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Greg Hansen's top 10: These Cats had the smarts to go with athletic prowess
editor's pick exclusive

Greg Hansen's top 10: These Cats had the smarts to go with athletic prowess

Editor’s note: This summer, Star columnist Greg Hansen is counting down the top 10 of just about everything related to Tucson sports. Today’s list: The top 10 UA football student-athletes in school history.

Chuck Cecil signed autographs not with his name, but with a simple “6.”

If he wrote a letter to a fan or his dad, he signed “6.”

That was his jersey number when he became an All-America safety in 1986 and 1987, and the Pac-10’s defensive player of the year. So it was somewhat of a coincidence when he was awarded the NCAA’s top honor for an athlete. The name of the award?

The Top Six.

Cecil was known for his toughness, but few knew that he compiled a 3.39 GPA in finance at Arizona while becoming a College Football Hall of Fame player, Class of 2009.

He talked softly but carried a big stick. His father, Tom, told me in 1986 that Chuck “was a runt; he’s no bigger than a bar of soap after a good wash.”

But in his five seasons at Arizona, “6” established himself as one of the 10 leading scholar-athletes in UA football history. Here’s the list:

1. Wayne Wyatt, 1996. Offered a scholarship a few days before training camp opened in 1993, the center from Mountain View High School became a two-year starter and compiled a 3.94 GPA. He was selected one of 16 National Football Foundation Scholar-Athletes for 1996 and used the $18,000 scholarship to graduate from the Oklahoma College of Dentistry in 2001. He graduated No. 1 in his class. He now owns his own orthodontics business in Tulsa.

2. Ivan Lesnik, 1983. One of the top recruits in the country in 1980, the Pennsylvania nose guard was twice an All-Pac-10 second-team selection. Off the field, he established a 3.7 GPA in pre-medicine and upon graduation from the UA medical school became, among other things, a surgeon for the Navy’s surgeon general. After 20 years in the Navy system, Lesnik moved to Seattle and established a pain management clinic.

3. Mike Moody, 1968. A star lineman for the ’68 Sun Bowl team, Moody had a 3.68 GPA in psychology and was a Rhodes scholar candidate. Moody, president of his UA senior class, has been a trial attorney in Anchorage, Alaska, for more than 30 years. He was recruited from Jefferson City, Missouri, and was the UA’s first Academic All-American.

4. Jon Abbott, 1977. Now an orthopedic surgeon in Oro Valley, Abbott, from Phoenix Central High, turned down Arizona State, Army, Navy, Air Force and Colorado to star for Jim Young’s top teams of the 1970s. He was an Academic All-American three years in succession, 1975-77.

5. Doug Henderson, 1978. Recruited from the American High School system in Frankfurt, Germany, Henderson became a 3.5 GPA student in nuclear engineering while becoming a top long-jumper and defensive back. He is now chairman of the nuclear engineering department at the University of Wisconsin.

6. Chuck Cecil, 1987. During Cecil’s days at Arizona, the NCAA annually selected the nation’s top six scholar-athletes. The ’87 group included Navy basketball star David Robinson, known as “The Admiral,” and Stanford swimmer Mary T. Meagher, known globally as “Madame Butterfly.”

7. John Bonano, 2012. The placekicker from California was the Pac-12’s 2012 Football Scholar-Athlete, earning the Tom Hansen Medal, a top scholar-athlete honor awarded by the conference. He also was awarded the UA’s 2013 Pillar of Excellence Award from Arizona’s Honors College. He graduated with a 3.91 GPA and is attending medical school.

8. Spencer Larsen, 2007. Arizona’s hard-hitting linebacker from Gilbert was a two-time Pac-12 All-Academic honoree and a first-team Pac-12 linebacker in ’07. After making 312 tackles, he graduated with a 3.70 GPA. He has since worked in both Montana and Boston.

9. Jeff Whitton, 1979. One of the top defensive linemen in UA history, Whitton, of Claremont, California, was a first-team Academic All-American in 1978.

10. Jason Johnson, 2003. A record-breaking passer for Arizona in 2002, Johnson, of Tacoma, Washington, was awarded the national Woody Hayes Scholar-Athlete trophy in 2003. Johnson graduated with a 3.79 GPA in business management. He operates a video-production company in Seattle and has worked on dozens of projects for ESPN and CBS, globetrotting, doing sports features and documentaries from such places as Liberia and Monrovia.

Contact sports columnist Greg Hansen at 520-573-4362 or ghansen@tucson.com. On Twitter: @ghansen711

Columnist

Greg graduated from Utah State, worked at two Utah newspapers, the St. Petersburg Times, the Albany Democrat-Herald in Oregon and moved to Tucson to cover UA football and baseball. He became the Star's sports columnist in 1984.

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