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Power Ranking Penn State Football’s Greatest Walk-On Players

Who doesn’t love an underdog story? By inspiring people to chase their dreams à la Rudy and Rocky, walk-on players hold a special place in any football fan’s heart.

After the NCAA recently published an article ranking some of college football’s greatest walk-on players, we set out to take a look at Penn State’s underdog heroes and round up our favorites.

No. 5 — Rocky Washington

Washington never had the stats that the other four players had because he only had legitimate playing time in his final season. But what makes him special is that he had never played a sport before walking on to Penn State.

He originally committed to Penn State-Beaver and played a season of basketball there. Later, a coach pushed him to walk onto the main campus football team as a wide receiver. He did and wound up recording with 11 receptions, 194 yards, and a touchdown in his final season.

That final go-around was the most football he had ever played in his life. Plus, he managed to win a national championship with the 1982 team. Not too shabby for a basketball recruit, eh?

No. 4 — Deon Butler

When thinking of great Penn State wide receivers, it’s easy to get lots in the Chris Godwins, Allen Robinsons, and DaeSean Hamiltons of the world. But before them came Deon Butler, who led the Nittany Lions in receiving yards in three consecutive seasons after breaking out as a freshman.

Butler left Penn State as its all-time leader in receptions, a record that was later broken by Hamilton. He also ranks third in receiving yards and touchdowns in school history, cementing himself as one of the best wideouts to ever grace Beaver Stadium.

Butler went on to find success in the NFL as well. The Seattle Seahawks selected him in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft at No. 91. He stayed with the team until 2012 and

No. 3 — Neal Smith

Although he’s no longer a household name, Smith became a Nittany Lion legend back in the 1960s thanks to his stellar play. In 1969, he became an All-American and recorded 10 interceptions — a single-season program record that still stands to this day.

Smith’s 19 career interceptions are also a program record. His mark has stood the test of time, and only two players have gotten close (both recording 15 in their careers). All of Smith’s records were set during Joe Paterno’s first few seasons as a head coach, establishing the coach’s trend of developing defensive talent.

No. 2 — Carl Nassib

Carl Nassib may be more well-known now for his NFL career than anything he did in college, but he burst onto the scene in 2015 while playing for the Nittany Lions. That season, he a program record with 16 sacks in a single season.

Nassib’s stellar play in 2015 helped him win the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Hendricks, and Lombardi Awards. He was also named a second-team All-American by USA Today.

His impressive college career helped him make his way to the NFL later on. In 2016, Nassib was selected in the third round by the Cleveland Browns. Since then, he’s played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the newly named Las Vegas Raiders.

No. 1 — Matt McGloin

McGloin became one of the most notable walk-ons in all of college football when he emerged as the Nittany Lions’ starting quarterback in 2010 after walking on in 2009. It wasn’t until his final season, however, that he really shined.

In that fateful season, he led the Big Ten with a program-record 270 completions, 3,271 yards passing yards, and 24 touchdowns. He later won the Burlsworth Trophy, which is annually presented to the best college football player who began his career as a walk-on. McGloin left Penn State as its all-time touchdown leader, which was later broken by Christian Hackenberg and Trace McSorley.

Upon graduating, McGloin signed with the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted free agent in 2013 and went on to play for the Houston Texans and the XFL’s New York Guardians.

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About the Author

Owen Abbey

Owen Abbey was a Secondary Education major before he graduated from the wonderful institution known as Penn State. When he was not writing for the blog, he enjoyed rooting for the Baltimore Orioles and Ravens, supporting Penn State basketball and softball, dreaming of all of the ways he would win the TV show "Survivor," and yes mom, actually doing school work. All of this work prepared him to teach his own class of students, which was always his true passion. He still can be found on Twitter @theowenabbey and can be reached for questions and comments at [email protected]

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