A Look Back At Penn State Football’s Historic Numbers
Penn State football is a program as rich in tradition and history as any other in the country, and a new chapter is about to begin.
The team officially announced last week that a special teams player will be the first Nittany Lion to ever wear No. 0, which is now permitted by the NCAA. Among many other qualities, the team said No. 0 will be a “game-changer” on the field.
Now that Penn State is looking to the future and creating a new tradition, we decided to look to the past and compile some of the best players from the team’s most historic numbers.
No. 11: LaVar Arrington, Brandon Bell, Micah Parsons, NaVorro Bowman, Matt McGloin
No. 11 is one of the most iconic and storied numbers in Penn State’s history. Any player who selects this number knows they have big shoes to follow.
The number’s history really starts with LaVar Arrington, one of the best linebackers to ever play at Penn State. Arrington played in Happy Valley from 1997 to 1999 and was a two-time All-American, Heisman Trophy finalist, and second-overall draft pick. He even appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
The “LaVar Leap” has also become one of the most memorable plays in Nittany Lion history. Guys like NaVorro Bowman, Brandon Bell, and Micah Parsons have since continued the Linebacker U tradition of donning No. 11.
Bell, a team captain, was an important part of Penn State’s stingy 2016 defense that led the team to a Big Ten Championship. He recorded 13 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble in the title game.
Although Parsons was never able to lift the team to such heights, his dominant 2019 campaign made him a consensus All-American and winner of the Butkus-Fitzgerald Lineback of the Year award. Parsons’ Cotton Bowl Classic performance also earned him a Defensive MVP award after he recorded 14 tackles, two sacks, and two forced fumbles.
Quarterback Matt McGloin is also a notable offensive player to wear No. 11. He set the single-season total offensive yards record in 2012 with 3,220, but that record has since been broken three times by Trace McSorley. He currently sits at No. 5 on Penn State’s all-time total touchdowns leaderboard with 53.
No. 12: Wally Triplett, Chris Godwin, Michael Robinson, Kerry Collins
Wally Triplett is perhaps one of the most important Penn State football players of all time. Triplett was one of the first-ever Black starters for Penn State and one of the first Black football players to ever be drafted.
Penn State orientation leaders will even tell you he’s behind the “We Are Penn State” slogan, formed after the Nittany Lions canceled their game against Miami when they were told to leave their Black players at home.
Chris Godwin, one of Penn State’s most efficient wide receivers ever, also wore No. 12 in Happy Valley. Godwin played an important part in Penn State’s 2016 Big Ten Championship as well, racking up 982 yards and 11 touchdowns during the season. He currently sits at No. 4 on the Nittany Lions’ all-time receiving touchdown list and has had an impressive career so far for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Michael Robinson and Kerry Collins were both impressive Nittany Lion quarterbacks. Robinson was an iconic dual-threat talent, playing both tailback and quarterback, and was eventually drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth round. He went on to play as both a running back and fullback, eventually winning a Super Bowl with the Seahawks.
Collins was an All-American at Penn State who went on to be a successful NFL quarterback for 17 years. He also won the prestigious Maxwell and Davey O’Brien awards with the Nittany Lions, given to the nation’s most outstanding player and the nation’s best passer, respectively.
Collins was selected fifth overall by the Panthers in 1995 and now ranks 16th in all-time NFL passing yardage and 11th in all-time passing completions. He appeared in Super Bowl XXXV with the Giants but couldn’t take home the Lombardi Trophy.
No. 12 is currently worn by linebacker Brandon Smith.
No. 14: Todd Blackledge, Christian Hackenberg, Chuck Fusina
No. 14 is another number traditionally worn by quarterbacks and is currently worn by gunslinger Sean Clifford. Blackledge, Hackenberg, and Fusina all played important roles in Penn State history.
Fusina started for the Nittany Lions from 1976 to 1978 and still holds the No. 7 spot on the program’s all-time leading passer list despite the game being mostly run-focused back then. Fusina was an All-American, recipient of the Maxwell Award, and Heisman Trophy runner-up in 1978.
Blackledge cemented his place in Nittany Lion history by leading the team to its first claimed national championship in 1982. He also received the Davey O’Brien Award that year. Blackledge was picked No. 7 overall in the 1983 NFL Draft ahead of legendary quarterback Dan Marino.
While Blackledge never found success as a professional football player, he did as a broadcaster. He’s served as an analyst, sideline reporter, and booth broadcaster at both the college and professional levels.
Hackenberg was Penn State’s starting quarterback from 2013 to 2015. He had an incredibly impressive freshman year under Bill O’Brien, winning the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award and five Freshman of the Week awards. He never quite reached that level of success when James Franklin took over in 2014 but still had a memorable career as a Nittany Lion.
No. 22: John Cappelletti, Evan Royster, Chuck Burkhart
No. 22 is perhaps the most storied and iconic number in Penn State’s program, as it’s the only one to ever be retired across any Penn State sport. Although the number was retired in Cappelletti’s name, other significant players have worn it as well.
Cappelletti played both defensive back and running back at Penn State, but was much more successful as a rusher. His long list of awards includes the UPI College Football Player of the Year, the Maxwell Award, and most notably, the Heisman Trophy in 1973. He’s the lone Penn State football player to win the most prestigious award in college football.
Cappelletti was also elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1993.
Royster also wore No. 22 from 2006 to 2010 at Penn State before being drafted by the now-Washington Football Team in 2011. He’s also currently the all-time leading rusher in Penn State history, largely due to him spending five years in the program. He put up nearly 4,000 yards in his collegiate career while also punching in 29 touchdowns, good for seventh-best all-time.
Chuck Burkhart was Penn State’s starting quarterback during 1968 and 1969, leading the team to consecutive 11-0 seasons. He threw for more than 2,000 yards in his career
No. 26: Saquon Barkley, Neal Smith
Although Barkley likely started his own tradition by wearing No. 26, All-American defensive back Neal Smith is certainly a legendary Nittany Lion as well.
Barkley will likely go down as the greatest Penn State running back of all time, barring another generational talent in Happy Valley. He played in Happy Valley from 2015 to 2017, collecting a laundry list of awards and accolades, including consensus All-American and Big Ten champion.
His 43 rushing scores are good for No. 1 in Penn State’s record books, five more than the next-closest person. Barkley’s electric, elusive playstyle made him one of the most exciting Nittany Lions to ever put on the blue and white. His success smoothly transitioned to the NFL, too.
Barkley was selected second overall by the New York Giants in 2018, where he easily picked up the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, Pro Bowl honors, and the FedEx Ground Player of the Year award just in his first season. He holds five total records at Penn State, five Giants franchise records, and five NFL records.
Neal Smith was an All-American in 1969 and still holds Penn State’s interception record with 19. Smith donned the number for three years, but his most successful season was in 1969 where he accumulated 10 picks in a flawless 11-0 campaign.
No. 26 is currently worn by true freshman Cazaih Holmes and redshirt junior Jonathan Sutherland. Holmes will try to fill Barkley’s shoes at running back, as he’s the first offensive player to wear that number since Barkley left for the NFL. Sutherland, a defensive leader, is already a team-favorite to wear No. 0.
No. 91: Tamba Hali, Jared Odrick
Hali, who went on the play linebacker at the professional level, was one of the most disruptive defensive linemen in Penn State history during his college days. He played under Joe Paterno from 2002 to 2005, becoming a unanimous All-American after his senior season.
Hali helped lead Penn State to a Big Ten Championship and Orange Bowl victory in 2005, when he led the Big Ten with 11 sacks and 17 tackles-for-losses. He was a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, presented to the country’s top defensive player, and the Ted Hendricks Defensive End Award.
Hali also had a successful professional career in Kansas City, playing 12 seasons with the Chiefs. He was also selected to the Pro Bowl in five straight seasons.
Before playing seven years in the NFL, Odrick was an incredible defensive lineman at Penn State. In 2009, he was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, and received First-team All-Big Ten honors — all from Big Ten coaches. He recorded six sacks, 41 tackles, and one blocked field goal. Odrick was selected No. 28 overall by the Dolphins in 2010.
No. 91 is currently worn by long snapper Chris Stoll.
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About the Author
Freiermuth may call Pittsburgh his home now, but he still hasn’t forgotten his roots.
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