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Top 10 Penn State Football Players of All Time: Who is the Greatest Nittany Lion?

Top 11 Penn State Players of All Time!
Publish Date: 02/19/2024
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis

Penn State is one of the most iconic names in College Football history with the great Joe Paterno leading the Lions to national prominence. The Nittany Lions are known as Linebacker U and you could also call the Running back U as the Nittamy Lions have had more than their share of legendary running backs. The Nittany Lions list is as strong if not stronger than any other schools. Check out where the Nittany Lions ranak all-time on our Greatest College Football Programs of all time list.


What they did after playing at Penn State will have NO bearing on this list. Guys who starred for three or four years will fare much better on this list than guys with just one great season. Stats are huge but so is being a part of a great team and almost all of the guys on this list where.

10) Lydell Mitchell

Mitchell played an instrumental role in Penn State’s early 1970s resurgence of prominent running backs. He finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting after amassing 1,567 yards and 29 touchdowns (an NCAA record at that time), as well as 2,934 rushing yards which rank ninth all-time at Penn State and 38 touchdowns on the ground (both career leaders at Penn State). Mitchell was honored by being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Video: Top Lydell Mitchell Touchdowns | Lydell Mitchell Highlights

Top Lydell Mitchell Touchdowns | Lydell Mitchell Highlights

9) LaVar Arrington

At 6-foot-3 and over 250 pounds, Arrington was an imposing presence both during his time at Penn State and the NFL. Arrington became the first Nittany Lion to receive both the Butkus Award, honouring top linebackers, and the Bednarik Award, recognizing the best defensive player for recording 20 tackles for loss in 1999 – winning both honors.

For his career total of 39 tackles for loss — tied for eighth all-time at Penn State – as well as 19 career sacks — this two-time All-American recorded 38 totalled in 39 total and 11th on school history’s list.

Video: #Throwback | LaVar Arrington | Penn State | Highlights

#Throwback | LaVar Arrington | Penn State | Highlights

8) Dave Robinson

Most notably, in 1962, Robinson was honored as both an All-American and college player of the year by Newark Athletic Club; that season alone saw him catch 17 passes for 178 yards while being an indispensable presence on Penn State’s defensive frontlines. At his career’s conclusion, Penn State had went 24-8 with two bowl wins largely because of Robinson.

Robinson was an all-time great two way player and was one of the last ones at Penn State.

Video: Dave Robinson: Black Packers players struggled to find housing in 1960s

Dave Robinson: Black Packers players struggled to find housing in 1960s

7) Lenny Moore

Believe it or not, Lenny Moore was never named as a first-team all-American, but he was twice named to the second team. Moore was blazing fast and maybe the greatest open-field runner that the Nittany Lions ever had.

Moore played just 27 varsity games during his three-year varsity career at Penn State but scored 24 touchdowns and totaled 2,380 rushing yards that, entering 2023 season, ranked 14th all-time among Nittany Lions running backs. Moore posted 12 games of 100 or more rushing yards while collecting 3,543 all-purpose yards – 1,4886 of which occurred during the 1954 season, which set a school record; 7.96 average yards per carry from 1954 still stands as Penn State history’s No. 2.

With so many great running backs since, Moore’s legacy stands strong against time compared with most others Penn State has produced.

Video: Lenny Moore: The Most Explosive Running Back in NFL History

Lenny Moore: The Most Explosive Running Back in NFL History

6) Bobby Engram

Engram earned the inaugural Biletnikoff Award as an outstanding collegian receiver. He led Penn State to victory that year by collecting 52 receptions for 1,029 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 19.8 yards per catch; then set career highs of 63 catches for 1,084 and scored 11 times the following year – three-time All-Big Ten selection and All-American, Engram currently ranks eighth at Penn State all-time receiving yards (3,026) as well as receiving touchdowns (31). Furthermore, his career all-purpose yards (which includes 862 returns plus 155 rushes) rank eighth at Penn State.

Video: BOBBY ENGRAM - Senior Highlights (1995)

BOBBY ENGRAM – Senior Highlights (1995)

5) Curt Warner

Warner was honored with induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. Although time has passed, his legacy lives on in Penn State football’s record books: his 3,398 rushing yards rank third all-time at Penn State, while his 18 games with 100+ yards remain the highest total among any Nittany Lion.

Warner ran over 900 yards in three separate seasons at Penn State – earning first-team All-American honors as a junior, then helping Penn State win national champion status at season end with one final great season his senior year.

Video: Classic Tailback - Curt Warner Penn State Highlights

Classic Tailback – Curt Warner Penn State Highlights

4) Shane Conlan

Conlan was not recruited heavily out of High School, but damn he was good. In 1986 he was the leader of the Penn State defense. They stymied and upset the number one ranked Miami Hurricanes in the Fiesta Bowl to win the National Championship. Conlan played his greatest game that night, intercepting Vinny Testaverde twice, the last set up the game-winning score.

Penn State is known as Linebacker U, and Conlan may have been the best linebacker ever to play at Linebacker U. Find out where legendary Penn State coach Joe paterno ranks on our all-time greatest college football coaches list.

Video: Linebacker U Penn State Shane Conlan blows up the Sooners

Linebacker U Penn State Shane Conlan blows up the Sooners


3) Saquon Barkley

Barkley finished his career as Penn State’s all-time rushing touchdown (43) and total touchdown (53) record holder, surpassing Lydell Mitchell’s records. Barkley became only 1-of-2 Nittany Lions to reach the 5,000 all-purpose yard mark and the ninth player in school history to eclipse the 4,000 all-purpose yard mark…Set the school record with a touchdown scored in 15-straight games.

Barkley scored 18 touchdowns in back-to-back seasons to lead the Nittany Lion’s offense. See where Barkley ranks on the Greatest Big ten Running backs of all time list.

Video: “A Generational Talent” ᴴᴰ || Saquon Barkley Career Highlights || Penn State RB #26

“A Generational Talent” ᴴᴰ || Saquon Barkley Career Highlights || Penn State RB #26

2) Mike Reid

Reid was a captain on the Nittany Lion’s undefeated 1968 and 1969 teams that went 22-0. In his senior year (1969), the tackle spearheaded Penn State on defense with 89 tackles and was a unanimous All-America choice and All-East selection.

He won the Outland Trophy as the best College football interior lineman in 1969, and also was awarded the 1969 Maxwell Award and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Reid also wrestled at Penn State, and in 1967, he won the Eastern heavyweight wrestling title. Reid was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals and was an all-pro defensive tackle until he retired after 1974 to pursue his true love, music.

Video: Drafted To The NFL- Guest Mike Reid

Drafted To The NFL- Guest Mike Reid

1) Jack Ham

Jack Ham is the most outstanding outside linebacker I have ever seen, not named Lawrence Taylor. Ham is the only player in Penn State history to be inducted into the College Football and Pro Football Halls of Fame. He was an All-American senior captain in 1970, recording 91 tackles and four interceptions. Ham was also a great special teams player and had 3 blocked punts in 1970.

Video: Linebacker Jack Ham “The Hammer”

Linebacker Jack Ham “The Hammer”

Honorable Mentions

Matt Millen

Millen is tied for sixth all-time in school history with 22 sacks and 12th with 36 career tackles for loss. Additionally, during his three-year career at Penn State, he forced six fumbles, which places him among the top 10 performers in program history.

Dan Connor

At Penn State, it may come as a shock that Connor is the all-time leading tackler. Indeed, as a two-time, first-team All-Big Ten selection and All-American, he stands alone with 419 tackles, ranking second all-time for single-season tacklers at Penn State.

Richie Lucas

“Riverboat Richie” was well known for taking risks on the field and playing to his strengths during the 1959 season for the Penn State Nittany Lions football team. Lucas amassed 325 yards rushing while passing for 913 and five touchdowns; he also punted an average of 34.0 yards and picked off five passes. Lucas won the Maxwell Awards (best player of the country). He was second runner-up in Heisman Trophy Award voting that year before eventually being honoured by being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Paul Posluszny

Posluszny had an unparalleled knack for tracking down ball carriers. His 372 career tackles rank second at Penn State; 116 were posted during 2005 and 2006. Additionally, he won both the Bednarik Award and Butkus Award (in 2005). Also, he was an All-American twice over his two seasons there – 22 tackles were amassed against Northwestern alone that year!

Larry Johnson

Johnson amassed 2,087 of his 2,953 career rushing yards as a senior, breaking Penn State records with this effort and earning the Maxwell, Walter Camp, and Doak Walker Awards as a result. He only really had one season, but it was one of the greatest on College Football history!

Jeff Hartings

Hartings was another two-time All-American (1994, 1995), receiving first-team honors as one of the premier offensive guards. Under Hartings’ watch in Happy Valley, Penn State went 38-10 while winning both the Big Ten championship and three bowl games during his time there.

John Cappelletti 

Cappelletti rushed for 1,522 yards and 17 scores that season en route to winning the Heisman and Maxwell trophies and being named national player of the year. The story of John and his brother Joey was so great that they made a movie about the two.

Kerry Collins

Collins experienced an outstanding season at Penn State in 1994, amassing 2,679 passing yards (eighth-most in school history) and 21 touchdowns, tied for seventh (66.7% completion rate is still best at Penn State for any single season), leading him to be honored as Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and recipient of both Maxwell Awards – in addition to numerous other national accolades.

Ki Jana Carter

Carter made headlines for racking up 2,829 yards over his career, ranking 10th on its all-time rushing list with the 2,829 yards he amassed during that year alone – third-most among single seasons at Penn State that year and second among all-time seasons, garnering consensus All-American status while leading his Nittany Lions to a 12-0 start record along the way.

Steve Wisnewski

Wisniewski was an integral member of Penn State’s 1986 national championship squad and earned two All-American awards (1986 and 1987). At 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, he was an intimidating presence inside Penn State’s offensive line.

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