. 37 — Barb Franke
No. 36 — Dick Cable
No. 35 — Sam Dekker
No. 34 — Jolene Anderson
No. 33 — Paul Gruber
No. 32 — Mark Johnson