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Nittany Mountain: The 2000's

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This brings to an end our Nittany Mountain through the decades journey. Hopefully you've had as much fun debating the best players as we've had writing about them. Major props go to our own Galen, the man behind the curtain, creating all these pictures. Now on to the last debate...

When we first started throwing this idea around, volunteering for the 2000's seemed like an easy choice. I went to school at Penn State from '01 to '05, and have followed closely since then, so I figured it would be easy to pick the best four players. Then I started thinking about it, and this is what came out in an email to the group: "The shoo-ins are MRob and Poz. After that, I could pick any two on a list of 12 and feel OK with the choices but terrible about who I left off."

So you know two of the picks. Who else made the cut? Well, given that these players are still recent graduates, you should be able to recognize their photos above. If not, take the jump and then join the debate.

Just Missed The Cut:

QB Daryll Clark
RB Evan Royster
WR Deon Butler
WR Bryant Johnson
OT Kareem McKenzie
C A.Q. Shipley
OT Levi Brown
DE Michael Haynes
DE Tamba Hali
DT Jimmy Kennedy
DT Jared Odrick
LB Dan Connor
LB Sean Lee
PK Kevin Kelly

The Picks:

LB Paul Posluszny (2003 - 2007)

Submitted into evidence:

Poz as he came to be known has something of a cult following by female Penn State fans, but any guy that watched him play in the middle of the decade couldn't help but be impressed as well. Hard-nosed, bloodied-at-times, and an all-around mean sumbitch on the field, Posluszny was the quintessential Penn State linebacker. Don't believe me? Well, Poz was good enough for Jack Ham to call him the "best Penn State linebacker I've ever seen" according to an article that no longer exists on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website (but is referenced on Poz' Wiki page).

He finished his four year career as the school's leading tackler, the first junior captain in nearly forty years, a two-time AP All-American (#CULTURE), a two-time Bednarik Award winner, and one hell of a model American.

QB Michael Robinson (2002-2005)

Submitted into evidence:

The selection of evidence for MRob was difficult, as that entire 2005 season was essentially an MRob highlight reel (the hit at Minnesota immediately comes to mind). But two things stand out about this game: 1) if Isaac Smolko doesn't make that catch, we may not be talking about 2005 in such high regard, and 2) this game single-handedly created a tradition in my family, as I was visiting my brother in college at Miami (OH) for this game, and for the past 6 years, we've gotten together for every PSU/NW game.

Robinson was a contributor on the 2002-2004 Penn State teams, but as anyone who wasn't under a rock in 2005 knows, he absolutely shined his senior season. He won the Big Ten Offensive POTY Award, was fifth in Heisman voting, and was a semi-finalist for the Davey O'Brien Award. He also led the Lions to the Big Ten conference title (sigh...), and to an Orange Bowl victory over the Florida State Seminoles.

RB Larry Johnson, Jr. (1999-2002)

Submitted into evidence:

Possibly the best pure athlete of the four players listed (and thus of the decade), Johnson had something of a bad rep off the field, but on it, he was magnificent, especially in 2002. Speed, power, and both lateral and vertical quickness that you find in a collegiate back every once in awhile.

Johnson is the son of famed defensive line coach Larry Johnson, Sr., and attended local State College Area High School.

In 2002, Johnson would take home the Doak Walker Award, Walter Camp Award, and Maxwell Award. Despite putting up crazy numbers (would have had a season average of 8.0 ypc if the NCAA hadn't changed their rules to count the postseason, and thus Johnson finished just under 7.8 ypc), Johnson finished third in the Heisman voting behind Carson Palmer and Brad Banks. He had the least amount of carries in the 2000-yard club, but was snubbed in the "QB on the Best Team" Heisman trend, started two years earlier (seriously, look it up...don't want to? OK, there were two non-QBs named Heisman winners from 2000-2011).

WR Derrick Williams (2005-2008)

Submitted into evidence:

This was my wild card. This is the one where I think you can substitute at least four different players above and still have a credible argument. But I chose DWheelz for two reasons.

One-A, that Illinois game (first [and only, to my knowledge] Joe Paterno coached player with a rushing, receiving, and kick return TD in the same game). One-B, the catch against Northwestern in 2005 (see above).

Second, as something of a recruiting follower, Williams meant so much more to Penn State than simply his on the field play. He was the No. 1 recruit out of Greenbelt, MD, and his commitment showed the nation that Penn State, mired for a few years by the "Dark Ages", could still recruit the top players. Williams helped bring other top players with him (see, e.g., Justin King). He was a fan favorite (and still is, especially now that he's with the Steelers) and certainly has earned his spot atop Nittany Mountain.

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