With 76 first-team All-Americans and hundreds of future pros, Joe Paterno turns out the talent.
Here, then, is a Penn State all-star team during Paterno's tenure as head coach, based on player accomplishments in college and, in the case of a close call, how well the player fared in the pros.
The all-time JoePa offense is explosive, and the Paterno defensive line and linebackers might be as good as any collegiate football factory can claim.
Linebacker, as you might have known, is a strong point, as Paterno has guided 13 linebackers to 18 first-team All-American seasons since becoming head coach in 1966. That depth at linebacker also is why we're using an old-school 4-4-3 defense.
The all-time JoePa team:
Kerry Collins, Chuck Fusina, Todd Blackledge and John Hufnagel rise to the top. Collins is the pick because he had a much better TD-to-interception ratio than the others and because in 1994 he directed one of the most dominant college offenses in history. That year -- against Big Ten competition -- was the greatest single season for a Lion quarterback, including the seminal moment: the long game-winning TD drive led by Collins in the final minutes to beat Illinois on the road. Tried hard to pick Fusina, who was a winner and a heckuva leader during the late 1970s golden era but had too many career interceptions. And don't forget Tony Sacca, who started four years and had a spectacular 1991.
No Lion was slicker than Curt Warner, a cutback virtuoso with great numbers who scored two touchdowns in the January 1983 Sugar Bowl when Penn State won its first national title. He gets the nod. Also partial to tackle-busting Blair Thomas, while Lydell Mitchell, Ki-Jana Carter and Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti deserve mention, too. And, of course, Larry Johnson in 2002 had the greatest single season for a Lion running back.
Lions had some good ones, and Franco Harris, a great runner in the pros, takes the honor. Aaron Harris (no relation to Franco) was the best runner at fullback since Franco, but an injury derailed Aaron's career.
- Wide receiver:
Kenny Jackson and Bobby Engram are the best. The smooth Jackson was a two-time All-American. Engram was a first-, second- and third-team All-American, and he also won the Fred Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top wideout. O.J. McDuffie, Jack Curry, all-time receptions leader Deon Butler and multi-threat Derrick Williams deserve mention. If you had to credit just one person for returning a dormant program to glory this decade, it would be Williams.
- Tight end:
Ted Kwalick was a two-time All-American, leading all Lion receivers in catches his senior year. Mickey Shuler Sr., who had an excellent pro career, is a close second. Dan Natale and Kyle Brady also deserve mention.
Keith Dorney (Emmaus High School), a two-time All-American, gets one berth. In a tie at the other tackle, we'll put Dave Joyner and Chris Conlin, both one-time All-Americans.
Jeff Hartings, Sean Farrell and Steve Wisniewski all were two-time All-Americans, and all were excellent in the pros. We'll call it a three-way tie. Other great ones include Mike Munchak and Tom Rafferty.
Three-year starter and 2008 All-American A.Q. Shipley heads what is not a strong position.
Bruce Clark was a two-time first-team All-American and Mike Reid a first-teamer one year and a second-teamer another year. Both were unyielding and destroyed other teams' game plans. Honorable mention goes to Matt Millen (Whitehall High School), Lou Benfatti and Tim Johnson.
Courtney Brown, a two-time All-American, was a force against the run and also at rushing the passer. On the other side is one-time All-American Mike Hartenstine (Liberty High School) who led the Lions in tackles in 1973 as a defensive end, which is outrageous. Honorable mention goes to the relentless Tamba Hali.
All five of these are two-time first-team All-Americans: LaVar Arrington, Paul Posluszny, Shane Conlan, Dennis Onkotz (Northampton Area High School) and Dan Connor. Arrington and Poz arrived at the ball, as Marv Albert might say, "with authority." Conlan was the big dog in the middle who keyed the Lions' 1986 national championship defense, and Onkotz was a tackling machine. All-time Penn State tackle leader Connor also had plenty of pop at the point of attack. These starters relegate Hall of Famer Jack Ham, Brandon Short, Greg Buttle and five other first-team All-Americans to the bench. Linebacker U. indeed.
Ball-hawks Neal Smith and Pete Harris, both All-Americans, collected 19 and 15 career interceptions, respectively. They get the nod, with Darren Perry and Kim Herring not far behind.
The weakest link on the entire JoePa team. We'll take Alan Zemaitis, a second-team All-American, as the starter and use David Macklin, a third-team All-American, as the nickel back.
Brett Conway gets the nod. The Bahr brothers, Chris and Matt, were first team All-Americans, with Chris having the bigger leg. But statistically they were not that accurate when compared with other Lion placekickers. Nick Gancitano at 78 percent is the most accurate of the top dozen or so kickers, but he didn't have the really big leg. Travis Forney and Conway were accurate too, but of the three, Conway had the biggest leg, which also helped on kickoffs. Kevin Kelly also was accurate but he had too many misses in big games, especially on the road.
Ralph Giacomarro is the man on the strength of back-to-back 43-yard-plus punting seasons in 1980-81. Current Penn State punter Jeremy Boone could supplant Giacomarro by season's end.
- Kickoff returner:
As an underclassman, Curt Warner ripped off three kickoff returns for touchdowns and has a career average return of about 29 yards. He's the guy.
- Punt returner:
Explosive Derrick Williams and elusive O.J. McDuffie top the list and we'll call it a tie. Williams had key punt return touchdowns in 2007 against Notre Dame and in 2008 against Wisconsin, but he was inconsistent at fielding short punts. Little known about JoePa, a superb punt returner at Brown in the late 1940s, is that he has had great punt returners, including Mike Archie, Jimmy Cefalo, Dennis Onkotz, Gary Hayman, Bruce Branch, Kevin Baugh, Michael Timpson and Matt Suhey.
Note: Bill Kline originally selected his All JoePa Team in December 2006 in his Nittany Lines blog. This column updates the team.
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