An Penn State Nittany Lions helmet sits on the field during warmups Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

When you think of the Penn State Nittany Lions football team, you probably think of great linebackers and great running backs, having been known as Linebacker U and Running Back U. The program is also known for winning national championships and a football tradition that is almost unparalleled when compared to many others around the nation.

This list of the top 10 Nittany Lions of all time was not easy, but we narrowed it down to the players who made the biggest impact on this program. Here is our list of the top 10 Penn State Nittany Lions of all time.

10. Dave Robinson, wide receiver & defensive end

A two-way player who played wide receiver and defensive end, Dave Robinson led Penn State as a senior to a 9–1 regular season, caught 17 passes for 178 yards, and was named a first-team All-American. The MVP of the 1962 Gator Bowl, he was named College Player of the Year by the Newark Athletic Club and College Lineman of the Year by the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association. Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997, he went on to have a celebrated NFL career with three NFL Championships and two Super Bowl wins.

9. Ted Kwalick, tight end

Ted Kwalick is probably the greatest tight end to ever play for the Nittany Lions. In his college career, he garnered 1,343 receiving yards receiving and 10 touchdowns. His best year was 1967 when he averaged 15 yards per catch, garnered 563 receiving yards, and scored four touchdowns. He went on to be the first-round draft choice of the San Francisco 49ers and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1989.

8. Lenny Moore, running back

Lenny Moore was one of the best Nittany Lions to ever put on the uniform. One of the first great running backs to come out of Happy Valley, Moore came to Penn State in 1952, a time when most major predominantly white colleges didn’t have integrated football teams. He would leave the school as their all-time leader in 100-yard rushing yard games (12), total rushing yards (2,380), all-purpose yards (3,543), and single-season all-purpose yards (1,486 in 1954). Moore was also a two-time All-American. He would go on to have a stellar career in the NFL with the Baltimore Colts and is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

7. Chuck Fusina, quarterback

Chuck Fusina has one of the highest winning percentages in college football history. He left school with a .900 winning percentage as a quarterback, with his best year coming in 1977 when threw for over 2,200 yards and 15 touchdowns. Penn State only lost three games with Fusina as their starter. The consensus All-American and Maxwell Award winner finished second in the Heisman Trophy race behind Oklahoma running back Billy Sims in 1978. Fusina finished his college career with over 5,382 passing yards, 37 passing touchdowns, and six rushing scores. He went on to play in the USFL and briefly in the NFL.

Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Kerry Collins
Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Kerry Collins. Credit: Photo By USA TODAY Sports

6. Kerry Collins, quarterback

Kerry Collins’ 5,304 career passing yards is third in Penn State history and he is one of just three quarterbacks to top 5,000 yards at the school. In 1994, Collins cleaned up the awards, taking home the Davey O’Brien, Maxwell, Sammy Baugh, and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. The All-American threw for over 2,600 yards and 21 touchdowns that year, leading the Nittany Lions to an undefeated season and Rose Bowl victory (Nebraska was named national champion). Collins would go on to have a solid NFL career, leading the New York Giants to a Super Bowl. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2018.

5. Shane Conlan, linebacker

Shane Conlan was the defensive anchor on the 1986 Penn State team that won the national championship. Conlan was a captain and led that team in tackles with 79, including a team-high 63 solo stops. During his final two collegiate seasons, he was named an All-American at outside linebacker, making him the sixth two-time All-American at Penn State. Conlan was also a finalist for the Butkus Award that season and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He would go on to play for both the Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams. A 2014 fan vote on the Big Ten Network included Conlan on “The Mount Rushmore of Penn State Football.”

4. Jack Ham, linebacker

Jack Ham played a huge part in those dominant Penn State teams of the 1970s, two of which went undefeated. In 1970, his senior season, The co-captain and All-American garnered 91 tackles and four interceptions. He had 251 career tackles, 143 of which were unassisted. He also blocked three punts in one season, a record that stood for 20 years. Ham went on to be drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1971 draft and was part of the Steel Curtain defense that led them to four Super Bowl wins. Ham was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1990.

Penn State Nittany Lions running back Saquon Barkley
Penn State Nittany Lions running back Saquon Barkley. Credit: Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

3. Saquon Barkley, running back

Saquon Barkley carried on the tradition of great Penn State running backs and carved his own place in Nittany Lions history.

After rushing for 1,496 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2016, he rushed for 1,271 yards and scored 20 total touchdowns in 2017. That year, he finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting, third in Maxwell Award voting, and received various national and Big Ten Conference awards. During his three-year collegiate career, he set Penn State records for most all-purpose career yards (5,538), most career rushing touchdowns (43), most career receiving yards by a running back (1,157), most rushing yards by a freshman and sophomore, and most total yards in a single game.

LaVar Arrington
LaVar Arrington on the red carpet prior to the NFL Honors award ceremony. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

2. LaVar Arrington, linebacker

LaVar Arrington may be the greatest linebacker to ever play for the Nittany Lions, which is saying a lot. Arrington received several honors during his college playing days, including winning the Chuck Bednarik Award, Dick Butkus Award, and Lambert Award in 1999. He was also an All-Big-Ten selection, a first-team All-American in 1998, and a consensus first-team All-American in 1999. He was Mr. Everything to that Nittany Lions defense in the late 1990s. Arrington was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2022.

1. John Cappelletti, running back

The legend of John Cappelletti is well-known to most college football fans. Cappelletti was one, if not the best, running back to ever play for legendary head coach Joe Paterno. Cappelletti won the 1973 Heisman Trophy rushing for 1,522 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also was a unanimous All-American, Maxwell Award, and Walter Camp Award winner that same season. Cappelletti gained over 100 yards thirteen times and finished his Penn State career with 2,639 yards and 29 touchdowns. That’s an average of 120 yards per game. Cappelletti’s Heisman acceptance speech, where he dedicated the award to his brother Joey, who was dying of leukemia,  is remembered as one of the most special moments in college football history.

About Stacey Mickles

Stacey is a 1995 graduate of the University of Alabama who has previously worked for other publications such as Sportskeeda and Saturday Down South.