Dre Bly perhaps the greatest player in the history of North Carolina football along with Julius Peppers and Lawrence Taylor was selected to the College Football Hall of Fame on this past Thursday, the former Tar Heels’ 37th birthday. He is the 6th former player or coach to be selected and the first since Don McCauley in 2001. He will be inducted this December.
A native of Chesapeake, VA; Bly was recruited as a receiver by the Virginia Cavaliers and as a athlete by Virginia Tech. Then Carolina head coach Mack Brown stepped in and recruited him as a cornerback, and he would become one of the greatest defensive players in ACC history, being selected 1st team All-American and All-ACC all three seasons he played in Chapel Hill. The Heels also enjoyed their greatest success while he was there going 28-8 over three years with two top-10 finishes.
After redshirting his first year, Bly would burst onto the college football scene in 1996 with a historic freshman season. The defensive back had 11 interceptions in his first year with the Tar Heels including 4 multi-interceptions games, with 3 picks coming against Georgia Tech in only his third career game. He would add two more interceptions in the Heels 20-13 win over West Virginia in the Gator Bowl. His dominant season earned Bly consensus All-American honors- only the fifth freshman to earn that and the first defensive player ever. The Heels defense lead the nation in scoring defense that season, only allowing 10 points per game. The Heels finished the year 10-2 overall and 6-2 in the ACC while finishing #10 in both polls.
The 1997 team is considered by some Tar Heel fans the greatest team in school history and that team was led by outstanding defense anchored by Bly and a number of talented players. The unit ranked in the top 5 in a number categories, they finished 3rd in pass defense giving up only 131 yards a game while only allowing opponents to complete 46% of their passes. The unit finished 5th in scoring defense giving up only 13 points and for the 2nd straight season the Heels were 2nd in total defense giving up 209 yards a game after giving up 225 yards per game the previous season. That season Bly would have 5 interceptions and was named a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Award giving to the nation’s best defensive player, he would lose to that season’s Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson. The Heels would complete their greatest season ever with a 42-3 blowout of Virginia Tech in the Gator to finish 11-1 losing only to Florida State and would finish ranked #4 in the coaches’ poll and #6 in the AP poll.
After the season Mack Brown left for the coaching job at Texas and naturally the program took a step back under new coach and former defensive coordinator Carl Torbush. The 1998 team finish the year 7-5 and Bly earned 1st team All-American honors for the third straight, he is the only player in ACC to do that. He would leave North Carolina has the school’s and the ACC all-time leader in interceptions with 20. Bly would leave school one year before the arrival of another Tar Heel great Julius Peppers.
After an outstanding college career Bly would enter the NFL Draft after his junior season and was a 2nd round pick of the St. Louis Rams. He would win the Super Bowl in his rookie year with the team and play in another one 2 years later. In 2003, he joined the Detroit Lions were he be selected to 2 Pro Bowls and earn All-Pro honors that same year. Also in 2003, he was chosen as a member of the ACC’s 50th Anniversary team. He would finish his career playing with the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers. He completed his NFL career with 419 tackles and 43 interceptions.