Just one?

Penn State fans find it hard to pick a favorite player

Submitted photo
Penn State fan Marc Attivo against his wall of photos. Next to him is his autographed canvas of Saquon Barkley (26), whom he says is one of his two favorite players.

LEWISTOWN — Since it’s game day, it’s time for a Penn State Pop Quiz:

Who’s your favorite Nittany Lion football player of all-time? Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Only

one now.

Marc Attivo failed because he couldn’t select just one player. The 47-year-old Lewistown man’s not alone.

Die-hard Penn State fans might have trouble picking one player per decade, let alone one overall. Attivo whittled his list to two choices.

“My two favorite players would be LaVar Arrington and Saquon Barkley,” Attivo said. “As a guy who played linebacker in college, I always tend to watch the linebackers closely. It was impossible for me to go to a live PSU game and not keep my eyes locked on Arrington.

“For Barkley, he was one of the most explosive college running backs during my time of watching college football,” he added.

Other fans shared their faves from Penn State football lore, and it turned into a historical collection of Nittany Lion greats complete with etched memories of games gone by.

Attivo has canvas prints hanging in his man cave of Arrington and Barkley, who both excelled in the NFL.

“LaVar Arrington did absolutely amazing things due to his incredible athleticism,” Attivo said. “I vividly remember the moments he would time the snap and leap over the line to perfectly time stopping a fourth and one run,” he added. “He was exciting to watch.”

Attivo added of Barkley, who still plays for the New York Giants, “His combination of speed and power was hard to match. He also had a penchant for leaping over opposing players.”

While Arrington and Barkley were his “final answers,” there were others he considered.

“My dad made me have major love for Jack Ham and Franco Harris, who became Steeler legends after their time as PSU legends,” Attivo said. “I also ended up meeting both of them, and my dad and I actually had an hour-long conversation with Ham at a bar during a lucky run-in.”

Some others share their favorites:

Journey Brown (2017-20)

Running back Journey Brown will always be remembered for what could have been, rather than what was.

After redshirting his first year in 2017, Brown played in eight games in 2018 and rushed for 44 yards with a touchdown. In 2019, he started 10 games and ran for 890 yards and 12 touchdowns. He earned MVP honors at the 2019 Cotton Bowl after running for a school bowl-game record of 202 yards. Tragically, Brown was forced to retire from football due to a heart condition in November 2020.

“He was such an awesome player and I feel he would have gone on to a successful career in the NFL,” said Tina Walls of Reedsville of her favorite Nittany Lion. “I feel really bad for him, but he handled it with such grace.”

Trace McSorley (2014-18)

Mike Smith of Lewistown’s favorite Penn State player is Trace McSorley, one of the all-time great Nittany Lion signal callers. McSorley is currently a backup quarterback for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals.

“He was a dual threat QB, always played hard and never backed down,” Smith said.

McSorley went 31-9 in Happy Valley and posted a pair of 11-win campaigns, guiding Penn State to wins in the 2016 Big Ten Championship Game and 2017 Fiesta Bowl. He received Most Valuable Player honors for both games.

McSorley was taken by the Baltimore Ravens in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

Kerry Collins (1991-94)

The 1994 team was full of players to love: Kerry Collins, Ki-Jana Carter, Mike Archie, Kyle Brady, Bobby Engram, and Freddie Scott made up the greatest offense Penn State has ever seen.

With Collins at quarterback, the Nittany Lions completed an undefeated campaign, capped by a Rose Bowl win over Oregon.

For Marlin Groce of Lewistown, Collins became his favorite when he orchestrated “The Drive.” Collins orchestrated 90-yard-plus drive for the game-winning TD at Illinois to keep a perfect season intact.

“The way he led that potent offense in the drive against Illinois after being down, 21-0,” Groce said. “Beating them, 35-31, to clinch their first-ever Big Ten title and Rose Bowl bid.”

Collins was later selected in the 1995 NFL Draft as a first-round pick by the Carolina Panthers.

Shane Conlan (1982-86)

Shane Conlan won two national championships in 1982 and 1986, although he red-shirted and did not play in 1982. His second interception against Miami in the Fiesta Bowl set up the game-winning touchdown.

“I remember Shane Conlan being injured for that Fiesta Bowl game, and the way he gutted it out really stuck with me,” said Ray Hoppel of Lewistown. “His teammates played exactly the same way. If that game is played 10 times, Penn State probably only wins once, but it happened to be the one that counted.”

Conlan was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the first round of the 1987 NFL Draft.

John Cappelletti (1970-73)

This was a difficult decision for Bret Treaster of Lewistown, a Penn State graduate.

“I have friends that played, and I still keep in touch with,” he said, referring to Ao Polamalu and John Greene, members of the 1986 national championship team.

In December 2014, the Big Ten Network included Arrington, Ham, Conlan and John Cappelletti on “The Mount Rushmore of Penn State Football,” as chosen by online fan voting.

“I guess among my all-time favorites would be “Cappy” for the obvious reason — a Heisman Trophy winner,” Treaster said. “I always had his jersey as a kid — PSU and the Rams. “I would have to say LaVar Arrington. How can you not pick a linebacker from Linebacker U? He was a freak of nature.”


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