The game against Maryland was the game we’ve been wanting all season. Marching down the field for a touchdown in under two minutes. Holding the opposition to a field goal on their attempt and then keeping them scoreless for the duration. Zero interceptions were thrown. Over 500 offensive yards. Five sacks. Fifteen tackles for loss.
When Trace threw his 75th touchdown pass and walked off the field to a standing ovation, my emotions couldn’t have been more mixed—so proud of Trace and all he’s accomplished and yet so sad to see him go. I feel extra sad about the end of this season for some reason. This team is endeared to me, not just because they are the winningest class but because they, as Coach Franklin said, “came here at a challenging time in Penn State’s history and put the program on their back and just went to work.”
I was gratified to see the Senior Day game go so well for one of my favorite sets of players. Despite what felt like our lofty, preseason hopes dashed, this was still a great season. We end up ranked twelfth and now all that’s left to do is wait for our bowl bid.
While we discussed the bowl predictions at dinner last night, my husband announced that his favorite Penn State quarterback is Trace McSorley. This got us debating our favorite PSU players of all time. Names like Kijana Carter, John Cappelletti, Evan Royster, and Mike Gesicki were tossed into the ring. Larry Johnson, Tamba Hali, Saquon Barkley, and Jack Ham.
My father-in-law is fond of asking, “What is your Mount Rushmore of (fill in the blank)?” Candy, movies, vacations, anything really. It’s a great way to pass the time if, say, you’re tired of reading article after article of bowl projections. What if I had to pick my Mount Rushmore of Penn State Football? Let’s do it.
This is only my opinion; it’s not based on anything more substantial than my own intuition and bias. I’ve only selected players that I’ve actually watched, players from the late nineties to the present day, as that’s when I’ve been old enough to pay attention. I hope some of our more seasoned fans will chime in and tell us who would be on their list from earlier years. My top four do not fairly represent the three phases of play nor do they encompass this program’s vast history. I simply picked them because I like them. Without further ado, I present my Mount Rushmore of Penn State players:
Michael Mauti. He graduated high school early and joined the team in January of 2008. He was plagued with injuries but worked hard to get healthy so he could keep coming back. More than anybody, Mauti is the face of those who stayed when it all fell apart. I could never express my gratitude, my pride, my love for this kid and the way he showed his loyalty to our university and his commitment to doing the right thing in the midst of hardship. A true leader.
Trace McSorley. He’s been the rock of this team every single game he started and probably even from his first momentary practice. The guy never quits. He gives everything he has every single game. He’s prepared. He’s focused. He’s broken, like, every Penn State record. The more I read about him, the more I love him.
Sam Ficken. I admired his tenacity and ability to persevere in spite of criticism. He missed his first career field goal. When he became the starter, he missed seven of his first eleven attempts. But he refused to give up. He hit the next ten in a row, including the game-winning field goal against Wisconsin in an electric matchup that felt like a bowl game despite our unjust ineligibility.
And finally, Saquon Barkley. I originally kept him out of my top four because he’s such an obvious choice. He really is a favorite though. I love his backstory. I loved his ever-entertaining and often spectacular plays. You just never knew when he’d break away or hurdle somebody and be gone in a flash.
It took me forever to settle on just four favorite Nittany Lions because I kept switching players in and out of my list. There are so many good choices! Here are some bonus honorable mentions:
Larry Johnson, whose feet seemed magical as he rushed to over 2000 yards in 2002.
LaVar Arrington, because who can forget the LaVar Leap?
Franco Harris, though I never saw him play football, I have watched the many ways he advocates for Penn State and the Paterno family.
Jack Ham played long before my time too but history remembers him as an amazing player. I thoroughly enjoy tuning in to hear him call the games on the Penn State Radio Network.
I could probably keep going! I have a lot of favorites, and who can blame me? We’ve got an incredible, historic program teeming with dynamic characters. Who are your favorites? Tell us who is on your Mount Rushmore of Penn State Football!