This summer, Tar Heel Blog will profile the top 25 players in the history of the North Carolina football program. The rankings were determined by votes from readers and staff.
The 1970s were a high-time for the North Carolina Tar Heels, and one of the headliners on the gridiron was the charismatic and hard-running tailback Mike Voight.
A fairly recent story by Harry Minium of the The Virginian-Pilot showed the kind of tight-knit brotherhood that the 1970s Tar Heels were under Coach Bill Dooley. The social and gregarious Voight during that time earned the nickname “Space Cowboy” as a reflection of his own personality in the popular culture of the time, even though the 1977 media guide says the nickname comes from his teammates thinking Voight was “a little spacey.”
Flipping through old media guides it was clear that Voight made the most of life and enjoyed being a Tar Heel. One of his funniest answers in a Q&A was in response to the person he admired most in history. “The girl that sat on my right in History 21.”
When asked about potentially breaking the school record for rushing yards in his senior season (which he did), Voight was humble and acknowledged that it took a team effort to achieve individual success. About his prospects in the 1977 NFL Draft, he was quick to focus on the present:
A lot of people have talked to me about that and it has been on my mind. But, right now I'm just worried about my senior year. This is my final year at Carolina and I want it to be a good one. The last time you do anything always means the most to you.
Perhaps the Space Cowboy was not spacey, but just a bit more thoughtful than the average college kid. When asked in 1977 about his ambition after college, his response was “to live life to its fullest.” After Voight’s untimely death in 2012, the football brotherhood embraced Voight’s spirit by bridging the past to the present. Voight’s teammates continue to carry on his vision for the future.
Career at UNC
Mike Voight Career Statistics
Voight is second in Carolina history with 3,971 rushing yards. That career total is good for seventh in ACC history. His senior year, his 1,407 rushing yards were the third-most in a season in program history. His junior year is tied for fifth on that list.
Voight’s 826 career rushing attempts are second-most in program history, and his 315 rushing attempts in 1976 are also second-most in program history for a single season. Voight is also second in total career rushing touchdowns with 42, and his 18 rushing TDs in 1976 are second on the single season list.
On the career all-purpose yards list, Voight ranks seventh in program history with 4,472. His 254 total points are fifth-most in a career at Carolina.
In 1976, Voight tied Don McCauley for the program record for game rushing attempts when he had 47 against Duke in what would be his final collegiate game. That mark stands today.
Honors and Awards
Voight was the back-to-back ACC Player of the Year in 1975 and 1976. In both years, he was the leading rusher in the ACC. In his standout senior season, he was named an All-American and was eighth in Heisman Award voting. His #44 jersey is honored at Kenan Memorial Stadium.
In 2002, Voight was named one of the top 50 football players in the first 50 years of the ACC.
Top Games at UNC
With stats like Voight’s, there are many impressive performances in his Carolina career. Voight rushed for at least 100 yards 19 times at Carolina.
Voight was prophetic in his media guide interview in his desire to make the most of the last time something is done, as in his final collegiate game he set a career high in rushing yards. In his record-tying rushing attempts game against Duke in 1976, he gained 261 yards on the ground. Those 261 yards is the sixth-best single game rushing performance in school history. Voight had two other 200+ yards games. In 1975, he rushed for 228 yards against Clemson and 209 against East Carolina.
Voight holds in the Carolina records for most rushing yards gained in three, four, and five consecutive games, and his three 200+ yards games each play a part in those records.
In three straight games in 1976, Voight gained 161 yards on the ground against Clemson, 190 versus Virginia, and 261 in the regular season finale against Duke for a total of 612 yards.
In four straight games in 1975, Voight gained 155 yards rushing versus NC State, 209 against East Carolina, 148 versus Wake Forest, and 228 against Clemson for a total 740 yards. Add in his 169 yard performance against Notre Dame prior to the NC State game in 1975, and Voight sets the mark for five consecutive games with 909 yards.
An injury two days prior to the 1976 Peach Bowl precluded his participation in the bowl. This may have hurt his draft stock, as he went in the 3rd round of the 1977 NFL Draft to Cincinnati.
Voight was picked up by the Houston Oilers prior to his rookie season. After his first year in the league, he was traveling home to his native Chesapeake, Virginia when he was involved in a head-on collision with a dump truck in a rainstorm of January 1978. Voight suffered such extensive injuries that doctors were concerned that he may never walk again. After time in traction and months of rehab, Voight regained the ability to walk, jog, then run.
His football career ended on that January night, but Voight continued to give back to his community. He served as a coach at Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake, and as a football official for many years. He also owned a real estate company in Tidewater region.
Voight passed away on May 22, 2012.