25 Top 25 lists on Alabama Football: Centers

Courtesy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Christopher Walsh

Confession time: Whenever I do one of these lists, ranking Alabama football players all-time in some shape or form, I always get done and have the same thought:

William Vlachos needs to be higher up.

For those who don’t remember, Vlachos was one of those players in the Crimson Tide’s signing Class of 2007, initially recruited to Alabama by someone other than Nick Saban.

“I was a Mike Shula guy,” Vlachos said. “I was already committed, to grayshirt, actually. I committed here because this is where I always wanted to go. I was a fan of Alabama and went to a lot of games growing up in Birmingham.”

In the scramble to sign a class roughly 30 days after leaving the Miami Dolphins to take over the Crimson Tide, Saban did honor commitments to the previous coaching staff, and did take the time to visit Vlachos.

The product of Mountain Brook High School in the Birmingham area may not have been someone he would have pursued under normal circumstances due to his size. Vlachos was 6 foot 1, roughly 295 pounds. He’s the smallest center Alabama’s had under Saban.

“At the time, in 2007, I was thinking, well, Coach Saban he came from the NFL, with a chance to get me to where I want to go,” Vlachos told Crimson Tide reporters while he was still a player. “I felt like he would make me a better man, a better person, on and off the field, which he did.”

Vlachos ended up being a three-year starter and won two national championships, anchoring both the 2009 and 2011 offensive lines. A finalist for the Rimington Trophy for best center, his absence led Crimson Tide coaches to move Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones from left tackle to minimize his departure.

He’s probably one of the most underrated players in Crimson Tide history.

It’s tough to weigh that against someone, like, Vaughn Mancha, who is in the College Football Hall of Fame. Mancha was a center for his first college game as a freshman, against LSU in 1944, and a year later was a consensus All-American.

He was the fifth-overall selection in the 1948 NFL Draft, and played as a professional with the Boston Yanks. Mancha served as the athletic director at Florida State from 1959-71.

Like Vlachos, Mancha was about 6-1, but played closer to 230 pounds, which was much more the norm then. The game has changed so much over the years that even with an extra 65 pounds Vlachos had a hard time getting NFL teams to give him a shot at the next level.

He subsequently returned to Tuscaloosa and got into coaching.

"This is one of the finest young men I have ever coached in my career, as far back as I can remember," Saban said about Vlachos. "He’s a good human being, an excellent leader and an extremely good football player."

Topping our list of all-time Alabama centers, though, has to Dwight Stephenson, who was also a bit underrated with the Crimson Tide even though he was a first-team All-American in 1979, and second-team selection in 1978.

He went from being a second-round draft pick to be named All-Pro five straight years, from 1983-87, and was named the NFL Man of the Year in 1985. Stephenson is also in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Paul “Bear" Bryant called Stephenson the best center he ever coached, and described him as "a man among children"

Note: For our purposes, Jones and Ross Pierschbacher are primarily considered guards, so are not included on this specific list.

1. Dwight Stephenson

2. Ryan Kelly

3. Vaughn Mancha

4. Sylvester Croom

5. Antoine Caldwell

6. Wes Neighbors

7. Lee Roy Jordan

8. William Vlachos

9. Joe Damnanovich

10. Steve Mott

11. Bradley Bozeman

12. Paul Crane

13. Carey Cox

14. Shorty Propst

15. Jim Krapf

16. Tobie Sheils

17. Paul Hogan

18. Alonzo Ephraim

19. Roger Shultz

20. Mike Adcock

21. Jimmy Grammer

22. Pat O’Sullivan

23. John Wozniak

24. Gordon Holmes

25. C.C. Countess

Also considered: Warren Averitte, Bill Baughman, John Causey, Ralph Carrigan, Kavanaugh Francis, D.J. Gambrell, Gaylon McCullough, Larry Lauer, Elliott Speed

This is the second in a series of 25 stories, ranking the Crimson Tide nearly every way imaginable.