Before they played key roles for the Pittsburgh Steelers across a number of seasons in the NFL, guys like Levon Kirkland, Antwaan Randle El, and Flozell Adams were starring for their respective collegiate programs in the ACC and the Big Ten.
Now, more than two decades later, all three former Steelers are on the College Football Hall of Fame ballot as finalists for the Class of 2022, which was announced June 2.
Kirkland, Randle El and Adams are just three of 78 finalists, which will be inducted into the CFB Hall of Fame during the 64th NFF Annual Awards Dinner on Dec. 6, 2022, and permanently immortalized at the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.
Kirkland was the first to join the Steelers as a second-round pick in 1992 out of Clemson University, where he was a star captain for the Tigers, earning a Consensus All-American honor in 1991. While at Clemson, Kirkland helped the Tigers win two conference titles in the ACC, was named the 1989 Gator Bowl MVP, and was a finalist for the Butkus Award — given to the top collegiate linebacker — in 1990. He was later inducted into the Clemson Ring of Honor in 2001, and was previously inducted into the South Carolina Football Hall of Fame in 2017.
After being drafted by the Steelers, Kirkland quickly worked his way into the starting lineup, replacing Pro Bowl linebacker David Little in 1993 before going on to become a two-time Pro Bowler in 1996 and 1997 while earning All-Pro recognition in those same years. Kirkland was also named the Steelers’ Team MVP in 1998 and 1999, and was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1990s.
The big, athletic linebacker played nine seasons and 144 career games with the Steelers before being waved ahead of the 2001 season due to salary cap constraints. Kirkland played two more seasons (one each with the Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles) in the NFL before retiring after the 2002 season.
Randle El may be the most well-known of the Steelers’ three College Football Hall of Fame finalists, having starred at Indiana University from 1998 to 2001 as a quarterback, having been ahead of the curve when it came to athletic QBs that could do damage on the ground and through the air.
While at Indiana, Randle El was a 2001 First Team All-American and finished sixth overall in the Heisman Trophy voting, capping off a terrific career with the Hoosiers that saw him tally 7,469 passing yards, 3,895 rushing yards, and 92 touchdowns running and passing in his college career. Randle El also became the first player ever in college football history to pass for 6,000 yards and rush for 3,000 yards in his career, and held the most career rushing yards mark for a QB in FBS history at the conclusion of his collegiate career.
All that led to the Steelers grabbing the terrific athlete in the second round of the 2002 draft at No. 62 overall, converting him receiver, where he lasted nine years in the NFL (five seasons with Pittsburgh, four with Washington), earning an All-Pro nod in 2005 in Pittsburgh while playing a key role in one of the most iconic plays in Steelers’ history, throwing the game-clinching touchdown pass to Hines Ward in Super Bowl XL, beating the Seahawks 21-10 in Detroit.
Randle El is now a coach in the NFL, having won a ring last season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an offensive assistant under Bruce Arians before landing the Detroit Lions’ wide receivers coaching job under Dan Campbell.
As for Adams, though he played just one season in Pittsburgh during the 2010 season, he’s still a name that pops up from time to time in Steelers mentions, playing a key role at left tackle on a team that eventually lost in the Super Bowl to the Green Bay Packers.
Adams was signed in late July that year to a two-year deal after then-starting right tackle Willie Colon tore his Achilles. Adams went on to start all 16 games and all three playoff games before being released before the start of the 2011 season.
Prior to his time in Pittsburgh, Adams was one of the best left tackles in the league with the Dallas Cowboys from 1998 to 2009. Adams entered the league as a second-round pick (38th overall) out of Michigan State.
With the Spartans from 1994-1997, Adams was a three-time All-Big Ten performer that helped lead the program to consecutive bowl games, and was later named a First Team All-American and Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year in 1997, a year in which he allowed just two sacks playing under the watchful eye of one Nick Saban.