LAWRENCE, Kan. – Willie Pless, one of the best defensive players, not only in school history, but Big Eight Conference and Canadian Football League history, will have his name added to the University of Kansas Football Ring of Honor this fall.
Pless, a standout linebacker for the Jayhawks from 1982-85, will become the 14th player to have his name displayed at the top of the north bowl of Memorial Stadium. A recognition ceremony will be held in conjunction with the Jayhawks’ season opener against Central Michigan on Sept. 1.
Pless has already been inducted in the Kansas Athletics Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Canadian Football League Hall of Fame in 2005.
The Anniston, Ala. native was selected to the Big Eight Conference all-decade team for the 1980s. He was a three-time all-Big Eight first-team selection and finished his career as the conference’s all-time leading tackler with 633 stops.
He still owns the top three season tackle totals in Kansas history with 206 in 1984, 191 in 1985 and 188 in 1983. His 633 career tackles are 117 more than Nick Reid, who is second on the school list with 416 stops. Pless’ name is on the school award given annually to the team’s Tackler of the Year.
After earning all-state honors at Anniston High School, Pless played in every game as a freshman at KU in 1982. He led the team in fumble recoveries with three, two of which resulted in KU scores. As a sophomore in 1983 he earned first-team all-Big Eight honors with a then school-record 188 tackles.
That year he averaged 17 tackles per game and recorded at least 20 stops four times. Against Missouri that season he recorded 22 tackles, a sack, interception and fumble recovery.
In 1984 Pless earned second-team Associated Press All-America honors after recording 206 tackles. In that season he registered a school-record 25-tackle game against Oklahoma State and recorded double-digit tackle totals in every game, including 20 tackles four different times.
As a senior in 1985, Pless was recognized as a preseason Playboy All-American. For the third straight year he was tabbed first-team all-Big Eight while registering 191 tackles. After the year he played in three all-star games – the Blue-Gray Game, Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game. He was named the Defensive MVP of the Blue-Gray Game.
Pless also succeeded in the classroom and was a GTE Region VII Academic All-America in 1985.
After his college days at Kansas, Pless went on to great success in the Canadian Football League where he made 11 CFL all-star teams and was named the league’s outstanding defensive player five times before retiring in 1999 as the league’s all-time leading tackler. He played four seasons with Toronto, one year with British Columbia, nine years with Edmonton and one season with Saskatchewan.
Other former Kansas players who have been recognized in the Ring of Honor include Nolan Cromwell, John Hadl, Curtis McClinton, Gale Sayers, Bobby Douglass, David Jaynes, George Mrkonic, Otto Schnellbacher, John Zook, Ray Evans, Bruce Kallmeyer, Gil Reich, and Oliver Spencer.
Pless is the first player to be added since Nolan Cromwell was honored in 2005.