Penn State Football

Legends of the Gridiron: Ranking the Top 25 Penn State Football Players of All Time

Penn State Football has a storied history, filled with exceptional talent, unforgettable moments, and a pair of national championships.

From electrifying running backs to dominant defensive forces, the Nittany Lions‘ rich legacy is built upon the contributions of remarkable individuals.

In this comprehensive ranking, we look back on the top 25 Penn State players of all time, taking into account their remarkable statistics, accolades, and the indelible mark they left on the program.

Ranking the Top-25 Penn State Football Players of All-Time

No. 25 – Justin Kurpeikis (DE, 1997-2000)

Kurpeikis was a disruptive force on the defensive line, wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks.

He recorded 43 tackles for loss and 24.5 sacks, showcasing his pass-rushing prowess. Kurpeikis’ impactful presence on defense helped the Nittany Lions achieve success during his tenure.

No. 24 – Matt Millen (LB, 1976-1978)

Millen was a tenacious linebacker who anchored Penn State’s defense during a successful era.

He recorded 228 tackles and played a key role in the team’s 11-1 finish and run to the Sugar Bowl in 1978. Millen’s impact on and off the field earned him All-American honors and a decorated NFL career.

No. 23 – Keith Goganious (LB, 1987-1990)

Goganious was a tackling machine and leader of Penn State’s defense.

He recorded 305 tackles and played a pivotal role in the team’s undefeated season in 1986. Goganious’ impact earned him All-American honors and a successful NFL career.

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No. 22 – Kyle Brady (TE, 1991-1994)

Brady was a standout tight end known for his size, athleticism, and reliable hands.

He recorded 1,389 receiving yards and nine touchdowns, providing a reliable target for the Nittany Lions’ quarterbacks. Brady’s combination of blocking ability and receiving skills made him a key contributor to the offense.

No. 21 – Courtney Brown (DE, 1996-1999)

Brown was a dominant force in the trenches, wreaking havoc on opposing offensive lines, and ultimately being chosen No. 1 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft.

The focal point of a dominant 1999 Nittany Lions’ defense, Brown was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of The Year that season. Brown essentially took up residence in opposing backfields, finishing his career with 33 sacks and 70 tackles for loss.

No. 20 – Blair Thomas (RB, 1985-1989)

Thomas was a dynamic running back known for his speed and elusiveness.

He rushed for 3,301 yards and 22 touchdowns, becoming one of the program’s all-time leading rushers.

No. 19 – Dennis Onkotz (LB, 1967-1969)

Onkotz was a ferocious linebacker who wreaked havoc on opposing offenses.

He recorded 286 tackles and played a crucial role in Penn State’s undefeated 1968 season. Onkotz’s exceptional contributions earned him All-American honors and a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame.

No. 18 – Jeff Hartings (C, 1992-1995)

Hartings was a rock-solid center who commanded the offensive line with precision.

His exceptional blocking skills and leadership helped Penn State’s rushing attack thrive. Hartings received All-American recognition and went on to have a successful NFL career, earning two Pro Bowl selections.

No. 17 – Keith Dorney (OT, 1975-1978)

Dorney anchored Penn State’s offensive line during a successful era.

As a dominant left tackle, he provided exceptional pass protection and run blocking. Dorney’s impressive college career earned him consensus All-American honors and paved the way for a successful NFL tenure.

No. 16 – Chuck Fusina (QB, 1975-1978)

Perhaps the only things missing from Fusina’s resumé are a national championship (despite leading Penn State to an undefeated regular season in 1978), and a Heisman Trophy (finishing as the runner up to Billy Simms in 1978).

Fusina was named an All-American during his tenure with the Nittany Lions, and passed for 5,382 yards with 37 touchdowns to 32 interceptions across three years as a starter.

No. 15 – Bobby Engram (WR, 1991-1995)

Engram was a standout wide receiver known for his precise route-running and reliable hands.

He amassed 3,026 receiving yards and 31 touchdowns, setting multiple school records. Engram’s impressive career earned him the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver in 1994.

No. 14 – Shane Conlan (LB, 1983-1986)

Conlan was the heart and soul of Penn State’s tenacious defense.

He recorded 274 tackles, including 19.5 tackles for loss, and played a crucial role in the 1986 national championship run. Conlan’s impact was recognized with the Butkus Award and his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.

No. 13 – Richie Lucas (QB, 1957-1959)

Lucas was a trailblazer for Penn State, becoming the program’s first consensus All-American.

He threw for 3,411 yards and 29 touchdowns during his career, leading the Nittany Lions to their first-ever bowl victory in the 1959 Liberty Bowl. Lucas set numerous school passing records that stood for decades.

No. 12 – Michael Robinson (QB/RB, 2002-2005)

Robinson’s versatility and leadership were instrumental in Penn State’s success.

He seamlessly transitioned from quarterback to running back, recording a total of 2,350 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns. Robinson’s outstanding senior season earned him Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors.

No. 11 – Kerry Collins (QB, 1991-1994)

Collins was a maestro at the quarterback position, orchestrating Penn State’s potent offense.

He threw for 5,304 yards and 39 touchdowns during his college career, leading the Nittany Lions to an undefeated season and a Rose Bowl victory in 1994. Collins’ achievements earned him the Maxwell Award and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.

No. 10 – Curt Warner (RB, 1979-1982)

Warner’s powerful running style and breakaway speed made him a dominant force in the backfield. He recorded 3,398 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns, helping Penn State capture the national championship in 1982.

Warner’s memorable career earned him induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.

No. 9 – Trace McSorley (QB, 2015-2018)

Trace McSorley’s electrifying performances captivated fans during his time at Penn State.

He redefined the dual-threat quarterback position, shattering numerous school records. McSorley became the program’s all-time leader in passing yards (9,899) and touchdowns (77) and guided the Nittany Lions to a Big Ten championship in 2016.

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No. 8 – Ki-Jana Carter (RB, 1992-1994)

Carter’s explosive speed and agility made him one of the most exciting players in Penn State history.

He compiled 2,829 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns, averaging an impressive 7.8 yards per carry. Carter’s remarkable performances earned him consensus All-American honors in 1994.

No. 7 – Lenny Moore (HB, 1953-1955)

Moore was a dynamic playmaker during his tenure at Penn State.

His versatility as a running back and receiver made him a threat in all aspects of the game. Moore’s career totals include 2,274 all-purpose yards and 21 touchdowns, earning him a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame.

No. 6 – Franco Harris (RB, 1969-1971)

Harris played a crucial role in Penn State’s rise to national prominence.

Known for his powerful running style, he amassed 2,002 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns. Harris’s contributions extended to his memorable “Immaculate Reception” in the NFL, but his time at Penn State remains etched in Nittany Lion lore.

No. 5 – John Cappelletti (RB, 1970-1973)

Cappelletti’s outstanding performance earned him the Heisman Trophy in 1973.

His elusive running style and versatility led to 2,639 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns during his Penn State career. Cappelletti’s impact extended beyond the field, as his touching story of dedicating his Heisman season to his brother touched hearts nationwide.

No. 4 – Paul Posluszny (LB, 2003-2006)

Posluszny was the epitome of a leader on the field. A two-time consensus All-American, he showcased exceptional tackling skills and football IQ.

Posluszny’s 372 career tackles rank among the highest in program history, and he received the Chuck Bednarik Award twice.

No. 3 – Saquon Barkley (RB, 2015-2017)

Barkley’s explosiveness and agility made him a nightmare for opposing defenses.

A true playmaker, he amassed 5,038 all-purpose yards and 53 touchdowns during his time at Penn State. Barkley received numerous accolades, including the Paul Hornung Award and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.

No. 2 – LaVar Arrington (LB, 1997-1999)

Arrington was a force to be reckoned with on the defensive side of the ball.

A two-time first-team All-American, he amassed 19 sacks and 36 tackles for loss during his college career. His disruptive presence and game-changing plays earned him the Chuck Bednarik and Dick Butkus Awards in 1999.

No. 1 – Jack Ham (LB, 1967-1970)

Ham was a key pillar of Penn State’s renowned “Linebacker U” tradition.

His exceptional instincts and versatility made him a dominant force. He earned consensus All-American honors twice, and his 251 career tackles remain among the program’s best.

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