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.
Dre’ Bly, the Chesapeake, Virginia native, was likely the most decorated member of Mack Brown’s most dominant defense—and one of the most successful Tar Heels of all time. The first ACC player (and defensive player) to be named a consensus All-American as a freshman, Bly was inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2014.
Career at UNC
Dre’ Bly was awesome. He emerged on the scene as a redshirt freshman in 1996, playing across from the criminally-underrated Robert Williams. That year, Bly led the nation and set the ACC record with 11 interceptions during the regular season and two more in the bowl win over West Virginia.
He added five more in 1997, and another four as a junior to set the ACC career record with 20. Unfortunately, Wake Forest’s Alphonso Smith reset the mark at 21 in 2008.
(Sports-reference didn’t have Bly’s tackle stats, so just take my word for it that Bly had 20 picks and returned two for touchdowns.)
Honors and Awards
In addition to being the first ACC freshman to become a consensus All-American, Bly repeated the feat as a sophomore in 1997. Then he did it again as a junior. Yeah, three times an All-American.
Top Games at UNC
Bly had a few too many to name.
In just his third career game, he had three interceptions in a home shutout over Joe Hamilton’s Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. You can see one of them here:
The Gator Bowl win on New Year’s Day 1997 was his fourth with at least two picks...as a freshman, again. That season was just ridiculous. The two picks were key to holding off West Virginia 20-13.
(This is not quite as fun as the 1998 Gator Bowl film, buuuuuttttt...its pretty fun.)
Bly also came up with a momentum-changing pick-six in the 1997 revenge win over Virginia, and he had some epic matchups with future St. Louis Rams teammate Torry Holt while the receiver was at NC State.
Career after UNC
He was a second-round pick by the St. Louis Rams in 1999. Along with Holt, newcomer Marshall Faulk, holdover Isaac Bruce, and a grocery bagger by the name of Kurt Warner, Bly’s rookie campaign ended with a Super Bowl win over the Titans.
Bly finished out his rookie contract with the Rams but never quite hit his stride in St. Louis. Their loss was Detroit’s gain, as Bly was a Pro Bowler both of his first two seasons with the Lions. He amassed 16 of his 43 career picks in his first three years with the Lions.
Bly bounced around for his last couple of years in the NFL. He was never a shutdown corner, but he was the type of playmaker a team desires in a field corner and would have been a masterful fit in today’s NFL.
Today, Bly lives in the Charlotte, North Carolina area with his family. His son, Trey, is a rising junior cornerback receiving interest from regional programs. Dre’ has been active with community youth football programs and was rumored to be a candidate for UNC’s 10th assistant coach before the proposition for such a role to exist was voted down earlier this year.