Who Is Penn State Football’s GOAT?
In 121 years of Penn State football, two national championship teams, 42 consensus All-Americans, 350 NFL draft picks, and countless fan favorites have called Happy Valley home. Plenty have left their marks in the record books and made lasting impressions on the program, but few are worthy of being in the conversation of who is the greatest of all time. Our staff took picks on who we believe is Penn State’s GOAT.
Anthony Colucci: Trace McSorley
Trace McSorley may not have a Heisman or national championship to his credit, but No. 9 will always be remembered as a winner. He leaves Happy Valley with a 31-9 record, owns nearly every passing record in program history, and carried the team to its current renaissance. Fans will never forget the magical run he led in 2016, winning nine straight games (and one Big Ten title) on a war path to the Rose Bowl. Although his career was far from perfect and anything but storybook, McSorley’s home run celebrations, gutsy throws, and ~moxie~ will live on forever. Greatness shouldn’t be measured in talent alone, but also in impact. And McSorley was (writing about him in the past tense still doesn’t feel right) transcendent.
Elissa Hill: John Cappelletti
John Cappelletti’s career statline speaks for itself. He ran for 29 touchdowns and more than 2,600 yards in two seasons, becoming the program’s first true star and to this day, only Heisman winner. If his accomplishments on the field aren’t enough for you, consider the fact that he dedicated his Heisman victory speech to his 11-year-old brother who had leukemia. “If I can dedicate this trophy to him tonight and give him a couple days of happiness, this is worth everything,” he said, describing how his battle was on Saturdays in the fall, while Joey’s never ended. Cappelletti had the legs and the heart of a [Nittany] Lion, and in my mind you can’t ask for much more.
Brian Bachman: Saquon Barkley
When people think Penn State football, the first thing they think is Saquon Barkley, and that iconic stature is what makes me believe he is the GOAT. In his three years, Barkley went from a relatively unknown four-star recruit to the best player in college football. He inspired many off the field, setting a standard and painting a picture of Penn State as one of college football’s top programs. Perhaps the most compelling factor in Barkley’s case for the greatest ever is timing. He arrived in Happy Valley during a time period when the once-elite program was in need of a superstar, and No. 26 quickly became that and much more.
With each hurdle and juke, Barkley played a large role in returning Penn State to its rightful place, another feat that seemed unattainable upon his arrival. He leads all Penn State running backs in touchdowns and is second in rushing yards. Although the only championship he can claim is the 2016 Big Ten title, it will be hard to argue he didn’t play a factor in any future success at Penn State.
Matt Ogden: Larry Johnson
Few football players have had a better season than Larry Johnson did in 2002. Johnson ran for 2,087 yards, breaking the program’s single-season rushing record by more than 500 yards. LJ2K eclipsed 2,000 yards with fewer carries than any running back in history at the time. Johnson also secured the top four spots of Penn State’s single-game rushing record in 2002, breaking his own record in three separate games. After the 2002 season, he was voted a unanimous All-American and a third-place Heisman
Watching Larry Legend carve up Big Ten defenses is the earliest Penn State memory I have, and one of the reasons I’ve been a lifelong fan and now student. Larry Johnson is four-year-old Matt’s favorite player and 20-year-old Matt’s choice for Penn State GOAT.
Mikey Mandarino: LaVar Arrington
Penn State is “Linebacker U,” so it only makes sense for the program’s GOAT to be its best linebacker. LaVar Arrington was an athlete in every sense of the word, and the iconic “LaVar Leap” is a perfect example of that. Arrington was 6’3″ and 257 pounds during his playing days, fast enough to be a track star in high school. In 1999, Arrington won the Butkus and Bednarik awards as the top linebacker and defensive player in college football after recording 20 tackles-for-loss, nine sacks, and two blocked kicks. He declared for the NFL Draft early after that season and was selected No. 2 overall by the Washington Redskins. Nobody else has ever struck fear into their opponents like LaVar Arrington, which is why he’s the greatest Nittany Lion to ever step foot on the turf of Beaver Stadium.
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