In its 144 years of history, Penn’s football program has churned out countless athletes who have made their mark on the game of football.
We’ll be taking a deep dive into each position group on Penn’s all-time defensive lineup. Here are the top 11 all-time defensive players in Penn football history.
1. Chuck Bednarik (1946-1948)
Arguably the most successful football alumnus, Chuck Bednarik became one of only two Penn players to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.
As one of Penn’s last “60-minute-men,” Bednarik excelled as a center on offense and a linebacker on defense, as well as occasionally playing punter. During his years at Penn, Bednarik recorded 14 interceptions, landing him tied for first in total picks in program history. He was drafted first overall in 1949 by the Philadelphia Eagles and continued to play in the City of Brotherly Love until 1962.
2. Brandon Copeland (2009-2012)
Three-time Ivy League champion Brandon Copeland received multiple awards during his time at Penn including first-team All-Ivy, Co-Defensive Player of the Week, and NCAA National Defensive Player of the Week. As a captain of the 2012 team, the star linebacker led the Red and Blue to a 6-1 Ivy record and a championship.
Copeland finished his career with 160 tackles, 26.5 tackles for a loss, 11.0 sacks, four pass breakups, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, a blocked kick, an interception, a touchdown, and a safety. His outstanding efforts at Penn led to a career in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans (2013), Detroit Lions (2015), New York Jets (2018), and now the New England Patriots (2020).
3. Pat Goodwillie (1990-1994)
The 1994 Ivy League Player of the Year was only the fourth defensive player in league history to win the award. Linebacker Pat Goodwillie’s dominant years at Penn led to two back-to-back unbeaten Ivy League championship teams. Goodwillie was awarded first-team All Ivy twice and Ivy League Rookie of the Year, while finishing second in most tackles (345) through Penn’s football history. In 2017, Pat Goodwillie was inducted into the Penn Athletics Hall of Fame.
4. Thomas Gilmore (1983-1985)
Thomas Gilmore — another defensive player to win Ivy League Player of the Year — helped lead his team to championship victories in all three of his varsity seasons. By the time he graduated, Gilmore finished with a total record of 18-2-1 against Ancient Eight competition while earning the George Munger Award (the most valuable player) and Chuck Bednarik Award (the top lineman).
Graduating as Penn’s all-time leader in sacks and tackles for a loss, Gilmore was inducted to Penn Athletics Hall of Fame in 2017.
1. Tim Chambers (1982-84)
Tim Chambers is one of Penn football’s all-time bests and played during the program’s most successful eras. Chambers was the first Penn player to earn Ivy League Player of the Year—the only defensive back to do so in league history. Winning a championship in each of his three seasons, Chambers also received first-team All-Ivy three times and Division I-AA Rookie of the Year.
By graduation, Chambers had tied the famed Chuck Bednarik in total interceptions with 14. He also ranked third in most picks in a season with 7. Following his time at Penn, Chambers was an NFL free agent and spent time in camp with the Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts. In 2016, he was inducted into the Penn Athletics Hall of Fame.
2. John Welsh (1940-1942)
John Welsh has held the record for most interceptions in a season for 70 years. He is also tied with Franny Murray’s 1936 record for most picks in a single game. By the time Welsh graduated, he had recorded a total of 13 interceptions.
Serving as a PT boat commander in the Philippines during World War II, Welsh returned to Penn in 1946 as the director of freshman athletics and head coach of the freshman football team. He continued to work with Penn’s football program over the years in roles ranging from scout to backfield coach. In 2008, Welsh’s record-breaking contributions to Penn’s football team were finally recognized in his induction to Penn Athletics Hall of Fame.
3. George Bosseler (1951-1953)
Another famed member of coach George Munger’s “Mundermen,” Bosseler carved out an impactful career in his time at Penn. In a year focused on defense, Bosseler bolstered his team's performance in 1951 by hauling in eight interceptions and one pick-six.
In that same season, he became Penn’s second highest interception per season player just behind John Welsh. Bosseler also stands tied for third in Penn’s all-time interceptions with 13.
4. Chris Wynn (2006-2009)
Doubling as a defensive back and kick returner, Chris Wynn contributed to the Penn football team on multiple levels. He concluded his Penn football career with an Ivy League championship while accumulating multiple achievements along the way. This included first-team All-Ivy, the Edgar Church Memorial Award, and the George Munger Award. Wynn currently holds the record for career kick return while also sitting fifth in most interceptions at 12.
1. Michael Turner (1991-1994)
Penn’s all-time sack leader, Michael Turner, is one of the best edge rushers that Penn’s football program has seen. With help from Pat Goodwillie, Turner established a dominant defensive front leading to the back-to-back undefeated seasons in 1993 and 1994. Since Turner graduated, no Penn player has come close to his 31-sack record. The next closest? Mitch Marrow with 25.5.
2. Mitch Marrow (1995-1997)
Excelling anywhere on the defensive line, Mitch Marrow spent most of his time as a defensive tackle. He leads Penn’s records in most sacks in a season (16.5) and is second in career sacks (25.5). In addition to being given the Chuck Bednarik award in 1996, the defensive tackle was also selected to the All Ivy team twice. Following his success at Penn, Marrow was selected number 73 overall to play in the NFL by the Carolina Panthers.
3. Tyler Drake (2012-2015)
Edge rusher Tyler Drake boasted numerous career accolades including: Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, unanimous first-team All-Ivy, and finalist for STATS FCS National Defensive Player of the Year. Graduating with the fifth-most sacks in Penn history (17.5), Drake led his team in sacks during his 2014 and 2015 campaigns with 6 and 8.5 respectively. His presence around the line of scrimmage resulted in a dominating Penn defense, paving the way for championships in 2012 and 2015.