The Greatest Penn State Linebackers of All Time

When I first started the greatest running backs list I didn't think it would turn out to be as long as it did. Putting together a list of the best linebackers is mind boggling. This is really no surprise when you think about it. Each team may have one or two premier running backs. They have three or four linebackers. So what I'm getting at is I can't possibly include everyone worthy of being on this list. I'm sure someone will point out one or two I missed, and for that I apologize in advance. So for simplicity sake, this will be a top ten list in chronological order. Enjoy, and please share your favorites in the comments and take a moment to vote in the poll after the jump. Once again, thanks to Nittany Anthology, a great site for Penn State historical stats and photographs.

Please click on "Comments" and make sure to vote in the poll.

Dennis Onkotz 1967 - 1969

Dennis Onkotz was a two time first team All American on the great Penn State teams of 1968 and 1969. Both teams went 11-0 with Orange Bowl wins over Kansas and Missouri. Amazingly, neither team was awarded the national championship. Onkotz started all three years (freshmen didn't play back then) and finished his career as Penn State's all time leading tackler with 287 tackles. He led the team in tackles in 1967 and 1969 with 71 and 97 respectively. His tackling record would be passed by three guys later on, but two of them had the benefit of playing as freshmen and having additional regular season games. Onkotz still holds the record for interceptions by a Nittany Lion linebacker with 11, and three of those he returned for touchdowns. He was such a gifted athlete that he also returned 47 punts for an average return of over 13 yards as Penn State's primary punt returner.

After Penn State Onkotz was a third round pick by the New York Jets. An injury in his rookie season ended his playing career. In 1995 Onkotz was selected to the College Football Hall of Fame.

Jack Ham 1968 - 1969

Jack Ham was not highly recruited out of high school. He almost went to the Virginia Military Institute before Penn State offered him their last scholarship in 1966. He went on to team up with Dennis Onkotz and Jim Kates in 1968 and 1969 to lay the foundation for the legacy that would go on to become known as Linebacker U. Ham was a three year starter and was selected a first team All American in 1970 after registering 91 tackles and four interceptions as a team captain. He ended his career with 251 tackles which was good enough for second on the all time list back then second only to Onkotz. Today he is thirteenth on the all time list, but again, back then freshmen didn't play and the regular season was only 10 games until 1971. He also blocked three punts during his career, a school record that would stand until it was tied in 1989. During his playing career Penn State amassed a record of 29-3 with two undefeated seasons.

After college, Ham was a second round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He started as a rookie and went on to be a key member of their Super Bowl dynasty of the 1970's. He was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1988 and joined the College Football Hall of Fame in 1990. In 2000 Ham joined the Penn State Radio Network and calls the games with Steve Jones.

Greg Buttle 1973 - 1975

Greg Buttle was one of the most colorful players to ever wear the Blue and White. His jovial nature often drew the ire of a then young Joe Paterno. His junior and senior year statistics are simply mind blowing. 165 tackles as a junior and 140 tackles as a senior. Again, he didn't have the benefit of 12 regular season games or even playing as a freshman back then. Buttle still holds the single season tackle record as well as the record for tackles in a single game (24). His 343 career tackles were a school record until it was passed by Paul Posluszny in 2006. Buttle was honored as a consensus All American in 1975. During his playing career Penn State only lost five games and went undefeated in 1973.

In 2001 he was awarded the Silver Anniversary Butkus Award for the 1975 season.
After college Buttle played nine seasons for the New York Jets in the NFL and is a member of their All Time Jets team.

Shane Conlan 1983 - 1986

Many Penn State fans consider Shane Conlan to be the prototypical linebacker by which all other linebackers are judged. He was an unknown prospect coming out of high school, but would go on to become a two time First Team All American that led his defensive squad to appearances in two National Championship games. The 1986 defense was one of the greatest of all time not allowing any opponents to score more than 19 points. In the Fiesta Bowl Conlan had eight tackles and two interceptions in leading Penn State to their second National Championship over the Miami Hurricanes. He ended his Penn State career with 274 tackles which is still good enough for fifth all time.

Conlan was a first round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills (8th overall) in 1987 and went on to claim the NFL Rookie of the Year award. He was named to the Pro Bowl in three straight seasons from 1990 to 1992. The Bills went to the Superbowl each of those seasons, but couldn't win the game. Conlan joined the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams in 1993 and played a few more years before retiring in 1995.

Andre Collins 1986 - 1989

After playing on a National Championship team his freshman year, Collins endured some disappointing seasons the rest of his Penn State career. None-the-less, he was a shining star on the defense. Collins broke 100 tackles in each of his junior and senior seasons, one of only five Nittany Lions to achieve the feat. In 1989 Collins was named a First Team All American and a Butkus Award Finalist. He finished his Penn State career ninth in all time tackles.

Collins went on to play 10 years in the NFL for the Washington Redskins. He was a starting linebacker for the team that won Super Bowl XXVI. Today he serves as Director of Retired Players for the NFL Players Association.

Brian Gelzheiser 1991 - 1994

Brian Gelzheiser wasn't a very flashy linebacker. He didn't win All American Awards. He wasn't named as a finalist for the Lombardi or Butkus Awards. But he was a steady performer that showed up week in and week out. He was a starter and key member of the 1994 team that went undefeated in winning Penn State's first Big Ten Championship. He tore the medial collateral ligament in his knee in August before his senior year. He sat out week one, but suited up against USC in week two. Not only did he play, he recorded 10 tackles. Gelzheiser also recorded 100 tackles in junior and senior years and finished his Penn State career as the second all time leading tackler. Today he is still number three on the list.

Gelzheiser was a sixth round selection by the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL draft. His NFL career never amounted to much. After a brief stint in the NFL Gelzheiser went into sales in the Pittsburgh area.

Lavar Arrington 1997 - 1999

Lavar Arrington is easily the most physically gifted linebacker to every play at Penn State. He was big enough to take on offensive linemen yet fast enough to cover wide receivers in man coverage. His playing style could best be described as "chaos", as he often went outside of the system by abandoning his assignment. Although he was undisciplined, he made several spectacular plays by simply following his instincts. No play epitomized Lavar's style more than The Lavar Leap. In his junior season he was named a First Team All American and won both the Bednarik and Butkus Awards. He didn't rack up an overwhelming number of tackles, but he wreaked all kind of havoc in the backfield with 19 career sacks and 39 TFL good enough for eight and ninth all time respectively.

Arrington was the number two pick overall by the Washington Redskins in the 2000 NFL draft. He made three consecutive Pro Bowls from 2001-2003 until he suffered a season ending knee injury in 2004. After a very public feud with head coach Joe Gibbs, Arrington was released and signed with the New York Giants. He appeared to be regaining his old form before an ankle injury ended his season in week seven of 2006.

Brandon Short 1996 - 1999

On any other team, Brandon Short would have been the best player on the defense. But when you line up next to Lavar Arrington, people tend to call you "the other guy". Short started all four years at Penn State (Played at defensive end his freshman year). Short led the team in tackles his senior year with 103. He was named a First Team All American and a Butkus Award finalist along with Arrington.

Short was a fourth round pick for the New York Giants in the 2000 NFL draft and appeared in Super Bowl XXXV as a rookie. He signed with the Carolina Panthers for the 2004-2005 seasons before rejoining the Giants in 2006.

Paul Posluszny 2003 - 2006

Known simply as "Poz", Paul Posluszny embodied the Joe Paterno image of the student athlete. Hall of Famer Jack Ham once called him "the greatest linebacker to ever play at Penn State." His work ethic on and off the field were unsurpassed. He was named team captain both his junior and senior seasons, a rarity in the Joe Paterno era. Poz was a key member of the 11-1 team that beat Florida State in the Orange Bowl and finished ranked #3 in the country. He recorded 116 tackles in both his junior and senior seasons. He's the only Penn State linebacker to ever record 100 tackles in three consecutive seasons (2004-2006). Poz won the Dick Butkus Award in 2005 and won the Chuck Bednarik Award in 2005 and 2006. He was also named a First Team All American in 2005 and 2006. Poz is Penn State's all time leading tackler with 372.

Posluszny was drafted in the second round of the NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills. 2007 will be his rookie season.

Dan Connor 2004 - 2007

I know what you're saying. How can a player with a year of eligibility left make the list? Dan Connor could have gone pro after his junior season in 2006. If he had he would still be on this list. Connor cracked the starting lineup as a true freshman in 2004 and set a freshman record for tackles with 85. In 2006 Connor was named First Team All American and finished second in the Bednarik Award voting to his teammate, Paul Posluszny. He is currently eighth on the all time tackle list and will most likely be the leader by the end of his career.

Even though he could have gone pro after his junior season, Dan Connor will be returning for his senior year in 2007. He is projected to switch from outside linebacker to middle linebacker this year. He will undoubtedly be on the watch lists for the Lombardi, Butkus, and Bednarik awards and several publications are predicting he will be a first round draft pick in the NFL when his Penn State career is done.

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