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The Greatest Penn State Running Backs of All Time

Well, spring practice is over. The Blue-White Game has been played. The NFL draft has come and gone. Heck, even the apartment fight is officially on the back burner until August now. We need something to talk about here, so I figured it might be cool to reflect on some Penn State history for some of the younger fans who may not have an appreciation for Penn State football dating back before the 1980's. Today we'll focus on the greatest Penn State running backs of all time. Special thanks to Nittany Anthology, a fantastic historical Penn State website from whom many of the stats and pictures were taken from. Enjoy, and make sure you take a moment to vote in the poll after the jump.

Wrap Up

So ends our list of the greatest running backs in Penn State history. This post was about three weeks in the making, so I hope you enjoyed it. Please comment on which was your favorite and vote in the poll after the jump.

Pete Mauthe 1909-1912

J. Lester "Pete" Mauthe was a four year letterman as a fullback for the Nittany Lions in 1909-1912. During his playing years Penn State amassed a record of 26-2-4 including a stellar record of 8-0-1 in 1911. His senior year in 1912 he was elected captain and led Penn State to an 8-0 perfect season. In addition to being the team's fullback, Mauthe was also the team's punter and place kicker.

After graduation he became the head football coach at Gettysburg College where he coached one season for a 3-6-1 record. He later went on to become a successful CEO at a Youngstown steel company and served on the board of trustees at Youngtown State University and Penn State. In 1957 he was elected into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Lenny Moore 1953-1955

Once referred to as the greatest football player to ever play for Penn State by Joe Paterno. Moore starred as a halfback as the Nittany Lions went 18-9 during his playing days. He led the team in rushing in 1954 with a then school record of 1082 yards in nine games on just 136 carries for a whopping 8.0 yards per carry average. Moore was twice named to the All American team in 1954 and 1955. When he graduated he owned the school career rushing record with 2380 yards which is currently 12th on the all time list. Impressive considering freshmen were not permitted to play in those days. His signature high-stepping running style made him popular with the fans and sports writers.

Moore went on to star in the NFL playing 12 years for the Baltimore Colts and winning two NFL championships. He was a first round (9th overall) pick for the Colts and went on to be named Rookie of the Year in 1956. During his career he was selected to play in seven Pro Bowls. He was named league MVP and Comeback Player of the Year in 1964. He scored a touchdown in 18 consecutive games from 1963-1965, a record that stood for 40 years until broken by LaDainian Tomlinson in 2005.

Lydell Mitchell 1969-1971

In his day, Mitchell was the most prolific running back the college football world had ever seen. During his playing days Penn State amassed a record of 29-4 including an undefeated 11-0 season in 1969. After two years of sharing running back duties with Franco Harris, Mitchell exploded in his senior year for 1567 yards and 29 touchdowns (26 rushing) in 1971. Both marks shattered single season school records and the 29 total touchdowns and 174 points set new NCAA marks. He also graduated as Penn State's all time leading rusher with 2934 yards, still good enough for seventh on the all time list. Still need evidence of Mitchell's greatness? Because of Mitchell, future Heisman winning running back John Cappelletti had to play on defense in 1971.

After Penn State Mitchell went on to be drafted 48th overall by the Baltimore Colts. He was a key member of the Baltimore Colts-Miami Dolphins rivalry of the 1970's leading the Colts to three consecutive AFC East Division Championships. He had three consecutive 1000 yard seasons from 1975-1977 and went to the pro bowl all three years. He later went on to play for the San Diego Chargers and Los Angeles Rams before retiring in 1980. After his playing days Mitchell went on to become CEO of a sausage company in Baltimore Maryland. Today he lectures youths about the dangers of drugs and alcohol abuse. In 2004 Mitchell was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.

Franco Harris 1969-1971

Franco never broke 700 yards in one season but still played on some great Penn State teams. He teamed with Lydell Mitchell to form the best 1-2 punch in the nation. Although he shared carries with Mitchell his entire career, Harris still finished fourth on the all time career rushing list with 2002 yards, good enough for 16th all time today.

After Penn State Franco Harris went on to star for 13 seasons in the NFL, 12 of them with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Harris was a key member of four Super Bowl Championship teams and was named MVP of the 1974 Super Bowl. He will forever be remembered for the "Immaculate Reception" in a 1972 playoff game against the Oakland Raiders. During his NFL career Harris was named Rookie of the Year in 1972 and went to nine consecutive Pro Bowls from 1972-1980. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990. After football Harris once again teamed up with Lydell Mitchell in purchasing the Parks Sausage Company. More recently he became owner and CEO of Super Bakery Inc.

John "Cappy" Cappelletti 1971-1973

Like all freshmen back then, Cappy didn't play his first year at Penn State. In his second year the offensive backfield was crowded with Mitchell and Harris sharing the load, so Cappelletti had to settle for playing on defense. It wasn't until his junior year he was made a running back. He broke 1000 yards in his junior and senior year. As far as I can tell he was the first Nittany Lion to accomplish the feat. He exploded in 1973 for 1522 yards and 17 TD. He won the Maxwell Award and was a unanimous All-American. And of course he was awarded the prestigious Heisman Trophy. He is the only Penn State player to ever win the award. He finished his career second to Mitchell on the all time career rushing list for Penn State with 2639 yards and 29 career touchdowns. Amazingly Penn State only lost three games during his playing years and went undefeated in 1973.

Cappelletti will forever be remembered for his Heisman acceptance speech in which he dedicated the trophy to his younger brother, Joey, who was diagnosed with leukemia. After Penn State Cappy went on to play in the NFL for ten years with the Los Angeles Rams and San Diego Chargers. John was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1993. Today he is a successful business man and father of four living in California.

Curt Warner 1979-1982

Curt Warner led Penn State to a 39-9 record during his playing days. He was the starting running back for the 1982 team that defeated Georgia in the Sugar Bowl to win Joe Paterno's first National Championship. In 1981 he rushed for a school record 256 yards in one game against Syracuse, a record that would stand for over 20 years. Warner was twice selected a first team All American. To this day he still holds the career rushing record for Penn State with 3398 yards.

After Penn State Warner was a first round draft pick for the Seattle Seahawks, where he led the AFC in rushing his rookie year. He tore his ACL his second year in the league, but still went on to be a highly productive player. Warner went on to play for seven years and make three Pro Bowls with the Seahawks before retiring in 1990. Currently he owns and runs a Chevrolet dealership in Vancouver, Washington.

D.J. Dozier 1983-1986

D.J. Dozier won the hearts of Nittany Nation when he rushed for 1000 yards in his freshman year. Unfortunately, he played on some pretty disappointing teams in 1983 and 1984. But he was a major part of the teams that won 23 games and played in two National Championship games in 1985 and 1986. He played on some terrible offenses that were incapable of moving the ball through the air. So much like Tony Hunt in 2006, Dozier faced eight and nine men in the box all day and kept chugging ahead four yards at a time. The image above of Dozier kneeling in the endzone after putting Penn State on top of Miami 14-10 in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl will forever live in the minds of Penn State fans as one of the greatest moments in our 100-plus year history. He was named a first team All American his senior year and finished his career as the second leading career rusher for Penn State only behind Warner.

Dozier was a first round draft pick by the Minnesota Vikings. Unfortunately his NFL career never really took off. He played four seasons with the Vikings and one year with Detroit before hanging it up to pursue a professional baseball career. He signed as an amateur free agent with the New York Mets and played two seasons in the minors before making his Major League debut on May 6, 1992. He was traded in October of that year and played his final game on October 4, 1992.

Blair Thomas 1985-1989

The debate has raged for decades among Penn State fans. Who was the better cutback runner? Warner or Thomas? Blair Thomas was the first player to rush for 1400 yards in two seasons earning All American honors in 1987 and 1989. He finished in the top five for the Heisman in 1989 and earned MVP honors in the Holiday and Senior Bowls. He ended his career the second all time rusher for Penn State only 97 yards behind Curt Warner and stayed in second until Tony Hunt passed him in 2006.

After Penn State Thomas was selected by the New York Jets as the second pick of the first round. Unfortunately he played on some horrible Jets teams for six seasons and couldn't get much going in the NFL. He joined on with several teams over the next few years before he retired in 1995. After his playing days Thomas coached the running backs for Temple University before he gave that up in 2005. Today he lives with his wife and three children in King of Prussia, PA.

Ki-Jana Carter 1992-1994

Many Penn State fans consider Ki-Jana Carter to be the standard by which all other Penn State tailbacks are judged. He started out as a platoon player sharing carries with Mike Archie and Stephen Pitts, but he exploded in his junior year to claim the job all to himself. Carter was a key member of the 1994 team that went undefeated in claiming Penn State's first conference title in the Big Ten. The 1994 offense featured several players that would go on to play in the NFL including Kerry Collins, Kyle Brady, Jeff Hartings, Marco Rivera, and Bobby Engram. In 1994 Carter rushed for 1539 yards and scored 23 touchdowns. The 1539 yards was the second highest total ever achieved by a Penn State tailback in a single season. The scary thing is he could have easily broken 2000 yards had the Penn State offense been so good. Paterno often sat Carter the entire second half when Penn State was up by several touchdowns. In 1994 Carter was named a first team All American and finished second in the Heisman voting.

Having earned his degree after the 1994 season, Carter decided not to return for the 1995 season. He finished his Penn State career as the number 5 Penn State rusher of all time. Today he still sits at number 8. After college Carter was picked #1 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL draft. An unfortunate knee injury in the preseason of his rookie year forced him to have surgery and go through extensive rehab. He was never the same running back again. He moved from team to team for several years before officially retiring from the NFL in 2004.

Curtis Enis 1995-1997

Curtis Enis was a big physical running back that could run around you or run over you. He showed off his potential after he rushed for 683 yards as a freshman. With the starting job his in 1996, Enis pounded his way for 1210 yards and 13 TD. He came back his junior year and ran for 1363 yards and 19 TD and was named a first team All American. The 1997 team had high aspirations entering the season ranked #1 in the country. A late season loss to Michigan led the team into a tailspin that ended with back to back losses to Michigan State and Florida in the Citrus Bowl. With less than 200 yards separating him from Curt Warner on the all time rushing list, Enis could have returned for his senior year to get the record and he would have been a serious Heisman contender. There was speculation he was thinking of going pro, and then it was discovered he accepted gifts from an agent and his career ended in scandal.

Enis went on to be the fifth overall pick of the 1998 NFL draft. He played three uneventful seasons for the Chicago Bears before being cut and retiring.

Larry Johnson 1999-2002

Larry Johnson was an enigma his first three years at Penn State. He rode the bench mostly only getting carries when the game was in hand. When Penn State struggled in 2000 and 2001 he grumbled publicly to the press about the play calling and his playing time, a major no-no on a Joe Paterno team. After spending three years in and out of the doghouse he finally got to be "the man" in 2002, and he set out determined to show Paterno and everyone they made a mistake by not playing him sooner. Johnson had the most prolific single season ever by a Penn State tailback rushing for 2087 yards and 20 TD with an amazing 7.7 ypc average. In 2002 LJ broke the school record for single game rushing yards three times and still holds the record today with his 327 yards against Indiana. In 2002 Johnson was named first team All American and won the Maxwell, Doak Walker, and Walter Camp awards and finished in the top five in the Heisman voting. He finished his Penn State career as the fifth leading rusher.

After college Johnson was drafted in the first round by the Kansas City Chiefs. Like his Penn State career, Johnson started out riding the bench and making noise in the press. When he finally got a chance to play Johnson rushed for 1750 yards in 2005 in only nine starts. He followed it up with 1789 yards in 2006 and has made the Pro Bowl each of the last two years.

Tony Hunt 2003-2006

Tony Hunt started his career as "the other guy". He was part of a recruiting class that featured the highly touted Austin Scott. He set to work the best he could and would end his career the second all time rusher at Penn State. His straight ahead workhorse running style endeared him with the fans. As a sophomore in 2004 Hunt was the leading receiver on the team. He was a key member of the 2005 offense that featured Michael Robinson and Derrick Williams. Hunt never won any awards. He was never named an All American. He never had any amazing runs. But yet he in many ways symbolized Penn State. Hard working. No nonsense. Straight ahead. Four yards and a cloud of dust. In his final game against Tennessee in the Outback Bowl, Penn State clung to a 17-10 lead in the fourth quarter, Tony Hunt put the team on his back like he did so many other times. Hunt ran the ball on seven consecutive plays gaining three first downs. The drive allowed Penn State to kill five minutes off the clock and put the Lions in position to kick a field goal and put the game out of reach. That was Tony Hunt.

Hunt was drafted in the third round of the NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles this past April.


Who is the greatest PSU running back of all time?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Lenny Moore
    (31 votes)
  • 20%
    Larry Johnson
    (96 votes)
  • 2%
    Curtis Enis
    (12 votes)
  • 22%
    Ki-Jana Carter
    (108 votes)
  • 3%
    D.J. Dozier
    (18 votes)
  • 13%
    Curt Warner
    (65 votes)
  • 10%
    John Cappelletti
    (48 votes)
  • 8%
    Franco Harris
    (42 votes)
  • 6%
    Lydell Mitchell
    (31 votes)
  • 5%
    Tony Hunt
    (25 votes)
476 votes total Vote Now