The Ultimate in Blue and White
The Nittany-aholics out there like myself are now in a season of famine. You get the occasional recruit commit (e.g. four-star prospects Adrian Coxson and Silas Redd).
The annual Blue White game has past, and for most of us September 5th can't come fast enough. So I have decided to put together the ultimate Penn State squad. I put some backups in. No I did not come up with 85 players...I came up with an NFL size 50 man roster. To me this is the ultimate Penn State squad.
Starter: Todd Blackledge (1982) - Has any Penn State quarterbacked PSU to more big wins than Todd Blackledge??? I really don't think so. He may not have the speed as Michael Robinson or Wally Richardson but Todd was mobile in the pocket and could execute the QB Draw and the naked bootleg.
He may not have the rocket arm with accuracy like the Kerry Collins, John Hufnagel, or Chuck Fusina but Todd was able to make the clutch throws.
He may not be the ultimate winner such as Chuck Burkhart who quarterbacked the Nittany Lions to undefeated seasons in 1968 and 1969 or John Shaffer who led the Lions to back-to-back national title games in 1985 and 1986 and only suffered one loss as the starter.
No Todd Blackledge is a combination of all these traits and when the stakes were high, Todd Blackledge was the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time). Ask USC and Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowls? Ask No. 1 Pitt in 1981. They were quarterbacked by Dan Marino and they Pitt had a 14-0 lead on the Nittany Lions.
All Todd Blackledge did was engineer the offense and made some nice throws to Kenny Jackson (and he made some nice catches...more on that later), and help engineer 48 unanswered points to upset No. 1 Pitt.
But most importantly he completed his most famous pass in the 1983 Sugar Bowl on the long Gregg Garrity deep bomb to guide Penn State to its first national championship. Blackledge took home the Davey O'Brien Award in 1982.
Backing the Man up....Kerry Collins (1994) and Michael Robinson (2005) - Both men had rocky beginnings as Lions but would finish with greatness. Kerry Collins came into the program and had an up and down battle with legacy recruit John Sacca.
By 1993, he was cemented the starter. 1994, Kerry Collins orchestrated statistically speaking the greatest offense in PSU history with 526 points and he put up gaudy numbers that put him in a league of his own. Robinson's start was even more rockier, he split time at wide receiver and backed up Larry Johnson in the backfield in 2002.
Then set behind Zack Mills in what maybe the most rocky time in PSU history in 2003 and 2004. When he had a chance to start or play it often ended badly including a concussion against Wisconsin. Come 2005, Michael was given the reigns as starter and he restored the roar in Happy Valley.
Led the Lions to its second Big Ten championship, an BCS-Orange Bowl victory over Florida State, an 11-1 campaign, but was also named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.
Starter - Curt Warner (1982) -Running backs have come through Happy Valley. Some have had a great success in school such as Curtis Enis, Ki-Jana Carter, and Blair Thomas. Some had phenomenal success in the NFL including Lenny Moore, Franco Harris, Lydell Mitchell, and Larry Johnson.
But as they are all Nittany Lions all the them look up at the rushing list at Curt Warner...and for that matter Curt Warner don't look up at anybody on this team. He was the 1980's Penn State version of Reggie Bush. He returned kicks, lined up at receiver, was explosive at tailback.
Penn State never lost a game when Warner hit the century mark producing an 18-0 record.
The skills alone put Warner the starter in my list. The number could essentially make him starter on anyone's list but what drove Curt Warner and what made him my starter was his unbelievable performances against superior competition.
When going up against two Heisman Trophy winners in bowl games in Marcus Allen of USC in the 1982 Fiesta Bowl and Herschel Walker of Georgia in the 1983 Sugar Bowl he outperformed them. That is the individual I want as my starter. Someone who exudes confidence and swagger under pressure.
Backing the Man Up...Lenny Moore (1955), Lydell Mitchell (1971), and Ki-Jana Carter (1994) - Those who remember seeing him play remember him as the "Reading Rocket," his name is Lenny Moore. Moore was the first Nittany Lion to rush for 1,000 yards.
Moore's speed and ability to not only play at tailback but flank out to receiver and to return kicks is a versatile reason he is on this team.
The two backs can be answered with a big "What If???" The "What If?" would be "What if these men were given the full work load??" Lydell Mitchell shared the same backfield for three seasons with a little guy named Franco Harris.
In 1971, Lydell Mitchell set an NCAA record (since eclipsed by Barry Sanders in 1988) with 26 rushing touchdowns. Imagine if, Mitchell had got the full amount of carries that were taken away by Franco???
My goal isn't to put a guy on what could have been but its hard to ignore the all-time leader in PSU history in rushing touchdowns??? Ki-Jana Carter was the "spark-plug" in the backfield for the record setting 1994 Nittany Lions. Carter helped lead the 1994 Penn State football team to an undefeated record and a berth in the Rose Bowl.
He earned co-MVP honors during the Rose Bowl game, and his highlight from that game was an 83 yard touchdown run on the first offensive play of the game. He finished second in the Heisman voting for 1994.
His numbers were amazing that year. He ran for 23 touchdowns, 1539 yards, and only did it on 198 carries!!!! His 7.8 yards per rush is a Penn State record. What if Ki-Jana got 300 carries???
Starter - Franco Harris (1971) - He was one half of the greatest backfield tandem in PSU history and it only makes sense to put probably the greatest offensive pro in this spot. He helped pave the way for Lydell Mitchell to get his then NCAA record breaking 26 touchdowns in 1971.
Harris won more than a blocker, in his PSU career he ran for 2,000 yards and finished with 24 touchdowns.
Backing the Man Up....Sam Gash (1991) - His name alone is the reason he is here. He was a great blocker and was great in short yardage situation. In the pros, Gash earned the unique distinction of being the first back in NFL history to be selected to the Pro Bowl without carrying the ball at all during the regular season!
Starters - Kenny Jackson (1983) and Bobby Engram (1995) - Its starting to sound like we are going to flank Todd Blackledge with a lot of his team-mates but he was surrounded by some of the best talent to ever play at Penn State.
Deon Butler may now own a bunch of records for receptions but you can not deny the greatness of Kenny Jackson and Bobby Engram. These two men may be the most decorated Nittany Lions in Penn State history.
Kenny Jackson is the only Penn State receiver to be named a first team All American twice in 1982 and 1983. He had back-to-back 1000-yard seasons and set the standard for PSU wide receivers. Kenny Jackson's signature play is simply known as "The Catch" against No. 1 Pitt in 1981.
On the play Blackledge throws a deep bomb to Blackledge on the sideline, Jackson catches the ball on the sideline. He then precedes to do a "360" on a Pitt defensive back on the sideline and evade other Panthers on his way for the end-zone.
Bobby Engram is the only other Nittany Lion receiver to be decorated as Jackson. He was named All-American on the record setting 1994 offense. He broke all of Jackson's records in his four years on the team. He also is the only Nittany Lion to ever win the Biletinokoff Award for the nation's best receiver.
Engram made many key catches including a crucial touchdown against Michigan in "The Big House" in 1994, but most Nittany Lions remember his "Catch," his one handed catch in the 63-14 pounding of visiting Ohio State.
Backing the Men Up....Jimmy Cefalo (1977), O.J. McDuffie (1992), and Derrick Williams (2008) - Jimmy Cefalo was so highly recruited out of Scranton area that he drew a lot of attention throughout the country in 1974. Georgia led for this athlete, but he stayed home to be a Nittany Lion.
He is the first true freshmen to play varsity for Joe Paterno and he would become Chuck Fusina's outlet in 1977. He was MVP in the of the 1976 Gator Bowl. His senior season he led the Nittany Lions in all purpose yards.
A dangerous threat he average nearly 19 yards per reception. O.J. McDuffie maybe the best pure athlete to ever play for Penn State at receiver. The No. 24 set a then single game receiving record with 212 yards versus Boston College in 1992. McDuffie was also MVP in the Fiesta Bowl win against Tennessee in 1992.
What makes McDuffie valuable to this team is not necessarily how great of an athlete, but how much he loved Penn State. He mentored Bobby Engram when he was down in life and today does Penn State pre-game show.
Derrick Williams may not have gotten the gaudy numbers that Deon Butler got, but no Nittany Lion receiver could stretch the field with his speed like Williams.
His first impact performance came against Northwestern in 2005. "The Drive" that restored the Penn State roar started with a fourth-down completion to Isaac Smolko but it was capped by the elusive Williams by coming back for the ball and evading a Northwestern defensive back.
I didn't necessarily put Williams on here for his receiving ability, that alone would put him on here but it is phenomenal ability as a return man that put him on this team. In the years I have watched Penn State football, I have never seen a guy who could essentially take one back every time on a return.
The 2006 game against Notre Dame, the way in stride he juked Tom Zbikowski or in 2008 how against Illinois he just simply outran the kickoff coverage, Williams simply is the return man on this team.
Starter - Ted Kwalick (1968) - This quote sums up why Ted Kwalick is my choice at tight end, "What God had in mind when he made a football player." The quote was made by a then young Joe Paterno.
Kwalick was the all-around football player and has made many lists as one of the 100 best college football players of all-time. Kwalick is one of two tight ends to be in the top four in Heisman balloting.
Kwalick was Chuck Burkhart's safety valve and Kwalick finished his PSU career just behind the then all-time leader Jack Curry. His nearly caught 100 passes and averaged nearly 16 yards per catch.
Backing the Man Up...Brian Siverling (1986) and Kyle Brady (1994) - Those of you who remember what offense Penn State played in its 1985 and 1986 national title runs can be summed up in two words: D.J. Dozier.
But quarterback John Shaffer who was not a deep bomb passer passed the ball to either his stud tailback Dozier or his safety valve Brian Siverling.
Siverling might not have the gaudy numbers as a receiving tight end but he gives the Nittany Lions the extra blocker it would need on this team. Kyle Brady is the modern Kwalick. At 6'6" and 270 lbs Brady had the size to be a blocker but had the grace to be a receiver.
The 1994 All-American would be Kerry Collins' safety valve when the other offensive juggernauts weren't open and was a Top 10 pick in the 1995 NFL Draft.
Starters - Steve Suhey (1948), Glenn Ressler (1964), Keith Dorney (1978), Mike Munchak (1981), Steve Wisniewski (1988) - With there being no stats to measure offensive lineman you have to go with the ones whose impact is felt through the program's rich history. Steve Suhey is part of two big contributions in Penn State History.
The Suhey clan of Nittany Lions. The All American started a lineage of Nittany Lions to wear the Blue and White that would include Matt Suhey.
Also during his MVP performance in the 1948 Cotton Bowl, Suhey may have started Penn State's most famous rallying cry..."We Are...Penn State!!!" Glenn Ressler won the 1964 Maxwell Award as a center/middle guard.
Keith Dorney and Steve Wisniewski are both two-time All Americans. Mike Munchak is the flag bearer for all PSU Lineman. Overshadowed by team-mate Sean Farrell, Munchak is the only PSU offensive lineman in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Backing Up the Men....Dave Joyner (1971), Sean Farrell (1982), Chris Conlin (1986), Jeff Hartings (1995), and A.Q. Shipley (2008) - Sean Farrell and Jeff Hartings each were two-time All Americans for Penn State. Dave Joyner played tackle for the 1969 Orange Bowl champions and was an All-American in 1971.
Chris Conlin co-anchored the 1986 offensive line with Steve Wisniewski that won the national championship. Also Conlin was named an All-American in 1986. A.Q. Shipley was named an All-American in 2008 and helped anchor the offensive line that helped restore Nittany Lion pride.
Shipley also became the first Nittany Lion to win the Rimington Award for best center in college football.
Starters - Dave Robinson (1962), Mike Reid (1969), Bruce Clark (1978), and Courtney Brown (1999) - As we hit the bread and butter of what makes Penn State special, its defensive football that bleeds blue and white through all Nittany Lion fans and these four men probably are the meanest defensive linemen in PSU history.
Dave Robinson would go onto the NFL and be part of the Green Bay Packers dynasty under coach Vince Lombardi. But he was under the tutelage of PSU coach Rip Engle. Robinson was a two way player and was a Gator Bowl MVP in 1962.
Mike Reid may be the most decorated Penn State defensive lineman in Penn State history. The future Grammy Award winning artist used to eat quarterbacks on Saturdays.
In Reid's final two seasons the Nittany Lions went 22-0; including two Orange Bowl victories over Kansas and Missouri. Individually Reid would win the Maxwell Award, would be PSU's only Outland Trophy winner, and was named All-American 1969. Bruce Clark was a ferocious monster.
He anchored a defensive line in 1978 that led Penn State to an 11-0 regular season and Sugar Bowl berth. Clark would earn All-American status for his play that he made 20 tackles for a loss but would also become Penn State's only Lombardi Award winner.
In 1999, Courtney Brown was a consensus first-team All-American and was named to the All Big Ten first-team. Brown earned the defensive player of the year award and defensive linemen of the year award in his senior year.
He finished his college career with a NCAA record-breaking 33 sacks and 70 tackles for loss.
Backing Up the Men....Steve Smear (1969), Matt Millen (1978), Lou Benfatti (1993), Tamba Hali (2005) - Steve Smear co-anchored Penn State's phenomenal defense with team mate Mike Reid.
Matt Millen may not be a name many Detroit Lions fans want to remember but we Penn State Nittany Lion fans can't forget the cocky defensive lineman Matt Millen who garnered All-American honors in 1978. Lou Benfatti garnered first team All-American honors in 1993.
His efforts also made him a finalist for the Lombardi Award. There is no Nittany Lion other than Adam Taliaferro and John Cappaletti that fought there way into Nittany Lion hearts like Tamba Hali—what he faced in war-torn Liberia. Then he came to America and only played high school ball for a couple of years in New Jersey.
Penn State coaches saw more in Tamba and Tamba fought he way into the starting line-up. Then worked his way to being Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, All-American, and future NFL star with Kansas City.
Starters - Dennis Onkotz (1969), Jack Ham (1970), Shane Conlan (1986), and LaVar Arrington (1999) - At some schools the best player plays at quarterback, running back, or receiver. At Penn State, the best athlete is put at linebacker and what started with "Mother" Dunn in 1906 started a lineage of All-American linebackers to play at Penn State. Penn State overtime has earned the moniker "Linebacker U."
Dennis Onkotz by many Nittany Lions standard is the greatest linebacker to ever dawn the Blue and White. Smart, strong, and made the sure tackle, great in pass coverage a Nittany Lion fan can't ask any more out of a two-time All-American. Though Onkotz shined at the college level, an injury cut his pro career short.
His linebacking team-mate at college who wasn't two shabby at the collegiate level is the flag-bearer and the gold-standard for all Nittany Lion linebackers, his name is Jack Ham. Ham would be the only starter at linebacker on this all-time team that wasn't a two-time All-American, though he did earn the honors in 1970.
Ham would go on and anchor the Pittsburgh Steelers "Steel Curtain" linebacking corp and would go on to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988. His skill has been well documented in 2000, ABC Sports named Ham to its All-Time College Football team.
Ham was also name to the All Decade Team in the 1970s, he was on the NFL 75th Anniversary Team, and was named to the NFL All-Time Team in 2000. Shane Conlan was part of both national championship teams in 1982 and 1986 and played in the 1985 national title game against Oklahoma.
Conlan was named All-American in 1985 and 1986. The best overall athlete to ever play linebacker at Penn State was LaVar Arrington. Arrington was SuperPrep's No. 1 recruit.
Arrington's career at Penn State earned him numerous awards. He was an All Big Ten selection, twice a first team All American, and he won the 1999 Chuck Bednarik and Dick Butkis Awards.
Among his many outstanding plays, he is most famous for a spectacular play that has come to be known as "The LaVar Leap". During a game against Illinois, Arrington anticipated the snap on a 4th-and-short play, leaping over the offensive line and tackling the runner in the backfield.
Backing Up the Men...Greg Buttle (1975), Kurt Allerman (1975), Paul Poslusny (2006), Dan Connor (2007) - This is a list that could go on-and-on. Andre Collins, Brandon Short, Walker Lee Ashley...and so on.
I picked two groups of team mates that dominated at linebacker. Buttle originally had the tackles record that was broken by Poz and Connor and was an All-American in 1975. His team mate, Kurt Allerman was a ferocious tackler as well and was an All-American in 1975. Paul Poslusny was the face of Penn State's turn around.
He would go on and just make play after play. Poz may be the modern day Onkotz. Dan Connor is the tackles king at Penn State and was an All American in 2007.
Starters - Neal Smith (1969), Mark Robinson (1983), Michael Zordich (1985), and Darren Perry (1991) - When you follow the Nittany Lions for a long time you learn about players who walk-on to greatness. Deon Butler, a receiver out of Virginia decided to walk-on to Penn State, and all he did was become statistically Penn State's greatest receiver.
There are two interesting stories that circled the Penn State defense of the late 1960's. Steve Smear; a great defensive lineman, persuaded the Nittany Lions to use their last scholarship of 1967 to a kid by the name Jack Ham and you see how that worked out.
That defense had a walk-on in the secondary who would not go on to start, but Neal Smith would set the Penn State record for interceptions which still stand to this day, and was named an All-American in 1969. Not bad for a walk-on. Mark Robinson was an integral part of Penn State's first national championship team in 1982.
In the 48-14 upset of No. 1 Pitt in 1981, Robinson took a big interception for a touchdown. The 1983 Sugar Bowl vs. Georgia; Robinson picked off two John Lastinger passes to help key a 27-23 victory and a national championship for Penn State. Robinson also was named All-American in 1982.
What started out being a true freshmen on a national championship team, being an All-American, ended bittersweet for Michael Zordich. The ending was a 25-10 loss top ranked Penn State suffered in the 1986 Orange Bowl to Oklahoma for the national championship.
But in-between, Zordich bridged the Nittany Lions between title games. After the Nittany Lions had a national title hang-over for what seemingly was for two seasons, Zordich made a key play against national title favorite, and led by Boomer Esaison Maryland.
Zordich's interception keyed a 20-18 upset they would return the Lions to a No. 1 ranking and an undefeated 1985 regular season.
Darren Perry had a rocky start in Happy Valley. In 1988; his freshman year, Penn State saw its 49 consecutive winning seasons snapped with a 5-6 record (NCAA record).
Perry was one of many Nittany Lions who took it to heart and restored Lion pride by help leading Penn State in 1991 with an 11-2 record and a Fiesta Bowl victory over Tennessee.
Perry's heart and hard-working attitude helped will him to be named All-American in 1991. Darren's marks for 299 interception return yards is a PSU record and his three returns for touchdowns is a record he shares with follow PSU legend Dennis Onkotz.
Backing the Men Up....Pete Harris (1978), Kim Herring (1996), David Macklin (1999), Alan Zemaitis (2005) - Sometimes being a legacy recruit isn't a good thing, but when it is, it is. What seemed like the impossible task of being Franco Harris' brother and the expectations seemed impossible to meet but Pete Harris lived up to it.
In 1978, Harris set a Penn State record with 10 interceptions in a season and help guide Penn State to an 11-0 regular season, No. 1 ranking for the first time, and a berth to play for the national championship.
Kim Herring and David Macklin were a pair of defensive backs in the late '90s that may not have been on top of the college football world, though Herring was named All-American in 1996 and Macklin All-Big Ten in 1999, would go on to lengthy NFL careers with the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts.
Alan Zemaitis was a three-time All-Big Ten defensive back and was an All-American in 2005. He was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award ,for nation’s top defensive back.
Zemaitis was a captain and leader on the 2005 Penn State team that went 11-1 and won the Big Ten championship. His three interceptions in the season finale at Michigan State helped seal a 31-22 victory that gave the Lions the championship.
Starter - tie Chris Bahr (1975) and Matt Bahr (1978) - How do you pick between these kicking legends. Both were All-Americans. Chris had set a PSU record for most field goals made from 50+ yards, Matt set an NCAA record his All-American season with a 81.5 percent field-goal percentage
Starter - Ralph Giacomarro (1982) - Simply put, I need a punter and you can't argue with a guy who holds the PSU record for punting average????
Head Coach - Joe Paterno (1966-present) - Hugo Bezdek coached the Nittany Lions from 1918-1929, led the Nittany Lions to two undefeated seasons and led them to their first bowl appearance; 1923 Rose Bowl vs. USC, and is in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Bob Higgins coached the Nittany Lions from 1930-1948, led the 1948 Nittany Lions to an undefeated season which culminated in a 13-13 tie versus SMU in the Cotton Bowl and is in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Charles A. "Rip" Engle coached the Nittany Lions from 1950-1965, his highlights include leading Penn State to several top ten finishes, upset No. 2 Ohio State 27-0 at the Horseshoe, and developed a game called "Angleball" to help keep his Penn State players in shape and is also in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Nice lineage, eh? But how can you argue with the all-time winning est coach? You can't. It is almost hard to sum up in a few words on Joe Paterno. In perspective, his 23 bowl wins is more than 115 of the 119 Division I-A schools have in their histories!
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