BY TOM GROESCHEN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Rick Minter was defensive coordinator at Notre Dame in 1992 and '93, but said the Irish never had a linebacking corps comparable to his 1997 University of Cincinnati starters.
Phillip Curry, Brad Jackson, and Hassan Champion all had at least 100 tackles in 1996, and helped UC rank 13th nationally in defense. They are ranked the nation's No. 10 linebacking corps by The Sporting News this preseason.
"Notre Dame had a couple of good groups, but as a tandem of three, this is the best group I've been around," said Minter, in his 21st year as a college coach.
"We feel we're the best linebackers in the country," Jackson said. "We call ourselves LBU, for Linebacker U. It's in honor of the great linebackers that were here before us."
Jackson rattles off names such as Alex Gordon (No. 2 draftee by the New York Jets in 1987) and George Jamison (played 1980-83 at UC), both of whom became NFL linebackers. More recently there was Muhammad El-Mubarak (145 tackles in 1995) and Jason Coppess (305 tackles from 1990-93).
"Those guys laid the framework for us," Jackson said. "We're just taking it to the next level. It's up to us to be the tone-setters, the assassins on this team."
Curry (6-0, 240, senior) will start at middle linebacker for the fourth straight year. He has 349 career tackles, 75 short of the school record set by Karl Woods from 1977-80.
Jackson (6-2, 228, senior) joined Curry as second team All-Conference USA last year. He has had two straight 100-tackle seasons.
Champion (6-1, 228, junior) broke into the starting lineup last year. He was third on the team with 101 tackles, behind Curry's 113 and Jackson's 110.
"Our front seven is pretty much the same guys from last year," Curry said. "We feel we can carry that over and be even better." The three linebackers are also best buddies. They had the afternoon off Wednesday and planned to relax by playing golf. Jackson sometimes likes to declare, "I am Tiger Woods!"
"It's a way for us to get out and relax, and talk about things," he said. "We're like brothers, and it's that way on the field, too. We're like the raptors from Jurassic Park. You might see one, but you don't see the other two coming."