The greatest of all time, that is always what players strive to be. Most players fall short of reaching that upper echelon of greatness, but the select few that make it are forever ingrained in the hearts and minds of fans everywhere. Below is my list of the five greatest Penn State players ever to grace the field.
5 – Evan Royster RB
When you think Penn State running backs, most don’t think of Evan Royster. Although he never had those highlight-reel runs or scoring plays, Evan Royster is the all-time leading rusher in Penn State history with 3,932 yards. On top of his yardage, Royster averaged an incredible 5.7 yards per rush with 29 rushing touchdowns.
Royster displayed a consistent running style that allowed him to become the first Penn State running back to post 1,000+ in three consecutive seasons. On October 30th, 2010 against Michigan, Royster broke the all-time rushing record. Joe Paterno said after the game “He’s been a solid back and I appreciate his hard work and consistency.”
4 – Paul Posluszny LB
Posluszny was the embodiment of “Linebacker U” always leaving his entire soul on the field. Being hailed as one of the best linebackers to play at Beaver Stadium is a tremendous honor considering all of the linebacking talent to come through those legendary halls. Posluszny had three 100+ tackling seasons.
Paul Posluszny was the second Penn State player in history behind Lavar Arrington to win two Bednarik awards. Along with his 2 Bednarik awards, Posluszny, won one Butkus award as well as being a two-time all American. Until 2007 Posluszny was the all-time leading tackler with 372, which was passed up by fellow linebacker Dan Connor with 419.
3 – John Cappelletti RB
Cappelletti is still to date the only Penn State player to win the Heisman. The year Cappelletti won the Heisman was in 1973, in which he ran for 1,522 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns. That 1,522 yards marked the 4th best single-season rushing performance right behind fellow teammate Lydell Mitchell, with 1,567 mark in 1971.
Cappelletti was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1993 and saw his number 22 jersey retired, making his number the only number retired in Penn State history. Joe Paterno was quoted, saying, “He is the best player I’ve ever coached.” John Cappelletti is one of those feel-good stories none better than his four-touchdown performance in 1973 against West Virginia in which he promised his brother who was dying that he’d score those four touchdowns.
2 – Lydell Mitchell RB
The previous mentioned Mitchell is the 9th all-time rusher in Penn State history with 2,934 yards, as well as second all-time in rushing touchdowns with 38. Among those 2,934 yards, he also averaged nearly 6 yards per rush. Fellow counterpart Franco Harris eventually outshined Mitchell in the NFL, but over his three-year collegiate career, Mitchell is hailed as one of the best running backs to play at Penn State.
Mitchell did get selected to the Pro-Bowl three times and was also an All-Pro twice. Over his eight-year career, he led the NFL twice in receptions. Mitchell also led the NFL in total touches in back-to-back seasons.
1 – Jack Ham LB
Jack Ham is the only player in Penn State history to be inducted into both the College Hall of Fame and the NFL Hall of Fame. Hailed as one of the best linebackers to come out of “Linebacker U,” Ham led the Nittany Lions to two consecutive undefeated seasons in 1968 and 1969. No season was better for him like the 1970 season, where he was selected as a consensus all-American with 91 tackles and four interceptions.
Most likely, the biggest success story to the NFL in Penn State history Ham is a four-time Super Bowl champ, 1975 defensive player of the year, and went to eight straight Pro-Bowls as well as a six-time All-Pro selection. Ham also recorded 32 interceptions and 25 fumble recoveries, which makes the most ever turnovers by a non-defensive back. To go along with all of these accolades, Jack Ham was selected to the 1970’s All-Decade team and the 75th-anniversary team.