Penn State Football: Updating the Nittany Lions All-Time Team

Back in 2011, after having researched extensively only to find a dearth of articles regarding an All-Time Penn State Nittany Lions football team, I wrote the following article that can be found at:

While writing the article, I thought that it would take an extraordinarily talented player to break into Penn State’s all-time lineup. That certainly proved to be the case. Here is the updated pre-2018 edition of Penn State’s all-time football team.

QB: Kerry Collins –  Collins won the Maxwell Award as the outstanding player in college football in 1994 and earns the selection over fellow Maxwell Award winner and Heisman trophy runner-up Chuck Fusina. Collins was the conductor of arguably the greatest offense in college football history. In 1994, Collins completed 66.7 percent of his passes and had a passer rating of 172.86.

Current Penn State quarterback Tracey McSorley is being touted as a Heisman candidate in 2018 and may end up owning most of Penn State’s career passing records by the time he is through. Having led Penn State to two major bowl games, a stellar senior season may put McSorley in the discussion as Penn State’s all-time quarterback.

RB: Saquon Barkley – What can be said about Saquon Barkley that has not already been said? Just watching his jaw-dropping runs speaks volumes and yet leaves one speechless. Statistics do not tell the story of Barkley but yet he is the first Penn State running back to gain over 3,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving and he accomplished that by midway of his junior season. His 358 total yards against Iowa set a new Penn State single game total yardage record.

Barkley is second in career rushing yardage with 3,843 in only three seasons and is Penn State’s all-time leader in yards from scrimmage with 5,038 yards. Barkley is only one of two running backs at Penn State to be named an All-American twice. The other joins him in the all-time Penn State backfield.

RB: Curt Warner – An All-American in 1981 and 1982, upon graduation Warner was Penn State’s all-time leading rusher with 3,398 yards. He is still Penn State’s all-time leader in 100-yard games with 18.

In 1981, Warner set the record for most yards rushing in a game with 256 yards against Syracuse. A few weeks later, Warner rushed for 238 yards against Nebraska in Lincoln, which Husker fans still remember.

Warner led Penn State in rushing for three consecutive seasons and was at his best in bowl games, rushing for over 100 yards against Ohio State, USC, and Georgia. Warner was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009.

When Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti and All-Americans such as Ki-Jana Carter, Blair Thomas, Charlie Pittman, Lydell Mitchell, Curtis Enis and Larry Johnson do not make your starting lineup, that verifies that Penn State’s history of running backs is certainly a rich and an illustrious one.

WR: Bobby Engram – Winner of the Biletnikoff Award in 1994 and generally recognized as Penn State’s finest wide receiver, Engram is Penn State’s career receiving yards leader and was the first Penn State receiver to have over 1,000 yards receiving in a season – and he did it twice.

WR: Kenny Jackson – A two-time All-American in 1982 and 1983, Jackson was Blackledge’s main receiving target on Penn State’s 1982 national championship team. His 25 career touchdown receptions still rank second in Penn State history behind Engram’s 31.

Had Allen Robinson stayed for his senior season, he may well have been in the top two receivers in Penn State history. Robinson earned All-America status in 2013 and that season set Penn State’s single-season yards receiving mark. Along with Engram, Robinson is the only other Penn State wide receiver with two 1,000-yard plus receiving seasons.

While Mike Gesicki set new career and single season receiving records for a tight end at Penn State, the position of tight end on the all-time squad still belongs to Ted Kwalick.

TE: Ted Kwalick – When asked about Kwalick, Joe Paterno said, “What God had in mind when he made a football player.” Penn State’s first two-time All-American in ’67 and ’68, Kwalick was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1989 and was named to Sports Illustrated’s NCAA All-Century Team.

OT: Keith Dorney – A two-time All-American tackle in 1977 and 1978, Dorney helped lead Penn State to a 22-2 record during those seasons. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005.

OT: Levi Brown – A four-year starter and two-time second team All-American tackle in 2005 and 2006, Brown’s play helped open up holes for running back Tony Hunt, enabling Hunt to rush for over 3,000 yards in his career.

C: Glenn Ressler – Ressler was an All-American and the Maxwell Award winner in 1964. He gets the nod over All-American and Rimington Award winner A.Q. Shipley. Ressler was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2001.

OG: Sean Farrell – A two-time All-American in 1980 and 1981, Farrell helped open the holes for Curt Warner to become Penn State’s then all-time leading rusher.

OG: Jeff Hartings – A two-time All-American in 1994 and 1995 and leader on the offensive line of one of college football’s most prolific offenses.

AP: Lenny Moore – For Penn State’s all-purpose player, who better than Penn State’s finest all-around football player, Lenny Moore?

In addition to playing running back, Moore was also a standout defensive back and had 10 career interceptions while at Penn State. In 1954, Moore averaged 8.0 yards per carry and 17.5 yards on punt returns.

Simply put, Moore could do it all, and do it all very well, and went on to be an NFL Hall-of-Famer. Paterno said, “Lenny Moore was probably the best football player I’ve ever coached, all-around. He was super.”  That is good enough for me.

PR:  O.J. McDuffie – McDuffie was one of the most electrifying and exciting players in Penn State history. He led Penn State in punt returns for three seasons. In 1989, he averaged 14.8 yards per return, and in 1991 he had two punt returns for touchdowns.

KR: Curt Warner – Warner is second all-time in career kickoff return average with a 28.8-yard average and a record three touchdowns on 32 returns. In 1979, Warner averaged 29 yards per return on 17 returns and in 1980; he bettered that as two of his 10 returns went for touchdowns and averaged 35 yards per return.

K:  Matt Bahr – An All-American in 1978, Bahr made four field goals in a game four times that season finishing with 22 that season and a field goal percentage of .815. Matt’s brother, Chris, was also an All-American, and had more field goals of over 50 yards than Matt, but Matt was the more accurate of the two.

P:  John Bruno – Bruno is the only punter in Penn State history to have over 200 punts with only one block and average over 40 yards per punt. Bruno is best known for his punting in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl and national championship game, forcing Miami to have long drives against Penn State’s tough defense.

It remains to be seen but Penn State’s current punter Blake Gillikin, after his two seasons has a 43.0 punting average good for a tie with George Reynolds trailing only Jeremy Boone’s average of 43.1. Gillikin may be on his way to becoming Penn State’s all-time punter.

In turning to the defense, Penn State’s all-time defensive line and linebackers may be the best of any school in the country.

DT:  Mike Reid and Bruce Clark – Both Reid and Clark won the Outland Trophy and were recognized as the best interior lineman in the country.

Reid won the Maxwell Award in 1969 and was inducted into the College Football Hall of fame in 1987. He was named to Sports Illustrated’s NCAA All-Century team.

Clark was the first junior to win the Lombardi Award and was an All-American again as a senior. Perhaps no other pair of defensive tackles from any school would be considered as dominant as Reid and Clark, with perhaps some consideration for Nebraska’s Rich Glover and Ndamukong Suh.

DE: Courtney Brown and Michael Haynes – Brown and Haynes were two outstanding pass rushers for the Nittany Lions. Brown was an All-American in 1999 and Haynes an All-American in 2002.

Brown holds Penn State’s career sack record (33) and career tackles for loss (70). Haynes led Penn State in sacks for three consecutive seasons and had 15 sacks in 2002. Some may call for Tamba Hali to be one of Penn State’s all-time defensive ends, but Haynes’ career and career numbers are more impressive.

Lombardi winner Carl Nassib may have had the most impressive season of a Penn State defensive end in 2015 setting a Penn State sack record with 16, but for overall career body of work, Nassib does not surpass Brown and Haynes.

One was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, another is Penn State’s single-season tackle leader and yet another won the Bednarik Award and is Penn State’s all-time leader in tackles, but none of them got selected to Penn State’s all-time team!

That is why Penn State is called Linebacker U. If one wasn’t a two-time All American linebacker, it diminished one’s chances of making Penn State’s all-time team. For my selections, we’re going to go with four linebackers using a 4-4-3 defense that Paterno used in the ‘60s to bring Penn State into national prominence.

LB: Paul Posluszny – Not only was Posluszny an All-American in 2005 and 2006, but he also won the Butkus Award and was a two-time winner of the Bednarik Award as the outstanding defensive player in the country. Posluszny was Penn State’s all-time leader tackler when he graduated.

LB: Dennis Onkotz – Onkotz laid the foundation for Penn State to become Linebacker U. He was a two-time first-team All-American in 1968 and 1969, and a second-team All-American in 1967. Onkotz was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1995.

Onkotz was athletic enough to return punts for the Nittany Lions, averaging over 13 yards per return. He has the most career interceptions of any Penn State linebacker with 11, averaging 25 yards on interception returns with three for touchdowns.

LB: Lavar Arrington – A two-time All-American in 1998 and 1999, Arrington was the recipient of the Butkus Award in 1999 as the nation’s premier linebacker. He also won the Bednarik Award that year as the outstanding defensive player in the country.

His athletic ability made him a big-play defensive weapon on defense. Arrington finished ninth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1999 and was Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 1998 – as a sophomore.

LB: Shane Conlan – Conlan was a two-time All-American and the linchpin on a defense that led Penn State to back-to-back National Championship games for the 1985 and 1986 seasons.

Paterno said of Conlan, “We’ve never asked a linebacker to do as many things as we’ve asked him to do.” Conlan showed his greatness playing like an All-American in both championship games and had two interceptions against Miami in the Fiesta Bowl to help Penn State win a national championship.

The list of some of those who were not selected is very impressive as well. Jack Ham, All-American in 1970 and inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1990; Greg Buttle, All-American in 1975 and Buttle still holds the single-season tackle record with 165 in 1974; and Dan Connor, Bednarik Award winner in 2007 and Penn State’s all-time career tackle leader.

DB: Alan Zemaitis – Zemaitis twice led Penn State in interceptions finishing with 12 and set a Big Ten record in 2003 with 207 yards on interception returns. In 2005, Zemaitis had six interceptions and was named second team All-American.

DB: Neal Smith – Smith, an All-American in 1969, is still Penn State’s career interception leader with 19 nearly 50 years after his playing days. Smith’s single-season interception mark of 10 passes in 1969 has never been bettered and matched only by Pete Harris in 1978. Smith intercepted eight passes in 1968 and his 1968 and 1969 interception marks are two of the five highest in Penn State history.

DB: Mark Robinson – Robinson, a hard-hitting safety, was named All-American in 1982 and was instrumental in helping to stop Herschel Walker in the Sugar Bowl for Penn State’s first national championship.

At some positions, one can make a strong case for any number of players, so deep are the Lions in their football history. Few schools can compare with Penn State’s all-time team, particularly the defensive line and linebackers. It is little wonder why Penn State is called Linebacker U.

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:









Updating the Pittsburgh Panthers All-Time Football Team

Back in 2011, after trying unsuccessfully to find a recent article regarding an All-Time Pitt Panthers football team, I wrote the following article that can be found at: The past six years has allowed us sufficient time to revisit the subject and to see what players may have earned their way on to Pitt’s all-time team.

Pitt’s all-time team would rank among the best that have ever played college football. Presenting the updated University of Pittsburgh’s All-Time team:

At quarterback, who else could it be but No. 13, Dan Marino? Marino will forever be the benchmark for future Pitt quarterbacks and what Sparky Anderson said about Johnny Bench can be applied to Dan Marino and to Pitt quarterbacks before and after Marino, “Don’t embarrass anyone by comparing them to Dan Marino.”

An All-American in 1981, Marino broke nearly every major passing record in school history and still holds the school record for most touchdown passes in a career with 79 and in a season with 37. Marino was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002.

Behind Marino in the backfield are two running backs that, like Marino, had their jersey number retired by the University of Pittsburgh.  If anyone would not select Tony Dorsett to Pitt’s all-time team, then automatically consider that list null and void. Dorsett is on the short list of the greatest running backs in college football history.

Dorsett was a four-time All-American and won the Heisman Trophy in 1976, leading Pitt to a national championship. He was one of the few running backs ever that was a threat to go the distance on every carry and Dorsett set an NCAA career rushing record with 6,081 yards, the first player ever to rush for over 6,000 yards.  Dorsett was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1994 and was named to Sports Illustrated’s NCAA All-Century Team.

Some may want to list James Conner in Pitt’s all-time backfield to join Dorsett. Conner did finish with 3,733 yards rushing and 56 touchdowns in his college career. Pitt had quite a few other outstanding running backs over the years as well: Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, Randy McMillan, Curtis Martin, Curvin Richards, LeSean McCoy, and Dion Lewis, just to name a few, and some would argue that one of them should be Dorsett’s backfield mate on Pitt’s all-time team, but the choice here is Marshall Goldberg.  None of the others has their number retired nor led their team to two national championships like Goldberg did.

For that matter, how many players finish in the top three in Heisman Trophy voting two years in a row? Goldberg, a two-time All-American, finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1937, was the Heisman runner-up in 1938, and held the Pitt career rushing mark for nearly 40 years until Dorsett came along. When you finish in the top three for the Heisman Trophy twice and your jersey number is retired, there is no doubt you were a great player.

At wide receiver, there is no debate in selecting Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald won the Biletnikoff and Walter Camp Awards in 2003 and finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting, the highest finish for a sophomore in the history of the award. In 26 games at Pitt, he had back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons, averaged over 100 yards per game receiving, caught 34 touchdown passes and set an NCAA record with at least one touchdown catch in 18 consecutive games. Fitzgerald still holds Pitt’s single-season records for receptions, 92, and receiving yardage, 1,672. Had he stayed for his junior and senior seasons Fitzgerald would probably be considered the greatest wide receiver in college football history.

Despite being Pitt’s all-time career leader in receptions with 254 and receiving yards with 3,361, Tyler Boyd does not break into the lineup as the other Pitt’s all-time wide receiver. Joining Fitzgerald at the other wide receiver position is another Biletnikoff Award winner, Antonio Bryant. As a sophomore in 2000, Bryant was Big East Offensive Player of the Year, leading the nation in receiving yards per game, and went on to become Pitt’s all-time leader in receiving yards with 3,061 before Boyd surpassed it.

At tight end, no player before or since embodied hard-nosed smash mouth football more than Mike Ditka. Ditka, an All-American in 1960, led the Panthers in receiving for three consecutive seasons. His number 89 has been retired by Pitt and Ditka was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and he was named to Sports Illustrated’s NCAA All-Century Team.

Since 2011, Pitt’s had some fine offensive linemen earn All-American honors such as Dorian Johnson, Adam Bisnowaty and Brian O’Neill, but Pitt’s all-time offensive line is a difficult one to break into which speaks to the outstanding play of those individuals.

Some great offensive tackles have played at Pitt. Players like two-time All-American Jimbo Covert, and All-Americans Randy Dixon and Reuben Brown, but when you think about Pitt’s offensive line, particularly the tackle position, two players stand out above the rest, Bill Fralic and Mark May.

Fralic was a three-time All-American and finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1983 and sixth in 1984, which is remarkable for a modern-day offensive lineman. Fralic was one of the greatest offensive tackles in college football history, and was named to the Sports Illustrated NCAA All-Century Team and is in the College Football Hall of Fame.

May won the Outland Trophy in 1980 as the best lineman in the country, and did not give up a sack his final two years at Pitt. An All-American in 1980, May was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005.

Both Fralic and May have their uniform numbers retired, and when you are one of the very few to have your uniform retired by your university, you should be on your school’s all-time team.

At guard, the choices are Mark Stepnoski and Ray Montgomery. Stepnoski was an All-American in 1988 and helped open holes that allowed Curvin Richards to rush for over 1,200 yards that year.  Montgomery was All-American in 1929, and Panthers’ legendary coach Jock Sutherland called Montgomery the perfect guard. That’s good enough for me.

There have been some outstanding centers for Pitt, but how many were three-time All-Americans?  Only one. Bob Peck was Pitt’s only three-time All-American center. Peck anchored Pitt’s offensive line and earned national recognition in 1914, 1915 and 1916 and helped lead Pitt to national championships in 1915 and 1916. Peck was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954. If you make All-American three times, you have earned a spot on your school’s all-time team, period. Peck gets the nod over two-time All-American and fellow College Football Hall-of-Famer Herb Stein.

In a city that appreciates defensive football, Pitt fans in the ‘70s witnessed a player for the ages. At defensive end was one of the best in college football history, Hugh Green, a three-time All-American.  Green finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1980 and received the Maxwell Award as the top player in the nation and the Walter Camp Award for the college football player of the year. Green’s number 99 was retired by Pitt and he was named to the Sports Illustrated NCAA All-Century Team. Green is still Pitt’s all-time sack leader with 49.

Defensive ends Jabaal Sheard and Ejuan Price both had All-American seasons since 2011 but the other defensive end on Pitt’s All-Time team is Green’s teammate Rickey Jackson. Jackson and Green teamed up to give Pitt the finest set of defensive ends in the country. Jackson finished his career at Pitt as the school’s fifth all-time leading tackler.

At defensive tackle, the first choice is unquestionably Aaron Donald. In 2013, Donald became Pitt’s most decorated defensive tackle ever winning the Bednarik Award, the Lombardi Award, the Outland Trophy and the Nagurski Trophy for his outstanding play that year. Donald won just about every award he was eligible for other than the Heisman Trophy. Donald finished his career at with 29.5 sacks and 66 tackles for loss. The other choice at defensive tackle is All-American Randy Holloway.  Holloway was All-American in 1977 and his 33.5 sacks are still second all-time in Pitt history.

At linebacker for Pitt, you have a trio of All-Americans:  Jerry Olsavsky, Joe Schmidt, and H.B. Blades. You could do more than pencil in Olsavsky for 100 tackles a year; you could put it in ink and guarantee it.

Joe Schmidt was a leader and team captain for the Panthers and was named an All-American in 1952 and later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000. Schmidt’s number 65 has been retired by Pitt.

H.B. Blades was an All-American in 2006 and was Big East defensive player of the year that year. Blades was a three-time All-Big East selection and he is third all-time in career tackles at Pitt with 433.

At cornerback, one has to select Darrelle Revis. One could see while at Pitt that Revis could play alone on an island at cornerback and would do well in the NFL. Revis tied and/or led the Panthers in interceptions in 2005 and 2006 and had two interception returns for touchdowns in 2006.

At the other cornerback spot, the pick is Tim Lewis. Lewis was a two-year starter at cornerback and was selected by the Green Bay Packers as the 11th overall player selected in the first round of the 1983 NFL draft.

At one safety spot is Pitt’s all-time interception leader Bob Jury. Jury picked off 21 passes while at Pitt, and still holds the two highest interception totals for a season in Pitt history, intercepting 10 passes in 1976 and eight in 1977. Jury was named All-American in 1977.

At the other safety spot is Carlton Williamson. Williamson is best remembered for the pick-six interception against Penn State in 1980 to seal a Pitt victory over arch-rival Penn State, but his steady play drew the attention of the San Francisco 49ers, becoming a member of their Super Bowl winning teams after his playing days at Pitt.

Pitt’s all-time kicker is Conor Lee. Lee shares the school record making 12 consecutive field goals and holds Pitt’s career field goal percentage record with 83.3%.

The choice for punter on Pitt’s all-time team is Brian Greenfield. Greenfield holds both the highest season and highest career punting averages at Pitt and was named an All-American in 1990.

The choice for kick returner used to be Hank Poteat. Whereas Poteat never returned a kickoff for a touchdown in his 81 kickoff returns, Quadree Henderson returned four in 73 returns. Henderson’s career average of 26.6 is nearly three yards per return better than Poteat and Henderson averaged 30.5 yards a return in 2016.

Make room again for Henderson as Pitt’s all-time punt returner as well. Tom Flynn still is Pitt’s leader in career punt return yardage with 983 with two touchdowns in 122 returns and an 8.1 yards punt return average. Just how good was Henderson though? Henderson had three touchdowns in 37 returns and a 13.4 yards career punt return average.

There you have it, Pitt’s all-time team, which would certainly be in the upper echelon of all-time college teams.

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites.  This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog: